The Ethics of Food

So I had to write about what impacted me most about my engineering ethics course and I may have gone on a bit of a rant. But it is a rant that I think needs to be shared with the world, because everyone should know what is in their food.

The most impactful part of the Ethics course I took was the books. Not surprising to me as I always feel that there is not enough time to read while in engineering. Extra bonus was that one of the books on the reading list was the Omnivores Dilemma, which is a book I’ve been meaning to read anyways. See I had heard a few times that this book convinced someone to become a vegetarian, which intrigued me. It scared me a little too because I really really love meat and was scared of what I might find out. So, even though this book was a bonus assignment due at the end of the term I checked out the book from the library and started reading it the first week. After weeks of staying up late reading in the only free time I could find from engineering, and then ranting to anyone who would listen about my new passion for food, I finally finished the book.

Now it has been weeks since I finished the book but I have still not stopped socially kidnapping people and taking over the conversation with my new obsession about ethically eating. See the book wasn’t what I thought it would be. It wasn’t an argument against meat, it was a journalist on a journey to discover where food comes from (he was not thinking of the grocery store). He was thinking of how we know that most of our food is not grown on large farms with rolling hills and cows grazing, BUT we don’t know what has replaced the farm. We all know the new “farm” isn’t as romantic and pretty as the original but turns out it is even uglier than we expected. No wonder they aren’t advertising it.

What I learned is that food was greatly changed after WWII. There was a lot of petroleum leftover from all those super important but now not needed gas bombs, and of course a use needed to be found for this new industry. What better place than food! Well in fertilizer to be precise, but more than close enough for my liking. Turns out corn and soy really like this special fertilizer. I know you are probably thinking at this point, “oh okay the problem is just corn and soy, that’s easy!” Well I wish. Except that all of these newly sprouting ingredients in our food are made of corn or soy:


  • citric acid
  • confectioner’s sugar
  • corn flour
  • corn fructose
  • corn meal
  • corn oil
  • corn syrup
  • dextrin
  • dextrose
  • fructose
  • lactic acid
  • malt
  • mono- and di-glycerides
  • monosodium glutamate
  • sorbitol
  • starch


  • bulking agents
  • emulsifiers
  • guar gum
  • natural flavors
  • shoyu
  • soy beverages
  • soy flour
  • soy lecithin
  • soy miso
  • soy protein concentrate or isolate
  • soy sauce
  • soybean oil
  • stabilizer
  • tamari
  • tempeh
  • texturized vegetable protein
  • vegetable broth
  • vegetable gum


Maybe you do not recognize most of these ingredients. I sure didn’t. But if I start to look at the ingredients in my food then I notice them more and more. Personally, I want to start cutting the foods with these ingredients out of my diet. Just cause the government wants to support these ingredients does not mean that I do. Actually, that’s a whole ‘nother story and I don’t have time for it on top of everything else so please research away if you have time (search government promoting corn, read this article or even better just read the whole book. You can even cut out that last chapter where he just cooks a fancy meal).

As if it is not already hard enough to memorize that list, it get’s even more complicated. See the fancy new farms have been feeding corn and soy to all the animals you eat. Which is why the new label in the meat market is “free range”. Those are the now the very expensive cows which actually still eat grass… and can walk on grass instead of a mess of their own poop and mud… and have space to walk cause they aren’t crammed in tiny fenced lots where all there seems to be is corn and poop for miles. But enough about poop.

Lets also note that cows are not supposed to eat corn. Their body was made to eat grass and while they could maybe eat corn for one meal and have a stomach ache, they were never made to live off corn. So these fancy new farmers mix the corn with some other stuff including medicine to treat the now sick corns and none other than beef (not only disgusting but this led to e coli outbreaks which caused the practice to be cut back, yet still not eliminated). Which led to the sprouting of another new food term, “free of antibiotics”. Funny thing is, antibiotics are actually amazing for when humans and animals are sick of natural causes. They are not so great when they are a band-aid solution to feeding your animal the wrong food. Also not so great when they are being so heavily used on animals that humans are eating the medicine through their meat and it is contributing to the superbug problem of humans being immune to new medicine.

Essentially, what I learned is that the food industry is much, much worse than I could have ever imagined it. It is horrible for our health, horrible for animals and horrible for the planet (spreading petroleum all over the ground in fertilizer does not lead to good things among other things the book mentions). I was completely ignorant of this for my whole life, but now I cannot unsee it. I can’t eat anymore without thinking of ethics. I feel bad every time I eat corn and that was not even the point or the main issue of the book. The issue is so complex that it feels hard to change, but I cannot in good conscience remain the same. I have to change, so I’m starting small. Trying to cook without meat or order vegetarian when there are good options. Trying in vain to recognize if my food has corn or soy in it, giving up, and then just buying the least processed things I can find. Recognizing the free range beef and the meat counter and planning to buy it when I start working and actually have enough money. Doesn’t feel like much, but it is a million times better than nothing. And if we all did this little it would be a billion times better than nothing.

2 thoughts on “The Ethics of Food

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