Which forms of nudging food decisions are ethically acceptable?

M. Korthals*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference paperAcademicpeer-review


Thaler and Sunstein's Nudge (TSN) (2008) introduced the concept of nudge as' any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people's behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be cheap and easy to avoid'. All contexts in which food preferences are transformed in decisions to buy food are prestructured more often than not in the interest of sellers; nudges claim to structure the context in the self-enlightened interests of buyers. The aim of this paper is to analyse the phenomenon of nudging and to assess its ethical acceptability. First, several definitions of nudging will be discussed and one will be proposed that takes into account that choice contexts in supermarkets or canteens let many people buy their food items quite routine like on the basis of easy accessible things like tasteful looking wrappings. Choice contexts are always already framed, and it is then ethically relevant that restructured choice contexts indeed express norms generally seen as desirable that respect certain conditions, like no restrictions on choice and respecting the consumer. Secondly, ways will be discussed in which non-willed choices inhibit individuals to buy the things they really want. Thirdly, a distinction is made between several types of nudges that can stimulate alternative willed choices instead of unwilled choices. Finally, an assessment is made of ethical criteria in evaluating seven aspects of nudging.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKnow Your Food
Subtitle of host publicationFood ethics and innovation
EditorsD.E. Dumitras, I.M. Jitea, S. Aerts
PublisherWageningen Academic Publishers
ISBN (Electronic)9789086868131
ISBN (Print)9789086862641
Publication statusPublished - May 2015
EventEurSafe 2015 - Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Duration: 28 May 201530 May 2015


ConferenceEurSafe 2015


  • Buying food items
  • Choice contexts
  • Decision making
  • Ethical deliberation
  • Normative and descriptive nudges
  • Not really willed choices

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