PhD Graduate Alexandra Rodney and Professor Josée Johnston on Ethical Eating and Class

PhD Graduate Alexandra Rodney and Professor Josée Johnston, in collaboration with Professor Michelle Szabo (Sheridan), published an article in the Journal of Consumer Culture. Their article analyzes how class background affects ethical consumption choices regarding food. They find that those with greater privilege are often more active in ‘ethical eating’, but that low income communities find ways to adapt ethical consumption to their circumstances as well.

Alexandra Rodney obtained her PhD in Sociology from the University of Toronto in 2017 and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Guelph. She researches the intersections of health, gender and culture. Josée Johnston is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto and her general research goal is to advance knowledge in the sociological study of food and consumer culture.

We have posted the citation and the abstract of the article below. The full text is available through the University of Toronto Library Portal here.

Johnston, Josee, Michelle Szabo, and Alexandra Rodney. 2011. “Good Food, Good People: Understanding the Cultural Repertoire of Ethical Eating.” Journal of Consumer Culture, 11(3):293-318.

Ethical consumption is understood by scholars as a key way that individuals can address social and ecological problems. While a hopeful trend, it raises the question of whether ethical consumption is primarily an elite social practice, especially since niche markets for ethical food products (for example, organics, fair trade) are thought to attract wealthy, educated consumers. Scholars do not fully understand the extent to which privileged populations think about food ethics in everyday shopping, or how groups with limited resources conceptualize ethical consumption. To address these knowledge gaps, the first goal of this paper is to better understand how consumers from different class backgrounds understand ethical eating and work these ideas into everyday food practices. We draw from 40 in-depth interviews with 20 families in two Toronto neighborhoods. Our second goal is to investigate which participants have privileged access to ethical eating, and which participants appear relatively marginalized. Drawing conceptually from cultural sociology, we explore how ethical eating constitutes a cultural repertoire shaped by factors such as class and ethno-cultural background, and how symbolic boundaries are drawn through eating practices. We find that privilege does appear to facilitate access to dominant ethical eating repertoires, and that environmental considerations figure strongly in these repertoires. While low income and racialized communities draw less on dominant ethical eating repertoires, their eating practices are by no means amoral; we document creative adaptations of dominant ethical eating repertoires to fit low income circumstances, as well as the use of different cultural frameworks to address moral issues around eating.

Read the full article here.