As if in answer to Erasmus' prayer, Spencer does become a Philosopher of the Kitchen arguing that “if there is a wrong in respect of the taking of food (and drink) there must also be a right” (1897)
In The Principles of Ethics, Herbert Spencer has a section in which he has something to say about the ethics of nutrition and the preference of many to denounce the excess swallowing of liquids rather than of solids:
- Except perhaps in agreeing that gluttony is to be reprobated and that the gourmet, as well as the gourmand, is a man to be regarded with scant respect, most people will think it is absurd to imply as the above title does, that ethics has anything to say about the taking of food. Though, by condemning excesses of the kinds just indicated, they imply that men ought not to be guilty of them, and by the use of this word class them as wrong; yet they ignore the obvious fact that if there is a wrong in respect of the taking of food there must also be a right…
Mention of these facts is a fit preliminary to the question whether, in respect of food, desires ought or ought not to be obeyed. As already said, treatment of this inquiry as ethical will be demurred to by most and by many ridiculed. Though, when not food but drink is in question, their judgments, very strongly expressed, are of the kind they class as moral; yet they do not see that since the question concerns the effect of things swallowed, it is absurd to regard the conduct which causes these effects as moral or immoral when the things are liquid but not when they are solid.
Here we have another impressively hirsute Victorian gentleman, now sporting what were called “mutton chops” or sideburns. He was nothing if not comprehensive in this writing and here he turns to a philosophical analysis of eating and drinking. It is possible that he had in the back of his mind the anti-alcohol temperance movement which tried to place government enforced limits on what people could drink. This quote is appropriate between Thanksgiving and Christmas when eating and drinking are on many people’s minds.