Are You What You Eat?

Are You What You Eat?

Philosophy professor shares tips on the ethics of eating animals

By Pauline Oo

Assistant Professor of Philosophy Jeff Johnson is working on two papers focused on the ethics of eating animals. One paper questions the standard approaches that philosophers typically take to the issue; the other explores the concepts of humanely raised and humanely killed animals.

Here, Johnson (a cat owner, by the way) shares five tips on living ethically with animals:

  • DO find out as much as you can about how farmed animals are treated in being made into food. Read accounts of this treatment in books such as Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals. Though it's hard to do, consider watching undercover video captured on factory farms. Here's a good compilation:
  • DON'T forget to ask yourself what it might be like for chickens, pigs and cows to be treated as they are on factory farms. Compassion begins with empathy.
  • DO think about how much you care about your cat, dog or other companion animal. Consider extending that kind of care to chickens, pigs and cows, too.
  • DON'T be afraid to try plant-based meals. Many tasty meat and dairy alternatives are on the market. Have fun exploring new options with friends and family. An extensive list of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly restaurants worldwide is at:
  • DO ask yourself this: When it is in my power to make compassionate food choices, why wouldn't I?

This semester, Johnson is co-teaching (with Joshua Haringa, assistant professor of communication studies) an honors seminar titled "Food, Identity and Values." He is teaching a section of "The Reflective Woman" that focuses on food ethics. He has also paired with theology professor Ed Sellner to co-teach the honors course "Thinking about Animals: Our Kinship and Our Responsibilities."

The Women's Art Institute