Integral Ethics Part I: Food

Integral Theory helps us hold multiple perspective; still, decisions must be made and actions taken. In that regard, one question remains largely unanswered, “does an integral worldview impose any moral imperatives?” Postmodernity, taken to the extreme, makes all perspectives equal. Integral includes honoring the relative truth of all perspectives but also reintroduces ranking. An integral perspective does not pretend that all actions are equally loving and good for the kosmos. No matter how many perspectives we honor in theory, we end up embodying the ones that we find ethical and act accordingly. The question is whether or not integral consciousness will tend to foster certain behaviors over others. Does integral have normative potential?


An integral approach to the ethics of eating means considering everything from personal well being to tribal connectivity to planetary ecology to economic feasibility when making food choices. Food is one area where we do not have a clear scientific consensus on best practices. Facts will continue to be presented in an endless process of discovery. It is the values we place upon this objective data that determines our ethics. We each hold cultural and social norms which vary wildly depending on tradition, region, religion, class, education, generation and socioeconomic means. Personal preferences change with the seasons and with the years.

In days past religious laws from Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism all imposed dietary restrictions that were passed down from above and largely accepted. Contemporary eaters consider food being local vs. imported, organic vs. conventional vs. GMO, vegan, vegetarian, dairy or gluten-free and on and on. We each make our own decision based on tradition, law, reason, instinct and intuition.

You have likely been asked many times whether or not you feel a moral imperative to limit your consumption of meat. Have you had dog on your plate this year? How about cow? Do you support your local farmer? How about when dining out, at holidays or as a guest at someone else's home? We each have ideals. We also have practical limits and exceptions to these ideals. Have you taken a hard stance dietarily? Did it stick? Have you recanted?

We all talk about the gap between theory and embodiment. The decisions we make and the ethics by which we make them are our personal statements, our theory embodied. While we vote for the president once every four years, we wield great power daily when we make food choices. This discussion will not be about judging one another. It will be about letting ourselves be a little bit vulnerable so that we can learn from and share with one another. Integral theory does not judge people as 'right' or 'wrong', but can it help us to assess actions and ideas as more or less loving? Does this not have have normative potential?

All of these questions and many more will be 'on the table' as we attempt to come up with an Integral Ethics of Eating.

(For a bit of background on how nutritional science plays into my ethics and coaching read my post here. http://www.lifestyleintegrity.com/nutritional-science-sucks/ - Devin)

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  • A former member
    A former member

    Both more in-depth conversation than I can get my hands on in normal life and yet not enough! I wish we could talk all day.

    November 20, 2012

  • Michael P.

    I would also add that the conversation should undoubtedly include the collective dimension of food, or food production, not just individual consumption. Food politics if you will.

    October 18, 2012

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