Accepted abstract - Creative Tastebuds Symposium 2021


Rethinking food well-being through the lens of epicurean philosophy and consumer research

Opinion paper

By Liselotte Hedegaard, University College Lillebaelt, Denmark; Valérie Hémar-Nicolas, Université Paris Saclay, France

Can an ethics of well-being and sustainability provide a conceptual framework with the potential of shaping our attitudes towards food? Current food-systems rely on a successful design prompting consumers to opt for instant gratification. This is not a long-term solution. Neither for health and well-being, nor for sustainability. But does the move towards an ethical and sustainable approach to food mean that the sensory pleasures related to food will have to be abandoned?

By approaching this theme from the point of view of consumer research and philosophy, new perspectives emerge such as the possibility of re-interpreting philosophical approaches and of repositioning them in the context of consumer research. The agenda of this discussion-paper is to present a philosophical stance on pleasure and well-being as a starting point for discussing the role of ethical conceptions and sensory experience as driving forces in consumers’ relationship to food.

A key notion is ‘food well-being’. This notion has received attention in consumer research over the past decade (Block et al, 2011; Bublitz et al, 2013; Mugel et al, 2019). While the focus on well-being has made it possible to escape a narrow focus on nutrition and health as the main determinants when thinking the food-system and the behaviour of consumers, the attention has mainly been directed at the level of individual choice and experience. In some cases with reference to the philosophy of Aristotle (Ryan & Deci, 2001: Ryff & Singer, 2008). And, recently, a growing interest has emerged regarding the philosophy of Epicure (Cornil & Chandon, 2016a; Cornil & Chandon, 2016b). It is interesting that very little attention has been directed at the position of well-being within the framework of an ethics of virtue in both philosophers. This is not without impact. Understanding well-being in terms of an ethical notion means that moderation and self-discipline are virtues that the individual must seek to attain. This is the same for both Aristotle and Epicure (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics; Diogenes Laertius, Epicure). So, when Epicure is presented as a hedonist speaking in favour of pursuing only sensory pleasures, this is without merit. Contrary to Aristotle, Epicure does include sensory pleasures in his ethical thought, but there is considerable attention directed towards the relationship to others and the respect for the natural environment as well. That is, well-being is about pleasure, but it is positioned in the context of collectivity, sustainability and responsibility.

Coming back to the initial question, this paper discusses implications of an ethics of well-being and sustainability. Which ideas and conceptions form the foundations of an ethics that aims at putting well-being and sustainability at the centre of considerations? What is the role of sensory experience, in particular taste, in encouraging people to make choices that are ethical and sustainable? Can the design of food packaging and branding form incentives to make ethical choices? The discussion is positioned within design-theory. On one hand, it evolves around design in the sense of conceiving of and giving structure and function to ideas (Otto & Smith, 2013). In this case, a network of ideas and conceptions underpinning and shaping our relationship to food. On the other hand, it refers to the materiality of design in the sense that products, packaging and utensils function as gateways to decision-making (Cornil & Chandon, 2016b).



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