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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Club

I have been thinking about how to blog about this for almost a week, so I am just going to go with the flow.  About a month ago, a member of one of the advisory boards of the University asked me if I would pick a book and come lead a discussion with her and her book group.  I said yes.  It would be a hard thing to say no to.

I picked the book I usually assign to my class, Peter Singer and Jim Mason's The Ethics of What We Eat.  It's accessible to a non-philosophical audience, has a lot of interesting facts in it and covers a lot of ground.  While I am not a utilitarian and take care to highlight this and the parts that are very utilitarian to my class, it is a good, fast overview of a lot of the ethical issues that make up the landscape of the discussion.  Some are given shorter treatment than others, some perhaps more treatment than they deserve, in a classroom, I can mitigate those effects.

As the day of the book group approached, I got a little more anxious.  I likely was going to be speaking with a group of fairly well-to-do women.  I did not know their educational background or anything really about them.  In a class, I have time to get to know students and figure out what to focus on.  In a one shot deal, not so much.  And while I have done some unconventional speaking in relation to my academic work in the ethics of food, this might be the most unconventional.

All in all, it went ok.  I had some fun.  They surely did.  They all brought donations for the local food bank and the hostess made a donation to Catholic Relief Services' work in Kenya helping the Somali refugees to mark the occasion.  (This was in lieu of my "fee."  She wanted, graciously, to pay me for my time, but I was unsure what to ask for and felt a little weird about it anyway.  An honorarium for an academic talk is one thing, but to take a fee for a book club seemed weird to me.)

The discussion mostly focused on ethics and food as it related to personal health, which is often the first thing people want to talk about.  I tried to connect it to the health of the environment, animals and workers rights, but it was a bit of a tough sell with some of them.  I gently corrected some common myths about diet and health, about the environment, and about how government regulations do and don't work.

On reflection, though, it's not a bad idea--have an expert (yes, I guess I am the expert here) in to talk to a book group.  It's the M.O. of this group.  And if I ever get asked to do something like this again, I will be better prepared and have a better idea of what to do and how to work in that setting.  I guess everyone learned something, then!

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