Greener than Thou: How the Rhetoric of the Green Food Market Reinforces Socioeconomic Hierarchies through the Illusion of Moral Superiority




Corp, Piper

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The market for “green” foods has expanded in recent years, largely due to the powerful rhetoric it employs. The rhetorical strategy behind green consumerism draws on deeply embedded cultural narratives to assert a rift between consumers and nature, a rift that is both initially unavoidable and entirely resolvable through acts of consumption. Green consumption is thus presented as an opportunity for enlightenment (e.g. living in harmony with nature) and political activism (e.g. protecting nature by supporting sustainable agriculture). Drawing on the theories of Lyotard and Debord, this thesis suggests that these two features create an occasion particularly well-suited for acts of differential representation. Consumption, in other words, provides consumers with the feeling of social responsibility and spiritual ascendance, which together create an illusion of moral superiority. By definition, this superiority only has meaning with reference to an amoral other, a role inhabited in this case by non-green consumers. This discourse is particularly problematic because of the significant price difference between green and non-green products—individuals without the financial means to purchase green products are recast as amoral consumers. A moral hierarchy emerges on top of the existing socioeconomic hierarchy, creating what appears to be a morally justified elite. It is ultimately this discourse, rather than a desire for environmental reform, that sustains green consumerism.



Green consumerism, Rhetoric, Self-representation, Green marketing, Organic food, Environmentalism