Conference article

Eat Right: Eating Local or Global?

Show more +

Published: 2014-08-21

ISBN: 978-91-7519-289-5

ISSN: 1650-3686 (print), 1650-3740 (online)


Our food choices have been characterized as significant moral choices in recent years. No longer is what you eat seen as a morally neutral private affair without moral ramifications. We are encouraged to eat organic; local; sustainable foods. Further we are confronted with choices about fair trade; humanely raised; absent antibiotics; hormones; and GMOs. These choices can be confusing if only seen as ones relevant to our prudential interests; but the stakes are raised when we are chided that we will be immoral if we consume the “wrong” products. Many of these considerations are promoted as necessary for achieving sustainability goals: eat and shop locally for the good of the planet and the future. Others such as humanely raised animals; support other considerations—concern for animals’ welfare—but are also tied back into the goals of sustainability since factory farming of animals leads; to among other problems; massive quantities of manure that contaminates the surrounding areas including critical waterways; killing off fish and other wildlife. In this paper; I will consider what we should eat if we are concerned about sustainability. Sustainability is a notoriously tricky notion to pin down a specific meaning. For this paper; I will understand it as an expansive notion that includes preserving ecological integrity for current and future generations; but also includes cultural sustainability which embodies values; like justice and care for current and future generations as well as non-human animals. I will explore the widely accepted views about buying local and whether there are cogent moral arguments based on sustainability for those choices. In considering those reasons for buying local; I will investigate Peter Singer’s arguments against buying local supported by our duty to aid those suffering immediate harm. Singer’s arguments force us to examine what are our duties to aid those in developing nations versus supporting local economies. I will argue that our duties in regard to food purchases are complex and impinge on multiple values; including supporting local communities; ecological integrity; and concern for fair global food practices.


Sustainability; Food ethics; Climate justice; Local foods; Global duties


Bittman; Mark; “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler” New York Times; January 27; 2008.

Dupuis; William; A Great Aridness (Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2011).

Dichter; Thomas W.; Despite Good Intentions: Why Development Assistance to the Third World has Failed (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press; 2003).

Feinberg; Joel; “The Moral and Legal Responsibility of the Bad Samaritan”Criminal Justice Ethics 1984 vol.3.

Gardiner; Stephen; “Climate Justice” in John Dryzek; David Schlosberg and Richard Norgaard; eds. Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society (Oxford University Press 2011)

Jamison; Dale; “Duties to the Distant: Aid; Assistance; and Intervention in the Developing World” The Journal of Ethics (2005) 9.

Kugelman; Michael; “The Global Farmland Rush” The New York Times February 5; 2013.

Lappe; Anna Diet for a Hot Planet (New York: Bloomsbury; 2010).

Leopold; Aldo; Sand County Almanac (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 1949).

Lichtenberg; Judith; “Negative Duties; and the “New Harms” Ethics vol. 120 no. 3 (April 2010).

Malm; Heidi; “Between the Horns of the Dilemma” Philosophical Studies vol. 61; No. 3; (Mar1991).

Nabham; Gary; Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods (New York: Norton; 2001).

Norton; Brian; Sustainability  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 2005).

Patel; Raj; Stuff and Starved; (Brooklyn: Melville; 2007).

Pirog; Rich; “Food; Fuel; and Freeways: An Iowa perspective on how far food travels; fuel usage; and greenhouse gas emissions”
Pollen; Michael; “Eat Your View” New York Times May 17; 2006.

Pogge; Thomas; editor Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right: Who owes what to the Very Poor?  (Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2007).

Singer; Peter and Jim Mason; The Ethics of what We Eat; (Rodale; 2006).

Smith-Spangler;; “Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review” Annals of Medicine 4; vol. 157; No. 5 (September 2012).

Weber; Christopher and H. Scott Matthews’ “Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States” in  Environ. Sci. Technol.; 42 (10) (2008).

Internet November 2007

Citations in Crossref