The strategy of greenwashing has come to occupy a powerful place in sustainable marketing by employing techniques aimed to alleviate the guilt of eco-conscious eaters while obscuring the realities of a company’s true environmental impacts. In this paper, we examine a particular kind of greenwashed marketing we call “ancient greenwashing,” which invokes references to ancient (precolonial) civilizations as a branding strategy targeted at consumers seeking a more authentic and sustainable way of eating. We contend that this marketing masks the colonial legacies that uphold and perpetuate the injustices of modern global food systems, and here we work to counter those claims by contextualizing them within the archaeological study of past sustainability and a discussion of green capitalism more broadly. In addition to compiling examples of ancient greenwashing of six so-called superfoods documented online, we also visited a sample of grocery stores to collect information about the accessibility, amount, and cost of ancient greenwashed quinoa and chia, and found a positive correlation between the brand prices of these foods and the presence of ancient greenwashing. We discuss these results and their implications for the ways ancient greenwashing works to mask deeper injustices in our food systems.
Ancient Greenwashing: On Food Justice and Civilizations in the Supermarket
Chelsea Fisher is an anthropologist working to develop creative applications of community-engaged archaeology for understanding, mitigating, and resolving environmental justice conflicts. Her research is primarily based in Yucatán, Mexico, and she is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of South Carolina.
Clara Albacete is a recent graduate from Washington and Lee University, where she received her degree in environmental studies. Previous food-related study includes her senior thesis entitled Yerba Mate: Earth as a Companion.
Chelsea Fisher, Clara Albacete; Ancient Greenwashing: On Food Justice and Civilizations in the Supermarket. Gastronomica 1 August 2023; 23 (3): 46–64. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2023.23.3.46
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