The mainstreaming of ethical consumption over the past two decades has attuned citizen-consumers to their power to shape food production practices through their consumption choices. To navigate the complexity inherent in contemporary food supply chains, ethical consumers often turn to certification and labelling schemes to identify which products to purchase. However, the existence of competing supply chain interests, coupled with the myriad different ways production factors and processes can be combined, has constructed certification and labelling as a highly contested space. Within this context, celebrity chefs have taken on a significant role in influencing food cultures, consumption practices and public policy. As a group of powerful cultural and political intermediaries, celebrity chefs have used their public profile to address causes related to food ethics and sustainability, and to shape consumer ‘choice’ by advocating for the consumption of labelled and certified food products. This article analyses the media campaigns of British celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to promote ‘free range’ chicken and eggs. It reveals how the celebrity chefs’ interventions into consumption politics often occurs without sufficient sensitivity to the specificities of the particular labelling and certification systems they are promoting, with very different systems often presented as achieving identical ends. In presenting ‘free range’ as a single, idealised and uncontested standard, they (perhaps unwittingly) expose themselves to the range of contradictions involved in the need to present complex information on animal friendly and sustainably produced food in simple, unambiguous and entertaining formats.
ethical consumption, celebrity chefs, certification, labelling, free range