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

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 29 (1):81-102 (2016)
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Abstract

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

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