Sustainable food consumption: norms, morality and consumer ethos

Stefan Wahlen (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentationOther


The sustainable development goal on sustainable consumption and production outlines that food can significantly contribute to a more sustainable development. In recent years increased research as well as public interest has attempted to promote more sustainable food consumption. Yet, the debates often responsibilize individual consumers for the outcome of their behavior. Many of these debates neglect collective features of consumption. This is where this contribution seeks to fill a gap: the contribution aims at scrutinizing media debates surrounding sustainable consumption. I am interested to the contribution of media debates rendering sustainable consumption as morally acceptable. The research question accordingly asks: how is sustainable consumption and associated consumer ethos as way of thinking about consumers described in media debates. The contribution scrutinizes the description of sustainable food consumption in daily press and the moral associations. The analysis of newspaper articles published in a daily press review of the major German consumer organization reveals two different consumer ethoses: a parsimonious and a renunciative consumer ethos. Discussions centred around food and packaging waste, the best-before date, but also around organic and vegetarian food as a more sustainable option and the social acceptability thereof. In a parsimonious consumer ethos, consumers are depicted as relating to efficiency. Consumer should follow a morality of thriftiness in what concerns sustainable food consumption. In the renunciative consumer ethos, the data reveal sustainable consumption as relating more to sufficiency. Consumers should refrain from particular parts of food consumption in order to protect the environment. We can also see that the consumer is to some extent responsibilised for activities that lie beyond the consumers’ scope of practice but should be looked after in terms of scrutinizing systems of provision. In the end, distinguishing these two ethoses can assist in developing policy measures, as these extent beyond the traditional understanding of the consumer as market participant, but acknowledge everyday activity and its morality in consuming as collective features of consumption.
Period7 Jun 2018
Event titleFourth International Convention on Food History and Food Studies
Event typeConference
Conference number4
LocationTours, France
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • food consumption
  • eating
  • norms
  • morality
  • consumption governance
  • sustainable consumption