David Groenfeldt, PhD, is founder and Director of the Water-Culture Institute, in Santa Fe, New Mexico (USA), and adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. He participated in the Feeding the World, Ethically working group meeting in Ranco, Italy in October 2014. Here is a brief interview as part of the Perspectives on Global Food Ethics blog series.



Can you briefly describe your related background and interest in food security?


My interest in food grew out of my interest in international economic development and how to deal with poverty. As an anthropologist my interest in development was not about how to make the rest of the world “like us” but how could other cultures develop in their own ways, overcome baseline poverty, and flourish in ways they define for themselves. So when I consider solutions to food security, I try to stay as close to the local culture as possible.  Yes, you have more mouths to feed as population increases, but let’s find local solutions that entail minimal cultural disruption.


In your opinion, what are the most pressing ethical issues in your domain related to global food security?


The biggest ethics issue is “Where should we look for solutions?” In my view we should be guided by a conservative ethic analogous to “First, do no harm” and look for solutions to food security that lie within the local cultural and environmental milieu.  The fact that there is a global food security crisis does not mean that global-level solutions are going to be the answer.  The Green Revolution of the past, and the neo-liberal Ag-food-land policies of the present, have drastically under-valued the potential for solutions growing out of local ecosystems and cultural systems.


Can you share one issue or anecdote from the Feeding the World, Ethically meeting in Ranco that may have changed your perception on one ethical problem within food and nutrition security?


The issue of animal rights had always seemed to me as a fringe issue in agrifood ethics, but the discussions in Ranco gave me a new understanding that how we treat animals, and how we treat soils, rivers, and each other, are all part of the same ethical gestalt.  The larger lesson that I came away with is that ethics in one sector (kindness to cows) cannot be a substitute for ethics in another sector (e.g., confiscating the lands of Indigenous communities for a palm oil plantation).  The ethics of the whole food system needs to be considered together.


What is your hope for making progress on this ethical problem?


A key pathway for making progress could be to divide the ethical problem into components or “sectors” for purposes of analysis, and then put the components back together again and assess the ethics of the whole.  I propose analyzing five domains of ethics related to agrifood:  (a) Environmental ethics, (b) Economic ethics, (c) Social ethics, (d) Cultural ethics, and (e) Governance ethics.  By seeking to maximize “value” within each domain, checks are built into the solution-forming process.  Acknowledging “Cultural ethics” is particularly important to counter the natural tendency of powerful cultures (the West) imposing their cultural mores.



Global Food Ethics Project: Feeding the World Fairly


See Also: Bioethics Seminar Series, March 24, 2014: David Groenfeldt:

Toward an Ethical Response to the Water Crisis

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David Groenfeldt
Global Food Ethics

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