Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 81–102 | Cite as

What to Buy? On the Complexity of Being a Critical Consumer

  • Mickey GjerrisEmail author
  • Christian Gamborg
  • Henrik Saxe


This article criticises the notion that critical/political/ethical consumerism can solve issues related to sustainability and food production. It does this by analysing the complexity of the concept of sustainability as related to food choices. The current trend of pursuing a sustainable food production through critical purchase decisions rather than through regulation is shown to be problematic, as shopping for a more sustainable food system might be much harder than initially believed due to the conflicting values and inherent trade-offs entailed in the different notions of sustainability. Thus, critical consumerism may give way to false expectations as the complexity of choices transpires. One obvious way out is to let decisions regarding food choices be made earlier in the food production chain as well as through new modes of governance engaging members of civil society in their capacity as citizens rather than consumers. This entails complementing society’s reliance on critical consumerism with a citizen-oriented and political process in support of making more sustainable food choices.


Climate change Food production Critical/political/ethical consumerism Sustainability 



The authors acknowledge financial support from the OPUS project, Institute of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, and the division of Quantitative Sustainability Assessment and the Global Decision Support Initiative, both at DTU Management Engineering.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mickey Gjerris
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christian Gamborg
    • 1
  • Henrik Saxe
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Food and Resource EconomicsUniversity of CopenhagenFrederiksberg CDenmark
  2. 2.DTU Management Engineering, Division of Quantitative Sustainability Assessment and the Global Decision Support InitiativeTechnical University of DenmarkLyngbyDenmark

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