Case Study: The Food Bank

This is an ethical dilemma involving a situation at a food bank. Michelle, the director of a neighbourhood house, also oversees the food bank services at the neighbourhood house. She has decided to remove and decline all donations of processed food from the bank because she has noticed the people who use the food bank becoming increasingly unhealthy. As a result of this, however, the shelves of the food bank are beginning to look bare; Tim, Michelle’s associate, asks her to change this policy. Even though he sees where Michelle is coming from, he believes that the bad consequences of this (being low donations) outweigh her reasoning.

In order to mediate this disagreement between Michelle and Tim, I will look at the values that motivate the both of them and come up with ways that they could potentially resolve their dispute.

Michelle and Tim both share the value of helping people through providing with them with food. This can be seen as being part of Homer’s heroic code, being good people (kalo k’agathos), because they help strangers and resist hubris (Griffin, AT1, 1). It seems that from there, they differ in their approach.

Michelle’s decision to remove processed food from the food bank seems to be motivated by her caring for the people who go to neighbourhood house and for their health. This can be seen as a concern for their eudaimonia, as Aristotle talked about in Nicomachean Ethics. The meaning of eudaimonia is, at a simple level, “happiness” (Griffin, AT 4, 6). A better description of what it means would be “flourishing” or “fulfilment” (AT 4, 8). She seems to be looking out for the long term eudaimonia of the people. After all, if they are in poor health, it would make it more difficult for them to flourish and live better. She also seems to be more concerned with quality over quantity, although it is much more difficult to procure donations because of this. Overall, she demonstrates aretê (“to be a speaker of words and doer of deeds”) (AT1, 1) – she does what she says she would do.

Tim, on the other hand, seems to be most concerned with the short term consequences of Michelle’s decision. Although he sees where Michelle is coming from, he thinks that the bare shelves and lower donations is more detrimental. In a way, it can be said that Tim is more concerned about quantity over quality. I would not go as far as to say that Tim does not care about the people’s eudaimonia, but he certainly approaches it differently. He is not incorrect though – a food bank with bare shelves and low donations would not be sustainable either – after all, wouldn’t it be better to have a food bank, albeit stocked with unhealthy options, than no food bank at all?

Both Michelle and Tim, again, share the value of wanting to help the people who go to the neighbourhood house and they both try to achieve that although in different ways. It would follow that Michelle, by wanting to provide healthy food options to them, it would help them more in the long run; it also follows that Tim’s desire to keep the food bank well-stocked also helps the people who can’t always afford food. I think that there are several ways that they could resolve their disagreement while taking both sides into consideration.

One way to resolve this would be to somehow elevate the amount of donations that are healthy and more nutrient heavy. This could be an advertising and education campaign, highlighting the need in the community for healthy food. This could also be an opportunity to establish a partnership with a fresh food grocer who could provide fruits and vegetables that they could not sell. This way, it satisfies Michelle’s desire to provide the people who use the food bank with healthier options and also Tim’s concern with empty shelves.

Another way they can deal with this dilemma is to have a conversation about what they value and envision about the food bank. Is it just a place for people to get sustenance? Or should it aim to be a more sustainable option and promote healthy food choices? Should it be their concern to worry about the physical health and dietary choices of the people who come through the food bank? Perhaps in that way they can come up with a solution that might rebrand the food bank, or at least come to an agreement about how to deal with the issue at hand.

The last solution I would suggest to Michelle and Tim would be to have a conversation with the people who use the food bank at the neighbourhood house and get an idea of what they value more – healthy food options and a small stock, or less healthy, but plentiful selection. After all, they are the ones who directly benefit from the food bank. Their input should matter.

Ultimately, I don’t think that Michelle and Tim’s values differ that greatly, but certainly the way they approach the issue is different. Both of them mean well, but to ensure the eudaimonia of both the food bank and the people who use it, it would benefit them to consider some of the solutions I suggested.


Griffin, Michael. Athenian Reader: (1) Homer, Hesiod, and Pindar. N.p.: n.p., n.d. PDF.

Griffin, Michael. Athenian Reader: (4) Plato and Aristotle. N.p.: n.p., n.d. PDF.

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