Religious Dietary Practices and Secular Food Ethics; or, How to Hope that Your Food Choices Make a Difference Even When You Reasonably Believe That They Don’t

In Mark Budolfson, Anne Barnhill & Tyler Doggett (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Food Ethics. New York, USA: Oxford University Press (2018)
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Abstract
Religious dietary practices foster a sense of communal identity, certainly, but traditionally they are also regarded as pleasing to God (or the gods, or the ancestors) and spiritually beneficial. In other words, for many religious people, the effects of fasting go well beyond what is immediately observed or empirically measurable, and that is a large part of what motivates participation in the practice. The goal of this chapter is to develop that religious way of thinking into a response to a motivational problem that arises from our awareness of the insensitivity of contemporary food supply chains. If someone can have faith, or at least tenacious hope, that the significance of her food choices goes well beyond what is immediately observed or empirically measurable, then she may be less demoralized by the apparent inefficacy of those choices. The chapter concludes by considering a way in which this broadly religious way of thinking might be available to secular people as well.
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