Sunday, September 23, 2007

Does Kant want you to Eat Local?

I don't know much about philosophy. Reading philosophy generally makes me want to punch something, so what I do know on the topic is compressed into simple "this guy said that" sentences. My understanding of Kant is that he said:

Act in such a way that if everyone acted as you did, the world would be a great place.

This is known as Kant's Categorical Imperative (or rather, something like it is known as the Categorical Imperative; the statement above is probably known as Chaka screwing up the Categorical Imperative). How does the CI answer the question, "Should I eat only food grown locally?"

In one sense, I think it would answer positively. One of the stated advantages of local eating is that it reduces the wasteful transportation of food across the world. It takes a lot of fossil fuel to ship Special K's beloved pineapples from Hawaii. If everyone in the world ate what was grown locally (assuming that there was enough food, and the right variety of food, to nourish everyone), it would seem to save a lot of resources.

Unfortunately for the categorical imperative, when you choose a certain course of action that seems to be what everyone should do, everyone does not automatically do it with you. I may choose to eat locally, but not everyone in the world will do so alongside of me. Most Americans, and most people in the world, will continue to eat food raised elsewhere. This state of affairs has a shady history in colonialism, which I will talk about in my next post.

In my opinion, the facts of international trade in food products make eating locally far from a simple moral good. In fact, it might be downright unethical. Stay tuned.

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