PCCW symposium looks at food ethics, small farms

Chignell and Rangarajan
Chris Kitchen/University Photography
Andrew Chignell, visiting associate professor in the Sage School of Philosophy, left, and Anu Rangarajan, director of the Cornell Small Farms Program, speak at the 2017 President’s Council of Cornell Women Symposium, “Feeding the World Sustainably."

Roughly 100 Cornell alumnae gathered March 4 as part of the 2017 President’s Council of Cornell Women Symposium, “Feeding the World Sustainably.”

Highlights included presentations on food ethics by Andrew Chignell, professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania and visiting associate professor in Cornell’s Sage School of Philosophy, and on small farms by Anu Rangarajan, director of the Cornell Small Farms Program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“Like it or not, we face difficult moral decisions when we decide how to shop, order, eat and dispose,” said moderator Nancy Williams Clark ’62.

Chignell’s segment, Just a Taste of Ethics, discussed these decisions and how they are integrated into his philosophy course, the Ethics of Eating. Students in the course study aspects of moral food consumption as it relates to human habits and animal welfare; they are also encouraged to study empirical data concerning the consumption of food.

Students in his course have the opportunity to visit Ithaca businesses as a means of understanding food production on a local scale. Chignell said the students have a variety of reactions to visiting these businesses, most notably a community slaughterhouse: “Some swore off meat altogether after we left ... and some had their first hamburger in a long time.”

Chignell showed the audience a series of video clips in which he interviewed distinguished food morality speakers such as animal welfare researcher and Cornell food scientist Joe Regenstein and animal rights advocate and feminist critic Carol J. Adams.

“You love bacon because you want to persist in an ignorance that allows for suffering,” Adams said in her clip, a statement which drew laughter from the crowd.

Rangarajan discussed her work with small farms and what communities can do to ensure such farms are supported. She said 90 percent of the world’s farms are small farms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a small farm as an operation making less than $350,000 in gross revenue per year. Rangarajan said a small farm is also an operation in which the majority of the labor is provided by the family or one principal operator.

Rangarajan also noted that the majority of world’s farmers are women. “Just as reminder,” she said, “that is the real face of agriculture.” Women represent a growing percent of the farmers in the U.S. as well, she said.

She pointed to an important challenge facing agriculture – the majority of today’s farmers are middle aged or older, and as they retire, there is a dearth of younger farmers to replace them. Citing the need to diversify the current demographic makeup of farmers, Rangarajan also discussed programs to recruit military veterans, new Americans and others to farming. Above all, the quality potential farmers need is resilience, she said.

Teagan Todd ’20 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.

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