What’s the right thing to do? A case study

Every day, three times a day, 2400 Middlebury students face splendid choices in three dining halls. Eggs, pancakes, fruit and yogurt for breakfast; chicken parm, pasta, burgers and a glorious salad bar for lunch; more of the same – better! – for dinner.

Each day, at least 2400 Vermonters near our campus, in Addison County and into neighboring Rutland County, have no such choice. These fellow citizens – kids, often – wake up hungry, remain hungry through much of the day, and too often go to bed hungry.  Some perspective: these Vermonters are not starving; on occasion, they eat well. But their lack of access to a consistent source of healthy food harms them, now and in the future.  Young people in such a state of poverty have more trouble learning and thriving: they are less likely to graduate from high school, to go to college, to break the cycle of poverty.

It would not be hard to change this. Imagine if Middlebury students petitioned the college administration to do the following:

  • Reduce the daily choice in each dining hall at each meal.  So at a dinner, for example, just spaghetti and (optional) meatballs; salad with tomato and cucumber only; vanilla cake; milk, juice, water, coffee, tea.  The same would go for breakfast and lunch: nutritious. perfectly good, very little choice.
  • Reduce the dining-room staff on that day, saving $1000 day.  (Those staff would lose a vacation day or the equivalent take-home pay.)
  • Using that $1000 to deliver 7200 meals – the very same meal of spaghetti for dinner and the comparable breakfasts and lunches – to social agencies and schools in our area. (And because of the reduction in choice and the lay-off of staff, this would all cost the same as a typical choice-heavy day in our dining halls.)

Feasible, right?  In fact, not a bad idea at all. Let’s call it ‘Midd Cares and Shares’ (MCS).

So, here’s the question.  Given that Middlebury students are here for 200 days per year, for how many days would you advocate that the college run MCS? 0? 200?  Somewhere in between?

In class today, you will meet in groups of three or four and come up with an answer to this question. To formulate and then justify your answer, you will be asked to weigh the perspectives of three great philosophers – Kant, Rawls, and Aristotle. How would each of them answer this question, and why? How do you know?

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