Ethical Consumerism Starts in the Grocery Store

by Evan DeMarco on May 06, 2022

Ethical Consumerism Starts in the Grocery Store

Have you ever wondered about where your food comes from? Most people find themselves shopping for products with little regard for how they got to the grocery store. You need milk or chicken or apples, so you go to the store and buy it. Yet, where it comes from is an extremely important consideration—one that could impact the quality of the food you buy.

There’s a growing number of people who do care about where their food comes from, and who are using this information to make purchasing decisions. It’s a practice called ethical consumerism, and it’s something worth practicing: for the sake of our health and the health of the planet. 

What is ethical consumerism?

Ethical consumerism is the practice of making buying decisions based on the environmental and social impacts of the product in question. An ethical consumer wants to know that what they’re buying isn’t just good for them: it also results in net positives for people, animals and the planet. Ethical consumers vote with their dollars, to force better practices across farming, ranching and supply chain.   

For example, an ethical consumer will buy cage-free eggs from a company that lets its chickens roam freely—as opposed to buying eggs sourced from a factory farm where chickens spend their lives caged and neglected. They’re willing to spend more money because they’re not just paying for the eggs: they’re supporting more humane animal treatment and better ranching practices.

Thinking backwards: where did the product come from?

Anyone can become an ethical consumer: you just need to think beyond the product you’re buying. Where did it come from? Who produced it? What factors contributed to the process? These questions are all important when it comes to making ethical choices. Consumers need to think backwards.

Think about something as simple as a head of lettuce. Would you buy lettuce that was grown and harvested thousands of miles away, treated with pesticides and preservatives, and kept in storage for months? Or, would you rather buy lettuce that was grown in the same state, by a farmer using regenerative farming practices, harvested earlier that week? The choice is clear—even if it means paying a little extra.

This is what goes through the mind of an ethical consumer when they’re shopping for food. Whether it’s produce, animal products or packaged foods, an ethical consumer is always weighing the product’s value against the environmental and social impacts that accompany it.

5 tips for ethical consumerism

How can you become a more ethical consumer? It starts by thinking critically about food. Here are a few simple tips that will immediately help you make better decisions about what you’re buying and how your purchase impacts the world:

  1. Understand what different labels mean. For example: cage-free, free-range, grass-fed, pesticide-free, organic, kosher, etc. The more you know about these labels and what they signify, the more you’ll understand about the farming and ranching practices that contribute to the food you’re buying.
  2. Consider supply chain when buying food. How does your food get to the grocery store? The more complex the supply chain, the more environmental impacts it has. Try to purchase food with the most direct route from source to destination: your home. For example, farmers’ markets are usually farm-to-table, with no steps in-between.
  3. Less is more for ethical consumers. Modern food producers reward us for buying in bulk, but this often results in over-producing. Moderating our buying has rippling impacts that flow upstream. Consider purchasing smaller portions more frequently, as a way to combat food waste and overproduction.
  4. Identify net-negative products. There are some products that simply don’t align with ethical consumerism. Whether it means boycotting brands that refuse to embrace regenerative practices or avoiding certain types of foods, it’s up to you, an ethical consumer, to vote with your dollars and take a stand against net-negative practices.
  5. Beware fads and frauds. Food conglomerates are getting craftier when it comes to using labels like “organic” or “grass finished” to lull consumers into feeling good about a purchase that ultimately isn’t any better than the original. Stay savvy while you shop and look beyond labels for more insight into ethical purchasing.

Critical thinking is your most important asset in the grocery store or wherever else you’re buying food. Look past brand name or price, to the factors involved in getting that product into your hands.

Make regenerative choices

No matter who you are, the choices you make when buying food have significant impacts that go far beyond that transaction. From regenerative farming practices to humane ranching, eco-friendly supply chains to healthier food: it’s all a product of ethical consumerism. The good news? Anyone can become an ethical consumer: you just need to buy with conscious action.