Philosophy, Psychology and Neuroscience

Ethical information and the aesthetic value of food: An interdisciplinary approach

It has been suggested that information about ethically relevant factors in production can impact both the expectation and experience of foods. However, evidence is inconsistent, with some research finding that such information improves the expected experience of foods, and other research finding that it decreases those expectations in certain cases. We begin by discussing recent philosophical work on the interaction of ethical and aesthetic values in the domain of food, work which is inspired by a similar debate about art. Some philosophers have suggested that ethical factors in production that leave a ‘trace’ on a product, i.e., make a perceivable difference to it, will affect the aesthetic quality of the food. There has also been the suggestion that these sorts of ethical/aesthetic interactions may vary across different kinds of food; that is, that positive ethical factors may increase aesthetic quality in some cases and decrease aesthetic quality in others. In two studies we examined the expected experience and the actual experience of eating various foods, when participants had been given ethically relevant information about those foods. We also examined people’s ethical values and the impact that had on the ratings. We found strong evidence to suggest that ethically relevant information impacts expected experience of food and that the valence of the information is a significant factor. We found an effect of ethical values on expectations but not experience of food. Most notably, we found evidence that suggests that ‘trace’ may be a relevant factor mediating the effect of ethically relevant information on expectations and experience of food.