What to Buy? On the Complexity of Being a Critical Consumer
- 1.2k Downloads
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.
KeywordsClimate 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.
- Audsley, E., Brander, M., Chatterton, J., Murphy-Bokern, D., Webster, C., & Williams, A. (2009). How low can we go? An assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from the UK food system and the scope to reduce them by 2050. UK: Cranfield University.Google Scholar
- Balazs, B. (2013). Civil food networks—Stakeholders’ experiences on the community supported agriculture in Hungary. Civil Szemle, 10, 107–126.Google Scholar
- Baranski, M., Średnicka-Tober, D., Volakakis, N., Seal, C., Sanderson, R., Stewart, G. B., et al. (2014). Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentration and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Nutrition (open access),. doi: 10.1017/S0007114514001366.Google Scholar
- Barber, B. R. (2007). Consumed. How markets corrupt children, infantilize adults and swallow citizens whole. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.Google Scholar
- Berry, W. (1989). The pleasures of eating. The Journal of Gastronomy, 5, 125–131.Google Scholar
- British Tomato Growers’ Association (2012). The Greenhouse Effect—Environmental Issues. http://www.britishtomatoes.co.uk/environment.
- Carrington, M. J., Neville, B. A., & Whitwell, G. J. (2010). Why ethical consumers don’t walk their talk: Towards a framework for understanding the gap between the ethical purchase intentions and actual buying behaviour of ethically minded consumers. Journal of Business Ethics, 97(1), 139–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Clarke, J., Newmann, J., Smith, N., Vidler, E., & Westmarland, L. (2007). Creating citizen consumers. Chaninging publics and changing public services. London: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
- Ejrnæs, R. P., Wiberg-Larsen, T. E., Holm, A., Josefson, B., Strandberg, B., Nygaard, L. W., Andersen, A., Winding, M., Termansen, M. D. D., Hansen, M., Søndergaard, A. S., Hansen, S., Lundsteen, A., Baattrup-Pedersen, E., Kristensen, P. H., Krogh, V., Simonsen, B., Hasler, A., Levin, G. (2011). Danmarks biodiversitet 2010: Status, udvikling og trusler [biodiversity in Denmark 2010: Status, development and threaths]. DMU Report No. 815. University of Aarhus, Denmark.Google Scholar
- Fogelberg, C. L. (2008). På väg mot miljøanpassade kostråd. Vetenskapligt underlag inför miljökonsekvensanalysen av Livsmedelverkets kostråd. Sweden: Livsmedelsverket, National Food Administration.Google Scholar
- Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). (2010). Final document: International scientific symposium biodiversity and sustainable diets: United against Hunger. 3–5 November 2010. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.Google Scholar
- Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). (2011). World livestock 2011—Livestock in food security. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.Google Scholar
- Francione, G., & Garner, R. (2010). The animal rights debate: Abolition or regulation?. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
- Fuchs, D., & Lorek, S. (2005). Sustainable consumption governance: A history of promises and failures. Journal of Consumer Policy, 28(3), 261–288.Google Scholar
- Gamborg, C., & Larsen, J. B. (2005). Towards more sustainable forestry? The ethics of close-to-nature forestry. Silva Carelica, 49, 55–64.Google Scholar
- Gamborg, C., & Sandøe, P. (2005a). Applying the notion of sustainability—Dilemmas and the need for dialogue. In S. Holm & J. Gunning (Eds.), Ethics, Law and Society (pp. 123–130). Hants: Ashgate.Google Scholar
- Gamborg, C., & Sandøe, P. (2005b). Sustainability in farm animal breeding. A review. Animal Production Science, 92(3), 221–231.Google Scholar
- Garnett, T. (2014). What is a sustainable diet? A discussion paper. Oxford: Food Climate Research Network.Google Scholar
- Gjerris, M., & Gaiani, S. (2013). Household food waste in Nordic countries. Estimations and ethical implications. Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics, 7(1), 6–23.Google Scholar
- Gorgitano, M. T., & Sodano, V. (2014). Sustainable food consumption: Concept and policies. Quality—Access to Success, 15(Suppl. 1), 207–212.Google Scholar
- Griffiths, H. (2005). Human and environmental rights: The need for corporate accountability. In F. Dodds & T. Pippard (Eds.), Human and environmental security: An agenda for change (pp. 221–234). London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
- Halberg, N., Dalgaard, R., Rasmussen, M. D. (2006). Miljøvurdering af konventionel og økologisk avl af grøntsager. Arbejdsrapport fra Miljøstyrelsen nr. 5. In Danish: Working Report from the Danish Environmental Agency—Environmental Assessment of Conventional and Organic Production of Vegetables. http://www2.mst.dk/udgiv/Publikationer/2006/87-7614-960-9/pdf/87-7614-961-7.pdf.
- Halweil, B. (2006). Can organic farming feed us all? World Watch Magazine, 19(3). http://www.worldwatch.org/node/4060. Accessed 28 Nov 2015.
- Harrison, R., Newholm, T., & Shaw, D. (2005). The ethical consumer. London: Sage Publications Ltd.Google Scholar
- Hertwich, E., van der Voet, E., Suh, S., Tukker, A., Huijbregts, M., Kazmierczyk, P., Lenzen, M., McNeely, J., & Moriguchi, Y. (2010). Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials. United Nations Environment Programme.Google Scholar
- Jägerskog, A., & Clausen, T. J. (Eds.). (2012). Feeding a thirsty world—Challenges and opportunities for a water and food secure future. Report no. 31. Stockholm: SIWI.Google Scholar
- Lewis, W. (2011). ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’—(Not) Gandhi. Elephantjournal.com. http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/08/be-the-change-you-wish-to-see-in-the-world-not-gandhi/. Accessed 18 July 2014.
- Maxey, L. (2007). From “alternative” to “sustainable” food. In D. Maye, L. Holloway, & M. Kneafsey (Eds.), Alternative food geographies: Concepts and debates (pp. 55–75). Oxford: Elsevier.Google Scholar
- Peck, J., & Philips, R. (2008). Citizen Rennaisance. http://www.citizenrenaissance.com. Accessed 19 July 2014.
- Royal Society of Chemistry (2004). Don’t worry it’s organic. Chemistry World 2004. http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/Issues/2004/June/organic.asp.
- Sabaté, J., & Soret, S. (2014). Sustainability of plant-based diets: Back to the future. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 100(suppl), 467S–482S.Google Scholar
- Saunders, C., Barber, A., & Taylor, G. (2006). Food miles—Comparative energy/emissions performance of New Zealand’s agriculture Industry. Research Report No. 205.Google Scholar
- Sørensen, M. P. (2005). Liberal democratic society and political consumerism—A problematic combination. In: M. Boström, A. Føllesdal, M. Klintman, M. Micheletti & M. P. Sørensen (Eds.), Political consumerism: Its motivations, power, and conditions in the Nordic countries and elsewhere. Proceeding from the 2nd International Seminar on Political Consumerism, Oslo, 27–29 Aug 2004 (pp. 59–76).Google Scholar
- Spangenberg, J. H. (2014). Institutional change for strong sustainable consumption: Sustainable consumption and the degrowth economy. Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, 10, 62–76.Google Scholar
- Starik, M., & Kanashiro, P. (2013). Toward a theory of sustainability management: Uncovering and integrating the nearly obvious. Organization and Environment, 26, 1–30.Google Scholar
- Steinfeld, H., Gerber, P., Wassenaar, T., Castel, V., Rosales, M., & de Haan, C. (2006). Livestock´s long shadow—Environmental issues and options. Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations.Google Scholar
- Stolle, D., & Micheletti, M. (2015). Political consumerism. Global responsibility in action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Sullivan, C. & Climatewire (2013). Can livestock grazing stop desertification? Scientific American, 3 March 2013. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=can-livestock-grazing-stop-desertification.
- Thompson, P. B. (2007). Agricultural sustainability: What it is and what it is not. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 51, 5–16.Google Scholar
- Trentmann, F. (2010). Citizenship and consumption. Journal of Consumer Culture, 7(2), 47–58.Google Scholar
- UNCTAD (2013). Wake up before it is too late. Make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Trade and Environmental Review 2013. http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/ditcted2012d3_en.pdf.
- UNEP-UNCTAD. (2008). Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa. United Nations Environment Programme. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. UNEP-UNCTAD Capacity-building Task Force on Trade, Environment and Development. New York, Geneva. http://unctad.org/en/docs/ditcted200715_en.pdf.
- Weidema, B. P., Wesnæs, M., Hermansen, J., Kristensen, T., Halberg, N. (2008). Environmental Improvement Potentials of Meat and Dairy Products. JRC Scientific and Technical Report. EUR 23491 EN.Google Scholar
- World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Our Common Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Žižek, S. (2012). The Pervert´s Guide to Ideology. Zeitgeist Films.Google Scholar