Food and metaphysics might seem worlds apart since food could easily be mistaken for being just nutrition, but food has both scientific and metaphysical aspects.  Food science covers the biological, social and cultural aspects of human life, and food metaphysics tries to answer what is food and it turns out it is far more than simply nutrition.  It turns out that people really care deeply about these differences in food metaphysics as these have very real consequences for our health, the environment, and the economy.  Predictably, there is no consensus among philosophers or sages about the nature of food but there are several good candidates.

Nutrition: One aspect of food metaphysics that it’s easy to agree on is that food is a substance metabolized by organisms to sustain, grow and repair their vital life processes.  In all the life forms we know this is accomplished by nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, fibers, protein, vitamins, and minerals and since these and other chemical compounds are essential for basic bodily functioning this nutritional model is objective (that are really present) and not open to interpretation but here agreement on food metaphysics ends.

Other aspects include food as social good, nature, culture, spirituality, desideratum, aesthetic object and much else. For example, since food is a basic human need (a requirement for life) that is essential for living together in harmonious societies it is a fundamental aspect of social justice.  Thus the metaphysics of food must include the availability of and distribution of food and includes the basic institutions of society and the regulation of food distribution is directly related to principles of justice.  

Culture: Food also has social meaning beyond nutrition and is both expressive and normative.  Each society prohibits some foods and sanctions others.  Society determines good foods, bad foods, appropriate and inappropriate foods, legal and illegal foods, basic and celebratory foods, ritualistic and symbolic foods and much more.  Further, food preparation and consumption are bound by beliefs, practices, and laws of nations and it turns out that food and culture are massively interwoven.

Spiritual: Food metaphysics must also consider religions aspects of food as all prescribe which foods should be eaten and which should be avoided usually assigning dietary regimentation with moral conduct and spiritual salvation.  Food on this model has a metaphysically immaterial side that is realized only in religious practice.  This spiritual dimension of food connects us to religious communities to the supernatural when consumed appropriately.

Aesthetics: Aesthetically food metaphysics has two aspects.  Firstly, as the object of aesthetic experience on our senses.  We describe the food as delicious, satisfying, or disgusting; over-cooked, fresh, or crunchy. Secondly, there is the visual presentation and sensual composition and we judge food on its properties such as its presentation, elegance, heartiness, or simplicity.

The list goes on and other aspects include food as: a commodity (to be bought and sold on the market,) as ethical or unethical (eg, vegetarianism and or cannibalism,) diets, fuels, technology, and so on.  Food then is much more than merely nutrition and to understand food and its place in our lives, our society, our traditions there are many sides to this puzzle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *