A reader writes:
While Ms. Laudan's thesis and historical discussion is interesting and in some ways instructive, the conclusion you cited is unfounded. How does my demand for hand-pressed olive oil force an Italian farmer into servitude or a backward lifestyle? To the contrary, my (and our) increased demand for certain products presents choices to farmers. If the Italian farmer wants to make olive oil the old fashioned way, the increased demand for such products increases the price those products will bear, and thus make it worthwhile to farm that way. If it is not worth her time to make oil the old way, she does not have to do so.
To the extent that we have assumed the mantle of the "aristocrats of old", that has little to do with the food choices we make, and everything to do with the relative economic status of us versus the people who make our food. Following Mw. Laudan's logic, do I oppress a Mexican laborer by valuing the hand-made tortillas he makes? If I choose instead not to buy his tortillas, then what is his choice? I suspect it is to go work on an assembly line at a food processing factory. The way to give that farmer more choices and consequently (hopefully) more happiness is to decrease the economic disparity between us. One way to do that is to pay him more for the fruits of his labor rather than paying less overall to my processed food providers.
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