Meaningless Arguments: What is Food?

Debate #1, Part I

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Welcome to “Meaningless Arguments,” a series in which Thomas Stone (also ’19) and I debate incredibly arbitrary topics with philosophical vigor.


I will type in gold, Thomas in red.

⍚: This symbol is used when somebody wishes to interrupt another while the other is making a statement.

First Debate: What is Food?

Thomas: Adam, how do you define food?

Adam: My definition, to start will be as follows: food is a solid that can be safely, and with benefit, be ingested by humans.

T: Got it, but then does a vitamin supplement alone count as food?

A: Revised: “that is traditionally ingested, for not only sustenance but also for pleasure, by humans.” Please state your counter-definition.

T: Sounds good, yet I propose that food is a semi-to-full-solid complex nutritional substance that must have a certain size.⍚

A: Gelatin? Is that food?

T: Yes, I suppose it is, typically used for the sick or dessert.

A: If gelatin is to be considered food, then why should any other gels be discounted as food, like petroleum jelly?

T: Quite simple: as you and I both said, food needs to be complex and nutritional⍚

A: Define “complex.”

T: Food should have at least one variant of C6H12O6 and some other form of nutrient.

A: So, any substance containing sugar molecules and other nutrients is considered complex.

T: Chemically, I suppose.

A: What do you mean by ‘certain size?’

T: Well a pill is not food, and while I suppose a single ravioli is, one does not have a meal of a single ravioli or a single chip of either defen⍚

A: Are snacks not food, then? Having a minor portion of a small snack would not be equated with eating a meal, would it?

T: I see your point. I suppose sizes does not matter in technicality, since complex rules out pills, which are simply nutrients.

A: I’ve been attacking your definition for some time. I believe you should have a crack at mine about now.

T: A wonderful suggestion! Yours has no measure for complexity, and your reformed definition relies on taste, wh⍚

A: Not necessarily just taste, but also other features of the food, such as social value, that is, is the food consumed ⍚

T: It does not matter. The point is that it is variable, and even if part of it is variable, that means what food is changes from person to person.

A: You make a good point. Is this an accurate restatement of your question? “Do you claim that if a person does not derive enjoyment from the consumption of the food, it, from their perspective, is not food?”

T: Correct. Food must be recognized a single thing, as food is necessary for survival, and as we are not different species, our food must not change meaning.

A: A counter-question: can a substance be food if it can be dangerous to ingest?

T: Not to be cruel, but yes. Simply being allergic, or having an intolerance, does not change the fact that in normal circumstances, people would derive fullness from substance.

A: I suppose I must answer your previous question then.  First of all, I should say that the concept of food is fluid. (not meaning that food is fluid) I posit that for ev⍚

T: The definition cannot be fluid because, as one species, we all have about the same substance toler⍚

A: But there are cultural divisions. A person from somewhere in the East, say, China, would consider certain substances food that Westerners might never⍚

T: Yes, but that is blurring the concepts of cuisine and food. It cannot be denied that however horrible, insects can be counted as a nutritional intake known as “food,” while francium is not.

A: I wish to deny this. Not everything edible is food, not everything with nutritional value is food.⍚

T: Insects are a recognized food in most of the world, though I wo⍚

A: Popular recognition is not the point of discussion! The point of discussion is whether certain substances that would provide nutrients and be edible could be considered something other than food. There certainly mu⍚

T: Not to keep defending insects, but I must point out, that it is an ancient food, only recently popular in the West. My point is that, though I do not eat them, and think it disgusting, they are food, and that is because they can provide the necessary complexities, and nutrients, and fullness to⍚

A: Perhaps, though, there is a resource that is not consumed as food because it is inaccessible, yet still fills all the requirements of your definition. With the vastness of our planet, yea, the entire universe, surely there is something. I posit that it is not food if it is not consumed.

T: Consider the Columbian exchange. Were not foods introduced to both worlds, which were previously unknown but sti⍚

A: Even if they were unknown to one side does not mean th⍚

T: As I was building towards, Modern technology has allowed us to access previously unknown, or impossible food source, yet they were always there, food waiting to be eaten.

A: Does food that is not known of, has not been discovered, and has not and will not ever be consumed fall under the definition of food, though?

T: Yes, that food, though it is impossible to eat, will wait forever to be eaten, though none may come to eat it.

A: But how can it provide nutrients if it is never ingested?

T: It has the potential to, though; uranium does not actively destroy, but the potential is there.

A: So you mean to say that anything with the qualities you have outlined, and the potential to be consumed, is food?

T: Yes.


The definitions have greatly changed since they were first stated at the beginning of the argument. Since we are fast running out of room, here they are once again.

Thomas’ Definition

  • Food must be complex.
  • It should have a variant of C6H12O6.
  • It should have nutrition.
  • It should be at least semi-solid.

Adam’s Definition

In order for anything to be considered food, it must:

  • not be liquid or gaseous (plasma doesn’t count, silly!),
  • be eaten for pleasure (whether it is a snack at a gathering, or simply a meal with one’s family) by somebody,
  • be non-toxic to the majority of people in any population.

The debate will continue in the next issue of the Shield – see you then!

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