What Food is "Good" for You? Toward a Pragmatic Consideration of Multiple Values Domains

Donald B. Thompson, Bryan McDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


What makes a food good, for you? With respect to food, the expression "good for you" usually refers to the effect of the food on the nutritional health of the eater, but it can also pertain more broadly. The expression is often used by a person who is concerned with another person's well-being, as part of an exhortation. But when framed as a question and addressed to you, as an individual, the question can require a response, calling for accountability beyond the realm of nutrition or other material qualities of the food. Economic value may be considered as a ratio: goodness/price. In this paper, we examine the numerator, exploring a broad range of values domains related to food, attempting to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the meaning of goodness of food. We present a typology of values domains with respect to food, divided into three main categories: (1) material considerations, (2) psychological, psychosocial, and spiritual health, and (3) the well-being of society. This understanding that results from comprehensive consideration of these values domains has important implications for an individual for use in considering the question "what food is good for you?" in order to guide his or her future actions, helping to distinguish between what Dewey termed immediate good and reasonable good. A pragmatic approach to a fuller consideration of food-related values domains by individuals also has broad social, political, and economic implications. If, according to the FAO, food security involves both needs and preferences, consideration of what preferences are appropriate is fundamental to achieving food security. The questions about what is considered to be good food are central to questions about the sorts of food and agricultural systems human societies will seek to sustain. The approach to resolving this important aspect of sustainability might help inform a more general question as to appropriate limitations on preferences, a question fundamental to achieving sustainability in general.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)137-163
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • History
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Environmental Science


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