Curb Your Ethical Overwhelm

Words: Robyn Samuels

In a world where we’re constantly bombarded with an overload of information – new health trends, environmental, social and moral concerns, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Wanting to do all the right things, all the time, especially in the food space, can be daunting and exhausting. joon + co coined the phrase ‘ethical overwhelm’ and it seems to be on the rise.

ethical overwhelm

What is Ethical Overwhelm?

In a sustainably sourced nutshell, ethical overwhelm is when you feel overwhelmed that your contributions aren’t enough to make a sustainable impact.

Let’s unpack this, shall we? Going to the grocery store because you ran out of milk should be a simple errand, right? Suddenly buying almond milk ends up in an existential crisis; you’re buying a milk alternative because you’re concerned about the impact of the dairy industry but what about the impact of almond milk on the bees? We must save the bees! So you think to yourself, ‘maybe a milk alternative like quinoa would be better?’.

Just when you thought you’ve solved your first-world problem, you remember that third-world communities in Bolivia and Peru are impacted by the demand for quinoa and thus can’t even afford to consume their own produce. At which point you realise that the ethical overwhelm is not worth the milk and leave the store empty-handed. Sobering isn’t it?

food consciousness overload

Can You Avoid Feeling Bamboozled?

It’s easy to get caught in the ‘Seaspiracy’ net of statistics that tell you that by the end of 2048, the ocean will be a creatureless and vast landfill. And that even if you wanted to cut down on your fish consumption, it’s still not enough. You could also get frazzled knowing about the modern-day slavery endured by labourers or the war on Chilean farmers driven by the demand for avos.

We’re here to tell you that you’re not alone. Ethical overwhelm is a thing. Instead of panicking, let’s see how we can encourage fruitful approaches, while still challenging our perspectives and being cognisant. At the end of the day, we can’t be greenhouse gatekeepers – but we do need to be better at housekeeping in order to sustain our ‘home’.


In the past, we were content to leave investigation to the likes of consumer crusader, Isobel Jones, and investigative journalists, Derek Watts, Devi Sankaree Govender and the rest of the Carte Blanche team. We waited on them to do the deep-dives, to question and ultimately uncover what no-good corporates were up to. These days, however, with a wealth of information at our fingertips, we all have a responsibility to ask those questions. It’s no longer ‘okay’ to consume blithely and pretend your choices don’t have consequences – thus the birth of the conscious consumer.

food consciousness overload

If you’ve never heard the term ‘conscious consumer’, it basically means being conscious or aware of the products we as consumers buy. Conscious consumers make purchasing decisions based on the environmental, social and moral impact that brands carry. This practice takes brand loyalty to the next level, ensuring that your environmental and moral beliefs as a consumer are aligned with the brands you support. But, being a conscious consumer could result in increased ethical overwhelm…


No one expects you to be Leonardo Di Caprio or Gretha Thunberg, but it’s wise to follow in their carbon footprints. At the very least, we need to consider how we can achieve realistic goals in order to keep the feeling of ethical overwhelm at bay.

food consciousness overload


When you put it all into perspective, we’re all just humans floating on a giant rotating ball – assuming you’re not a flat-Earther. While we might not have the power to put an end to global warming and exist in a climate-neutral world in our lifetime, we do have to consider Gen Z and Generation Alpha.

Doing something is always better than doing nothing.

Realistically speaking, we don’t have the mental capacity to champion every cause. Being selective about what you want to advocate could alleviate the chaos of ethical overwhelm. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care – subscribing to specific causes that really matter to you might help put matters into perspective.

Let’s look at some scenarios, shall we?

Don’t want to give up meat entirely?
That’s why Meatless Mondays were invented. Sure, you may not go ‘full-vegan’ overnight, but research shows that skipping meat once a week, could be the carbon footprint equivalent of not driving your car for a whole month!

Worried about the honeybees?
Take a chance on oat milk or one of these milk alternatives. Also, resolve yourself to the fact that every action has an outcome – pick what outcome is most important to you, or one cause that resonates with you the most.

Not sure if the honey you’re purchasing is real or a cheap import?
Try supporting a small local honey producer at your weekend market.

Concerned about the amount of trash you are generating?
Try doing some of your shopping at a packaging-free store. Also, don’t forget to take your own reusable bags with you when you go shopping. Some local grocery stores (Woolworths, Spar) even have a take one, leave one bag policy. How cool?


But how do we ensure that we’re doing our part without trying to do it all?

ethical overwhelm


The great thing about living in the modern age of technology is that we have interesting and informative documentaries and series that challenge our food consumption habits. But ,having access to all that information can also be a little overwhelming.

In spite of all your efforts, the unfortunate truth is that brands will dupe us into believing that we’re being conscious with our product choices.

If you are sceptical about their sustainability claims, do your research. Turn to a well-informed acquaintance, social media platforms or everyone’s trusty friend, Google.


Brands are aware of the rise in conscious consumerism and that people are now ’woke’. As a result, they tend to make false claims or exaggerate their environmental and sustainable efforts as a marketing strategy known as ‘greenwashing’. To seem more attractive, they’ll slap an eco-friendly logo on the label and call it a day.

While we don’t want to add to your ethical overwhelm, this is a reality. Do your homework and don’t just trust what the box says. Demand traceability.


Being a conscious consumer is a luxury not everyone can afford. If you have the means to, then choose better, that is your responsibility. Remember that just as much as we rely on brands and companies for daily sustenance, they depend on us for profits. Understanding the power you have as a consumer is salient. The terms and conditions don’t only apply to you.

ethical overwhelm


Still feel guilty about the fact that you’re not doing enough? Try to look for alternative solutions. Set yourself goals; you don’t need to become a vegan overnight but you could make the change from just one meat-free meal a week to two. Or perhaps you decide to eat less meat but pay for better quality from a brand that is more transparent.

Maybe your busy career means you can’t build eco-bricks every week but you can get informed of a project that does make them and make an effort to deliver your recycling to them.

Love your Nespresso machine but don’t have time to empty and recycle plastic pods? Support a local business like 4WKS, whose pods and bags are completely compostable!

It’s not easy keeping the ethical overwhelm at bay, but remember the goal is to be informed, not overwhelmed. Make the better choice where you can, it’s ok if it’s not every time. Doing something is always better than doing nothing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>