Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Moral Responsibility Through Food and Shopping

The Journal of Lutheran Ethics published a thoughtful essay by Clint Schneckloth (Luther classmate and fellow frisbee player) on theology of eating.

It's timely for me on two accounts. First, a conversation last night, has me meditating on my food habits, prior vegetarianism, and what I feel I ought to eat. Secondly, in my community equity and wealth building class, I keep thinking about the how economic incentives or thrift, as exercised in consumer choices, so quickly quash market interventions to support small businesses or living wages.

He first considers historic Judeo-Christian perspectives on food... not to eat food sacrificed to false idols, and eating sumptuously while others starve, a perspective on community. Then, in a modern context he considers free market choices (which I'd emphasize is predicated on the sovereignty of consumer choice)

Clint succinctly summarizes "We assume buying is morally neutral." Then he considers why food costs are low and their consequences: we can have oranges year-round, cheap folgers coffee, and plenty of feed grain for livestock. As a result we don't want to eat seasonal local food, we think free trade coffee is unnecessarily expensive, and we think a meal must have meat, but we don't connect it with our knowledge that food workers are underpaid, that growers pollute as they use pesticides or herbicides increase yields, that significant amounts of air pollution come from the transit of food. In short, we're dealing with externalities (costs born outside of the free market exchange), and thus, market failure.

To tie this back to community equity, equitable development deals with rental/real estate markets, retail markets, and labor markets. We create urban crises by limiting the costs of our consumption to our transaction costs. Thus, we fail to see how we contribute to overall trends: loss of jobs, disinvestment, illegal immigration, further separation between rich and poor, if not in distance, certainly in empathy. If the consumer is sovereign in a free market economy, then the consumer has responsibility when the market fails.


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