Philosophy of Food

Helsinki Summer School 2020 was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kindly note that Helsinki Summer School 2021 will not be arranged due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


This course examines food from a multidisciplinary perspective, making use of anthropology, biology, ecology, sociology, psychology, economics, food sciences and philosophy. Students of these fields – advanced Bachelor’s level or at the Master’s level – are warmly invited to take this course. It is recommended for students in their 3rd year or beyond.


This course examines philosophical and ethical aspects of human interactions with the natural world, especially regarding the sustainable production of food. With a rapidly growing population and consumption, humans affect the environment in ever-more detrimental ways. Roughly half of the Earth’s habitable land is dedicated to food, and about three-quarters of this for livestock. Food production is set within a larger context of environmental ethics: how do we value nature? We will examine such concepts as intrinsic value, species protection, and wilderness. Ultimately we must ask: How can humanity attain ‘strong sustainability’, which allows both ourselves and nature at large to flourish in the long run?


The course is led by Dr Pasi Heikkurinen (DSc in Econ), Senior Lecturer at the University of Helsinki, and Dr David Skrbina (PhD in Phil), most recently a Senior Lecturer at the University of Michigan, both specialists in sustainability, philosophy and food.


This course introduces students to the new concept of a ‘philosophy of food’, as an aspect of the broader notions of sustainability and environmental ethics. Students will learn basic concepts in philosophical ethics, especially the concepts of intrinsic value, instrumentality, deep ecology, and strong sustainability. Food production will be cast in terms of trade-offs with nature, and with respect to human health and well-being. Notions of sufficiency, luxury, and needs vs wants will be explained, particularly in the context of a modern technological society. Students will develop skills that enable them to analyse food as a philosophical problem and find holistic solutions to the prevailing unsustainability of the food system.


The course consists of lectures, in-class discussions, group work, readings, and a variety of short written assignments. On two or three class days, students will visit local restaurants as a part of their class session.


Grading scale: 5 = excellent 4 = very good 3 = good 2 = average 1 = poor 0 = fail.

Assessment is based on:

  • Participation during lectures (20%)
  • Group exercise (20%)
  • Short written assignments (40%)
  • One exam (20%)


City Centre Campus

Preliminary course schedule
Classes will be held from 10.00-15.00, with one hour for lunch.

Wed 5 Aug

  • Basic concepts in philosophy and ethics. What is ‘food’? Situating food production and consumption within a larger picture of sustainability.

Thu 6 Aug

  • Ancient origins and historical concepts. The four worldviews.

Fri 7 Aug

  • Development of modern ideas on nature and food. Reverence toward nature. Nature as alive.

Mon 10 Aug

  • Technology and nature. Problems of human/nature interaction.

Tue 11 Aug

  • Religious mandates. Christianity as implicated in environmental damage.

Wed 12 Aug

  • Rights in nature. Who counts, ethically? Plants as sentient.

Thu 13 Aug

  • Issues surrounding vegetarianism and veganism.
  • Video: G. Yourofsky, ADAPTT.

Fri 14 Aug

  • Food and technology. Technology as root cause.

Mon 17 Aug

  • IPAT equation. Issues on population. Ecological footprint.

Tue 18 Aug

  • Technology and more radical solutions.

Wed 19 Aug

  • Alternate philosophies. Deep ecology. Technological consciousness.

Thu 20 Aug

  • Toward a new mindset. Wrap-up and conclusions. Evaluation and feedback.


Selected excerpts from the following texts:

  • G. Monbiot, 'Sleepwalking to extinction'
  • S. Sanders, 'Fleet of Arks'
  • J. Diamond, 'Worst mistake in the history of the human race'
  • Aristotle, 'Nicomachean ethics'
  • Plato and Aristotle: reflections on nature
  • Epicurus, 'Letter to Menoeceous'
  • Spinoza, 'Ethics'
  • Marx, 'Capital'
  • Thoreau, 'Walden', 'Huckleberries'
  • L. White, 'Historical roots'
  • C. Stone, 'Should trees have standing?'
  • K. Goodpaster, 'On moral considerability'
  • Regan, 'Case for animal rights'
  • Orwell, 'Road to Wigan Pier'
  • G. Bateson, 'Roots'
  • G. Hardin, 'Lifeboat ethics'
  • Singer, 'Famine, affluence, morality'
  • T. Kaczynski, 'Industrial society'
  • D. Skrbina, 'Creative reconstruction'
  • Green Anarchy on technology
  • B. Devall, 'Deep ecology'
  • H. Skolimowski, 'Toward tech consciousness'
  • T. Roszak, 'Eco-psychology'
  • H. Skolimowski, 'Dawn of ecological ethics'.