Pigs on the Probst Family Heritage Farm, between Bluffton and Ada in the country, are raised on the land doing all the things that come "natural" to them - Ada Herald
Pigs on the Probst Family Heritage Farm, between Bluffton and Ada in the country, are raised on the land doing all the things that come "natural" to them. (Ada Herald/Joe Schriner)

ADA — Have you ever thought about what you eat?

No, I mean have you really thought about what you eat?

ONU Professor Jonathan Spelman and the students in his “Food Ethics” class do.

Take eating animals.

Like a cow.

It takes some 2,000 gallons of water and 12 pounds of grain to produce: only one pound of beef for your average feed lot cow.

Professor Spelman said that gives students pause.

For instance, said the professor, what inevitably comes up in class is: “Is it more efficient to feed the people plants, than to feed the animals plants – and then eat the animals.

This is one of the reasons, personally, that Professor Spelman is a vegetarian.

What’s more, data indicates a lot more people, worldwide, could be fed with the plants.

And here’s another carnivore conundrum.

Animal cruelty.

Professor Spelman said the state-of-art, if you will, on traditional confinement farms these days is that the animals are tremendously over-crowded, and, well: “confined.”

That is, for instance, pigs on these farms are raised in small stalls on concrete floors their entire lives and, often, pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics. And being confined together in close, hot quarters, Professor Spelman explains that the pigs’ tails are also cut off, and their teeth “clipped” (without antiseptic) so they don’t bite each other.

By contrast, on some smaller farms, pigs are raised outdoors. They forage, roll in the mud to cool off, and do other things that come “natural” to them.

The dynamics of “ethical” treatment of these animals is discussed, at length, in class.

And that’s not all that’s discussed.

What about food ethics when it comes to how some plant food is grown?

On many conventional farms these days, for instance, genetically modified crops are grown with artificial, and often toxic, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

Some agronomists say this, in turn, damages the soil.

The existential question in class, said Professor Spelman, then becomes: Does short term extensive productivity trump long-term sustainability for future generations?

As part of these class sections, the professor takes students on field trips to local organic farms, and such, so they can observe what would be considered “alternative farming” in the modern age.

From this exposure, tough ethical questions arise.

And here’s yet another…

The professor said another philosophical question each semester revolves around “junk food.” And it’s one that needs to be dissected on a number of levels.

For instance, Professor Spellman said the American government provides subsidies for growing certain types of foods, with big subsidies to corn.

In turn, corn is grown in massive quantities. And by extension, one of its major uses in American is making corn syrup. Corn syrup that goes into, say, soda pop.

So not only does soda pop become non-nutritional junk beverage, if you will, but some of its addictive properties can help contribute to people being overweight. (Currently in America, some 66% of people are considered overweight, with 33% of these are deemed “obese.”)

Class discussion then starts to revolve around ways to impact this, both at a consumption level — and at a systemic level.

The professor added that there should, indeed, be healthy debate, including some incisive philosophical analysis of: What’s on one’s plate these days?