Food & Diet Sustainable Living

Food for Thought: What the heck is Ethical Consumerism?

February 19, 2018

“What is good to eat is also good to think” (Claude Levi-Strauss) What is a food that is ‘good to think’? Normally we think of food that is ‘ good’ based on flavor, texture, smell, and taste.

 But if we start to think about the ethics of food… is this food ‘good to think’? For example, does whatever is on your plate leave the same positive and satiating feelings as does it’s taste and flavor? Think about production method, environmental impact, nutritional content, health benefits etc. If we start thinking beyond the immediate and obvious goodness of food and start thinking about ‘good thought’ food, we start to see the things we buy and consume in a different light. Such reflection promotes a different type of consumerism, one concerned with ethics and integrity.

Ethical consumerism as defined by the Institute of Grocery Distribution is: the practice of purchasing products and services produced in ways that promote social and environmental growth and avoiding products that negatively impact society and the environment. In addition,  here are three ways that we as consumers can communicate personal ethics through food choice.

Buycotting: consumers voice their opinions by intentionally purchasing from a certain company. In ethical consumption buycotting may represent the choice of organic or fair-trade products.

  • Boycotting: another way that ethical consumers cast their vote against certain foods. Consumers refuse to buy a certain kinds of product, such as fast food or from companies that negatively impact society or the environment.
  • Voluntary simplicity: consumers choose to live more simply, rejecting high levels of consumerism. In ethical consumption this represents opting for local products and reducing intake of high impact foods (example: meat, industrial produce, out of season/imported foods).

    In addition to these types of food choices, Italian sociologist Mauro Ferraresi introduces a number of different themes that elaborate how an individual can take action towards ethical consumption through sustainable food choice. In order to be ethical in consumption we as individuals must seek to:

  1.  Choose local products: increasing ‘producer-consumer’ purchases reduces CO2 emissions caused by food transport. Limiting the ‘chain of production’ also ensures food origin and quality.
  2.   Remain informed on the seasonality of fruits and vegetables: in season foods require less human intervention, including pesticide treatment and preservative use.
  3.   Reduce pollution and energy costs: increasing shopping habits that promote group purchasing or product sharing
  4.   Buy products with minimal packaging: buying foods packaged in recyclable containers promotes minimum waste. In addition, avoiding plastic packaging limits water pollution and destruction of aquatic ecosystems. (BYO-Bag!)
  5.   Purchase products with regards to food security: consumers must consider the concept of food security that ‘all people, at any given moment, must have access to a secure, sufficient and nutritious diet in order to promote a healthy and active life when making purchases.

These themes provide parameters for what is expected of an ethical consumer. By following these different guidelines for ethical consumption, we as consumers can begin to take a series of actions which eventually lead to an outcome of a more sustainable diet.

By grocery shopping according to these steps in turn we attribute to lowering environmental impact, respecting biodiversity and ecosystems; promoting culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable food systems that are nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.

If you were to be labelled based on your current consumer style, what would it be?

fast. slow. ethical. health-minded. industrial. local. low-cost. sustainable. indifferent. organic. impulse. 

Are you satisfied with this label? Is what you buy not only good to eat, but also good to think?

 {Meat}Less Meal Recipe #3: Riso Venere (Black Rice) with Arugula Pesto & Peas


  • 400 grams black rice
  • 300 grams of peas
  • 100 grams grape tomatoes
    *Serves 5

Ingredients for Pesto:

  • 50 grams of arugula
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 15 grams of walnuts or pinenuts
  • 70 grams di Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 100 ml EVOO
  • A pinch of salt


  1. Boil water for rice and cook according to package.
  2. With about 10 minutes left, add peas to the rice and finish cooking
  3. Drain and set aside
  4. Using a food processor, make pesto adding all ingredients. Blend until smooth.
  5. Stir in pesto to rice and pea mixture.
  6.  Cut tomatoes into quarters and stir in.
  7.  Enjoy!


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Author: Ali @ Sustainable Psyche

My name is Ali. I am an American living in Italy. I am passionate about delicious food that is also ethical, healthy and sustainable. I love pasta and pizza, traveling, horseback riding and exploring the vibrant city of Milan that I call home.

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  • Claudia February 24, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    Great thoughts Ali! Thanks for this. 😀

    • sustainablepsyche February 26, 2018 at 3:09 pm

      You’re welcome!:D