- Nourishment: A Philosophy of the Body by Corine Pelluchon
by Corine Pelluchon, translated by Justin E. H. Smith.
London, UK: Bloomsbury, 2019
Nourishment is a rich and ambitious text that situates human existence in its ecological materiality to broaden our ethical and political responsibilities beyond currently living individuals. With food procurement and nourishment as her focus, Pelluchon asks what do we owe our ancestors, what are our duties to future generations, and how are we to relate to nonhuman beings with whom we share the world.
The objective of the book is “to propose a philosophy of existence that integrates what ecology teaches us about ‘living form,’ and to deduce from this a political organization connected to the elaboration of a new social pact” (9). The book is structured in two parts. The first part outlines “what ecology teaches us about living form” and uses a phenomenology of nourishment to disrupt and trouble the fiction of the state of nature that contractualist political philosophy relies on. The second part focuses on the political organization and new social pact that takes seriously the question: “What rules might structure this social order when it is founded on an individual who is not self-sufficient and who in relationship to himself and to nourishment, already relates to other human beings in the past, present, and future, as well as to other living beings?” (23)
Nourishment is over 400 pages. As such, I will not be able to review all aspects of this book, but I will provide an overview of each part and note particular areas for praise and critique. The first part—A Phenomenology of Nourishment— provides a much needed analysis of the importance of ecological thinking in ethics and politics. Pelluchon outlines a broadly Levinasian approach that takes hunger as the starting point of existence. From before birth, we are dependent on others to satisfy our hunger. Pelluchon provides a rich description of what it means to take hunger, eating, and the procurement of food seriously as the basis for existence and intersubjectivity.
Nourishment attempts “the study of the milieus in which living beings live and reproduce” (5). This ecological approach is a welcome addition to a long tradition of environmental and bioethical thinking, particularly in the West, that thinks of and with a human subject that is separate from the world it inhabits. For Pelluchon, habit and habitat are crucial for thinking and doing ethics: “To think about the manner in which I inhabit the earth and in which I do or do not cohabit with other species, to speak not of resources but of nourishment, is to go further than any philosophy of the environment” (7). [End Page 157]
The objective of Nourishment is not to develop a politics and ethics that reconciles economic growth with environmental sustainability but to broaden ethics to call “into question his/her freedom through the existence of others, whom I must not deprive of access to nourishment, and on whom I must not impose a diminished life.” (7) This way of thinking transforms and expands responsibility into “care of other species and of future generations” (8). Nourishment, for Pelluchon, does not simply mean the food required for sustenance but “the milieu in which we move, everything we procure for ourselves, the manner in which we procure it . . . goes beyond the dualism of nature and culture” and does not allow us to conceive of nature as a resource (10).
In contrast to a lot of food ethics and public health nutrition literature, Pelluchon emphasizes the importance of taste and pleasure as part of nourishment. Food and eating is not an instrumental or utilitarian act but to savor things and enjoy their beauty. It is a relationship of enjoyment that connects one to others. This perspective increases the significance of the mouth, which “is the entryway of a varied and dynamic network of relations and exchanges between the body and the world, the subject and society, me and others, the individual and nature, human beings and animals” (42). As such, the significance of the mouth and eating is much more than “nutritive intake” (43...