Foodie Greenwashing: What is it & why should we care?

British food

You may not have heard the term “greenwashing” before.  In my early 20’s I certainly hadn’t, until I was sitting in front of a manager from one of my favourite environmental charities, Cool Earth, and he began talking about the various companies who were doing it.

I nodded knowingly, whilst simultaneously trying to Google the definition under the coffee-shop table.

It wasn’t my finest hour, and my understanding has come on a long way since then.

Greenwashing is defined by Wikipedia as “a form of spin in which a companies PR or marketing is deceptively used to promote the idea that an organisation’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.”

A great example of this can be seen in SeaWorld’s response to Blackfish – a film which everyone should watch – which clearly illustrates how the park puts profits before ethics, linking the deaths of 3 of it’s trainers to the psychological trauma that the park’s captured whales endure.

In response to falling profits in the wake of the film’s release, SeaWorld released reams of PR puff about the educational benefits of the park – and their plans to expand the living environments of the whales. (How does one learn about Orca’s – one of nature’s most incredible animals – whilst watching them balance things on their noses in tiny tanks, I wonder?)

Further attempts to come across as ‘green’ and ethical have included refillable soda cups throughout the park to offset carbon emissions (big deal) and an extremely controversial partnership with Bindi Irwin – daughter of the late, great legend that was Steve Irwin.

Okay, so what is “foodie greenwashing” then?

Apart from being a term which, to my knowledge I made up 5 minutes ago, it is the food industry’s version of the above.

You’ll have seen a lot of it probably without even noticing it. Those are the subtle instances , like calling things ‘farm fresh’ to make them sound more natural. Have you ever considered what this term actually means?

Precisely nothing.

Another example is including pictures of rolling hills of green grass on the front of a carton of milk that has actually been produced from cows who’ve spent their entire lives in a shed.

Deceptive? Yep. Legal? Completely. Fair? I don’t think so.

The rise of the “hipster” – for want of a better word – has given this sort of stuff a new lease of life. As consumers, we can now be duped in to thinking we are buying higher quality, greener produce with labels like ‘artisinal’, ‘hand-made’ and even ‘local’. Cardiff blogger Meat Close to Home investigated what ‘local’ actually means, and discovered that it’s dishearteningly common to see a ‘local’ label on something that simply arrived at it’s final destination via a local supplier.

Is that what the consumer thought it meant when they parted with their cold hard cash?

Another trick that has become popular in the restaurant trade is to use ‘reclaimed materials’ in the decorating, as a token gesture of ‘green-ness’ – a stand alone action to plop into a press release.

And more recently, a new wave of restaurants and bars are issuing press release after press release about ditching straws in their drinks. That’s great – but what else could they be doing while they are shouting about such a small (and very easily made) change?

In other instances – the most infuriating ones – the ethical claims are so unsubstantiated that it’s actually laughable. At the launch event for a new Cardiff outpost of a chain of steak restaurants, their ‘in-house butchery’ demonstration described “the more comfortable journey to slaughter and nicer, kinder welfare conditions” that animals under the Red Tractor food assurance label could enjoy – touting their beef as an ethical choice.

In actual fact, the Red Tractor label has been identified as laying down the the lowest standards of any quality mark on the market; simply guaranteeing the UK minimum levels of animal welfare have been met.

You can read more of the cold, hard facts about the Red Tractor scheme in this article here.

How can we, as consumers, fight “foodie greenwashing”?

In almost every instance, “foodie green-washing” is only possible thanks to consumer ignorance.

  • For a start, we can dig deeper than the marketing and stop taking things at face value. I don’t have access to a secret underground bunker of information about the places I write about or the foods I buy and eat – I just take the time to do a bit of research. Most businesses who are doing things well are pretty keen to shout about it, and should be able to answer your questions about their green policies and suppliers with ease – if not? There’s going to be a good reason.
  • Secondly, we can campaign for clearer food labels. Check out Compassion in World Farming to see what they are doing to make this happen – they also have some really great, comprehensive guides to food labels and what they actually mean – a key tool for savvier shopping.
  • Finally, we can call the imposters out. If the latest foodie pop-up is pushing the idea that it’s local and sustainable when it isn’t, ask them why – and give others a heads-up too. Deliberately duping customers is just not fair.


  1. February 26, 2015 / 9:11 am

    Good read! It is an important topic and although I believe we should be more responsible about what we buy I am surprised it isn’t more heavily regulated. At least, the companies should be forced to be clear about what their claims actually mean. This ‘grey area’ between false advertising and honest advertising needs to be removed.

    • July 6, 2016 / 1:36 pm

      Somehow missed this comment when you posted this but thank so much for reading. Am going t revisit this post and get it out on social again I think as I am seeing more of it than ever before! x

  2. February 10, 2017 / 7:44 pm

    Hear, hear. That is why I am so grateful for organic certification, an independent verification system governed by legal standards to ensure food has been sustainably grown, and processed minimally. Great piece!

  3. Lynne
    March 20, 2017 / 7:44 pm

    Great read, eloquently put. Knew it happened, just didn’t have a name for it. If everyone just asked one question, rather than accepting the spin, it might make a difference. Trouble is, we’ve all got so much to think about every day. Good job, hungry cityhippy!

    • HungryCityHippy
      March 20, 2017 / 7:47 pm

      Thanks Lynne 🙂🙂🙂 xxx

  4. Clairelouise Turner
    May 5, 2020 / 10:49 pm

    Thanks for educating us…. I knew that marketing / PR wasn’t always honest but I wasn’t sure what this was called when related to the food industry and, quite honestly, I’m surprised companies can get away legally with telling such blatant lies!

    • HungryCityHippy
      May 6, 2020 / 7:59 am

      I work in PR myself and there are lots of wonderful people doing great work, but there are also people willing to bend the truth and when it comes to food, it’s incredible what people can get away with ☹️ we need legislated change xx

  5. April 1, 2021 / 2:57 pm

    I’m massively behind the mark on this but it’s a really interesting concept and yes, plenty of big corporates do it across the hospitality and food sectors. Thanks for sharing! Even though I’m late to the party!

    • HungryCityHippy
      April 1, 2021 / 5:35 pm

      Thanks Alex! Consumers seem to be a bit savvier these days (this was written in 2015) but it’s still so important to ask questions – hopefully, good will out! X

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