Dr. Susan Feldman, Philosophy

Environmental Philosophy: The Chinese Context

As a result of my participation in the 2014 Valley and Ridge trip to Yunnan China and the seminar readings and discussions preceding it, I am in a position to carry out the plan initially discussed in my Oct. 2013, to change my course on Environmental Ethics to incorporate material on Chinese food production and consumption. The course engages questions concerning the concepts of ‘nature’ and the ‘wild’, moral questions involving human responsibility for the non-human natural world, and a case study involving critical application of theories to a specific issue. In the last two times I have taught the course, the case study focused on food in the US, tracing its path from farm to truck to processing plant to table; it explored and assessed production and consumption practices in terms of sustainability and other ethical concerns. My plan to enlarge the focus to include Chinese examples will allow students to compare and contrast these practices, the policies which generate them, and the assumptions which support them.

I plan to add consideration of solid waste to the food unit. One of the surprising and eye-opening features of our travels in Yunnan was the constant sighting of trash, floating in waterways, piled on roadsides and tossed in culverts, reminiscent of the US in the 1960’s.  Largely plastic, much of the visible waste seems to be the remnants of bottled drinks or packaged food, so considering the issue of solid waste generation as part of the unit on the food production and consumption cycle will help students gain insights into the complexities of environmental issues and policies.

In incorporating China into the food unit, I aim for students to gain understanding of environmental, economic and human impacts from food production and consumption practices in the US and China. To demonstrate their learning, I will ask them to write a paper involving an assessment of some of these practices, and proposed alternatives, using methods of comparison and ethical analysis.