Except that the food is of another order. It is a necessity, recognized as such in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which States in article 25, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food”. Humanity reached the end of the 19th century without gasoline-powered automobiles, and in 2015, while 88% of American households owned a car, in China, the world’s second largest economy, only 17% could say the same. Not having a car is an obstacle; not eating can be fatal, in the short or long term. Its absence is detrimental to the cognitive development of children. Access to inexpensive, low-nutrient processed foods has been shown to contribute to chronic disease.
According to United Nations estimates, in 2020, 2.37 billion people, nearly a third of the world’s population, experienced periods without food or lacked consistent access to nutrients, and 22% of all children under 5 were stunted. . Considering food as just another commodity, whose price is set by the market, supported by the vagaries of demand and not by need, is to accept that some people will go without it, fall ill or die. of hunger. To allow it.
SO THERE IS a crime: people are starving or undernourished. But we still have not established a correlation between the indulgence of one and the suffering of the other. Times restaurant critic Pete Wells noted “a little hole of shame in my stomach” when eating exorbitant meals. This feels wrong to spend freely on something as fleeting as a fancy dinner while others are languishing in hunger, but East this? And if so, why, beyond a sense of common decency and solidarity with the less fortunate?
Claiborne, responding to the fury of his readers, resisted the premise of their condemnation. “I would like to ask those who weren’t amused if they seriously believe that as a result of this evening, I deprived a human being of a bite of food,” he wrote. “If the meal had not taken place, would we have fed one more mouth, fed one more body?” His defense, essentially, was that it was at worst a victimless crime. He didn’t rob anyone; his debauchery did not aggravate the miseries of others.
We could quibble with that. “The connoisseur cannot be both knowledgeable and innocent,” writes American philosopher Carolyn Korsmeyer in her 2012 essay “Ethical Gourmandism.” She suggests that we are morally involved in the production of the food we eat, because “one cannot cultivate the taste of foie gras without cultivating the taste of force-fed goose foie gras”. We could extend this to the restaurant dining experience itself, including the role of high-end restaurants in gentrification; the industry’s history of labor exploitation through wage theft and abuse; and the fetishism of ingredients that were once staple foods for ordinary people, who can no longer afford to consume them regularly in their diets, such as lobster in New England and caviar from species of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea which are now among the most threatened in the world. As British food writer Ruby Tandoh put it in a 2018 essay, “Who has the freedom to eat for pleasure, and who doesn’t?” The more the world becomes a playground for the super rich, the more the poor are relegated to the margins and the more difficult their lives become.
Yet it is a bit of a diversion to put the responsibility on the individual to solve, through abstinence from particular pleasures, what is, in fact, a systemic problem. To be part of a system is, to a certain extent, to be complicit in it, but choosing not to frequent a high-end restaurant will not necessarily improve anyone’s life, unless you give that money to charitable organisation. Which, of course, from a utilitarian point of view, is exactly what you should be doing: take the money you would have spent on foie gras and distribute it in a way that maximizes the number of people who benefit from it.