Ethics of Floor Meat

Have you ever dropped food on the floor? Have you ever been inclined to pick it up and eat it? If it’s just you and you know what dropped on the floor, for how long, etc., then that decision might make sense. Would you be OK with a chef in a restaurant making that kind of decision for you? My guess would be no …

On a recent episode of Chopped Canada on the Canadian version of Food Network, one of the competing chefs dropped all their sliced raw meat on the floor of the kitchen. The chef then proceeded to wash the meat for several minutes and ended up cooking it and serving it to the judges, who ate it.

So, what’s the ethical issue here? Mostly I think it consists in the bad example that eating the floor meat sets for others. The Chopped Canada kitchen is unique in being very transparent. Everything that happens is being observed closely and filmed. This left the judges in a good position to evaluate what happened to the meat and how it was treated afterwards and make a personal decision about whether to eat the meat. While it was personal, though, it wasn’t private as the Chopped Canada kitchen is uniquely public as well.

The contestant in question and some of the judges are professional chefs and it doesn’t seem appropriate to set a public example that serving floor meat is acceptable, especially when it’s hard to imagine any other scenario of people being served food that would be as transparent as the Chopped Canada kitchen. What might have been a justifiable personal decision, becomes a problematic one when you add the context of professional obligations in a public setting.

I’d have hoped the contestant, judges and producers of the show would have looked at things through that lens and decided that the meat shouldn’t have been served or eaten, since the unique situation of the show is so unlike the real life situations where a similar situation might occur. One can only hope they haven’t left anyone glancing with concern at the next plate of food they get at a restaurant.

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