The Philosophy of Food Project is housed in the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at the University of North Texas. It aims to disseminate information about the philosophical investigation of food; increase the visibility of food as a topic for philosophical research; serve as a resource for researchers, teachers, students, and the public; galvanize a community of philosophers working on food issues; and help raise the level of public discourse about food, agriculture, animals, and eating.
One of the things that I have come to appreciate in my graduate studies is the important role of philosophy in understanding, interpreting, and acting in the world. While many dismiss philosophy as irrelevant abstraction, it is actually eminently practical in the sense that it makes a huge difference in the way we shape our lives and engage the material realities around us.
The technical language associated with philosophy still gives me a headache. Sometimes it seems like scholars work really hard to make sure the uninitiated don't understand what they are talking about and the Philosophy of Food Project reflects some of this with its categories of Food Metaphysics, Food Epistemology, Food Aesthetics, etc, but it's worth wading through the swamp of technical language to get at the valuable insights of philosophical inquiry.
Kaplan explains why food has essentially evaded formal philosophical inquiry:
But perhaps the real reason why relatively few philosophers analyze food is because it’s too difficult. Food is vexing. It is not even clear what it is. It belongs simultaneously to the worlds of economics, ecology, and culture. It involves vegetables, chemists, and wholesalers; livestock, refrigerators, and cooks; fertilizer, fish, and grocers. The subject quickly becomes tied up in countless empirical and practical matters that frustrate attempts to think about its essential properties. It is very difficult to disentangle food from its web of production, distribution, and consumption...
But things are starting to change. The level of public discourse about diet, health, and agriculture in the US is remarkably more sophisticated than it was only ten years ago. Food books are bestsellers, cooking shows are ubiquitous, and the public is more informed about food safety and food politics. The mainstream media no longer tends to blame malnutrition and food insecurity on overpopulation but on poverty and poor governance. And most people, I suspect, regardless of one’s take on animal ethics, would be sickened to learn that a staggering 56 billion land animals are slaughtered each year for food. Philosophers are not immune from these facts and trends. We are increasingly joining other academics, journalists, and citizens who take food very seriously.
I guess he can add pastors to that list too. I'm especially interested in Kaplan's metaphysical category of food as spirituality. He writes:
Food is central to religious traditions throughout the world. Religions typically prescribe which foods should be eaten and which should be avoided; they assign significance to food production, preparation, and consumption; and they connect dietary regimentation with moral conduct and spiritual salvation. Food on this model has a metaphysical – nonmaterial – dimension that is realized only in religious practice. This spiritual dimension of food connects us to religious communities and to the supernatural when consumed appropriately.
Look for more on this from me in the coming year.