When it comes to “simple” decisions about what we should buy or not in our everyday life, there are a lot of factors that consciously or unconsciously influence those decisions. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of people interested in buying products that were produced in an ethical way, this is, without doing harm to the environment or people.[1] This can be defined as ethical consumption. Overall this concept take into consideration factors such as fair trade, organic products, consumption of local food and even the amount of meat consumed in our day-to-day diets.

socially-responsible-business1.jpg

source: CENTER FOR FAIR & ALTERNATIVE .Presented by Sonali Diddi, Assistant Professor in CSU’s Department of Design and Merchandising. TRADE

However, eating ethically can sometimes not be affordable by everyone, which might lead not only to continuing support for our current unsustainable food system, but also for people to be more prone to several diseases such as obesity as will be shown later in this blog.

Ethical consumption can be presented in simple actions such as buying free-range eggs or go far beyond such as boycotting companies that use child labour to produce their goods. Having ethical eating habits can also mean taking into account the environmental impact of transporting food, this is, the energy spent to take one product from one country or region to another, what is reflected in the carbon footprint.[2] In this sense, ethical consumers are invited to buy local products rather than those produced abroad.

6a0120a7fc3be9970b0192abf9c6c4970d-800wi.jpgSource: Some green behaviour policies may have negative side-effects,  by Constantine Alexander,”Water Saving Campaign“. 25931262.jpgSource: Does ethical consumption have to cost so much?, By Vaidehi Shah.

However, some ethical eating practices can be seen as paradoxical, as it is the case of the concept of fair trade, since even though this concept means better prices and working conditions for producers and workers [3] , fair trade certifies products that are not grown locally, which implicitly might persuade consumers to buy a non-local product. [4]

Fairtrade-logo-20121.jpgSource: Fairtrade, Fairtrade webpage, “Fairtrade Logo“.

Ethical consumption, an elite social practice?

Regarding the accessibility of ethical consumption, there are many factors worth analysing. Firstly, it is well known that labelled “ethical products”, such as the local, organic, free trade, grass-fed meat and free-range foods are more expensive than the “common” ones.[5] In this sense, it is clear that most people on a low income are not able to afford these products even though they may want them. Therefore, in can be considered that ethical consumption is just available for economic elites.

ethical-consumption-1111.jpgSource: Ethical Consumption Choice Research, Inquiry research questions.

The above was suggested by a study carried out by some researchers from the University of Toronto, Canada.[5]  This study was held in two Toronto neighborhoods (one with upper-middle class people and other with working class people), in which 20 families (adults and teenagers) where interviewed. The outcomes of the study showed that most of the people engaged with ethical consumption were middle class family’s members with high education levels, who mentioned being proud of their eating practices, showing concern about their health, environmental impacts and caring about animal welfare. Whereas in working class neighborhoods, the findings show that most families with low incomes were not highly engaged with ethical eating practices, since they tend to overlook the origin of food, as long as it is affordable. Nevertheless, the above does not necessarily means that all people with poor incomes are not interested in eating ethically, since the study also showed that a family from a lower class but high levels of education was immersed in ethical eating practices. While others higher-class participants were poorly engaged in these practices. The above allows us to conclude that education and awareness might be an alternative to get people immersed in ethical consumption.

fair-trade-shopper.jpgSource

An overlook in ethical consumption might also lead to diseases such as obesity: Mexico as an example.

Some other reasons why people are not engaged in ethical eating practices are lack of information, cultural food habits and family food traditions, which also might result in diseases such as obesity, as shown in a survey carried out in Mexico (a country that, unfortunately, exemplifies the above).[6]  According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), [7] as shown in Figure 1, Mexico ranks second in levels of overweight and obesity just below the United States, with seven out of 10 Mexicans having a bigger waistline than they should.

Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 20.16.08.pngSource: OECD (2014), OECD Health Statistics 2014, forthcoming, Obesity Among Adults.

As reported in a survey undertook in 800 household of these country by an organization called Gabinete de Comunicación Estratégica (GCE), the reasons for the above are the following: 38.5% of the respondents attribute the problem of bad eating habits to poor diets; 24.2% to poor nutrition education; 16.6% to a sedentary lifestyle; 7.3% to the so-called “T” diet, which consists of Tortas, Tamales and Tacos (some of the more traditional dishes in Mexico); 4.1% to television advertising; and the remaining percentage to “others”.[8]

All the above brings us to the question of whether ethical consumption could actually be achieved?

It might be believed that when it comes to wealthy countries with high education levels, the population (at least the one with high incomes) should be concerned about eating ethically, however, some studies have shown that even in the wealthier countries it is hard to align to this ethical food model. For example, in the UK, even though 47% of adults believe that it is worthwhile to make individual efforts to have less impact on the environment, 40% think that these efforts become irrelevant at some point due to pollution from other countries. In this sense, this type of thinking discourages consumers in their attempt to realize ethical consumption. Therefore, consumers are not often willing to pay “an extra” for ethical eating.[9]

Sustainable-food.jpgSource: New Humanist Forum: “Sustainable Food Systems”

On the other hand, it is clear is that changes in consumption habits and perspectives are possible, with basic actions such as buying local goods and be willing to pay a bit more for ethical products (to the extent that each individual can afford), as well as promoting educational campaigns to raise awareness, can result in improving ethical eating practice in all countries around the world, and in this way, we all can gradually change our current food system to a more sustainable one.