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Professors relate food and ethics

Professors at the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies are creating JustFood, a project that will address local and global food problems by giving consumers accessibility to the information they need to make the right diet choices.

The project’s creators are focusing on bringing issues such as animal treatment, justice of labor workers and access to food in developing nations to the forefront of people’s food choices in an attempt to begin discussions about how those decisions impact security.

Philosophy professor Joan McGregor, a JustFood co-founder, said once people know about their food products and where they come from, they might be less inclined to buy certain items.

“We need to bring people together from different disciplines and also different perspectives to look at issues about food justice,” McGregor said.  “This would also involve people from the community to look at how we would start to solve some of these challenges.”

The project’s creators proposed their idea for JustFood to the Global Institute of Sustainability on the Tempe campus Wednesday to potentially gain partnership and investment from the school.

JustFood plans to create resources such as art galleries and a film series in addition to bringing local chefs to the ASU community to further educate students.

“The point is to really start to raise the level of discussion about food and the value of food,” McGregor said.

JustFood also wants to create a mobile application so information is readily available to those interested.

Matthew Garcia, director and professor at the SHPRS and JustFood co-founder, said the app would provide information about the life cycle of food items, including how they were delivered to the market and the labor conditions of the producers.

“The scholars know how to do research, but don’t do very well in delivering the information to the public,” Garcia said. “People and information can help bridge the disconnect ... so consumers have access to the kind of knowledge circulating around academia.”

The app will allow users to look up natural foods like fruits and vegetables to see the history of how the product got to that market.

“What’s hidden in natural foods today is the impact on the environment, for example, the effect of its delivery to local markets on the environment and what kind of conditions the labor workers (who produced the food) were in,” Garcia said.

Greg Yanke, a philosophy junior who conducts research for McGregor, said there is a direct relationship between a person’s health and the environmental impact.

“The highest impact categories for food on the environment were highly processed foods,” Yanke said.  “The least impact was vegetables and fruits, which are the same foods that nutritionists say we should eat.”

Yanke also focuses on understanding the distribution of food around the world and how it is an ethical global problem.

A large social inequity that needs to be addressed is how large numbers of people are obese, but many people are also malnourished, Yanke said.

Garcia and McGregor are optimistic about the transmission of information and the effects it will have on society as a whole.

“It is a topic that will captivate a lot of people and a lot of students, whatever their discipline is,” McGregor said. “These are real issues that are confronting us and food issues can be front and center.”


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