Effects Of A Documentary On Consumer Perception Of The Environmental Impact Of Meat Consumption
University of Hohenheim, Germany
Meat production causes a large amount of global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as other environmental problems. Regarding consumers’ perspectives on sustainable consumption patterns, studies have shown that consumers underestimate the environmental impact of meat consumption compared to other issues such as packaging or food transportation. A video intervention was conducted to investigate the effect of information on consumers’ perception and behaviour.
One out of two didactically different videos about the environmental impact of meat consumption and a control video was shown to 189 participants. Ratings about the environmental impact of different food consumption patterns as well as corresponding individual consumption frequencies were obtained directly before and one week after the screening by self-report questionnaires.
While the rating of the environmental impact of meat consumption is relatively high compared to other studies, it is still rated the second least important of the different food consumption patterns. In the first intervention group, the rating on importance increased significantly (p=0.001) after watching the video, while there were no significant differences regarding the other consumption patterns. There was no such effect in the control group, nor in the second intervention group. Self-reported frequency of meat consumption decreased significantly in both intervention groups, but not in the control group (p=0.011, p=0.047, p=0.428).
The results of this video intervention suggest that a lack of knowledge more than the unwillingness to reduce meat consumption might be a reason for the under-estimation of the environmental impact and the ongoing high consumption of meat. Didactically appropriate information campaigns could hereby help to reduce environmental impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions.
Everyday Meat Eating Practices as Multiple Relations of Care
University of Helsinki, Finland
There is a paradox inherent in meat consumption. We overconsume meat, even though its (industrial) production is associated with environmental degradation, health risks, and unethical treatment of animals. In my presentation, I will analyse these everyday practices of meat consumption. I will produce new knowledge on how they mediate our relations to the people we share our daily lives with, the animals intertwined in food production, and the environment as the precondition for food production currently strained by its unsustainability.
My approach is based on combining practice theories and feminist theories of care. Practice theories enable understanding food consumption as habitual, collective practices, which are simultaneously dynamic and internally differentiated. Care, on the other hand, refers to everyday practical doings, which include affective and ethico-political dimensions. Care is mundane, often underrated maintenance work, which nonetheless supports liveable relations in more-than-human worlds. By eating together, we take care of our relationships; by cooking for others, we express caring. However, caring is always permeated by power relations and exclusions since it is not possible to care about everything. Studying everyday food practices as multiple relations of care thus ensures that meat eating opens up as a manifold phenomenon. Consuming meat can simultaneously signify caring for loved ones and distancing the contentious, unsustainable aspects of meat. I will discuss what elements are connected with caring for meat and its boundaries. I will also reflect on the potential contributions that food as a matter of care has to offer for the sociology of consumption.
Purity and Imperfection: Re-Negotiating Vegan Identity
Keele University, United Kingdom
Veganism has gained attention both as a social phenomenon and subject of academic debate. There has been a sharp rise in the number of vegans in the Global North alongside the widespread availability – and fashionability – of vegan food itself. In the UK, for instance, The Vegan Society state the number of vegans has quadrupled from 2012-2017 and supermarket chain Tesco described it as ‘the fastest growing culinary trend of 2018.’ These developments have also led to increased criticism of veganism, including accusations that it is an instance of ‘purity politics’ (Shotwell, 2017): a moralistic form of consumerism that presents certain consumption choices as ethically correct.
This paper intervenes in these debates drawing on both documentary analysis and ethnographic work with food activist groups, in order to re-situate veganism within a radical activist tradition. The first half of the paper focuses on examples from activist practice (including ‘campaign caterers’ Veggies Catering Campaign and The Anarchist Teapot) to examine how vegan activism has historically sought to enact a politics that articulates connections between food systems, environmental, and labour issues. The second half of the paper engages with recent concerns that contemporary ‘lifestyle veganism’ has marked a depoliticisation of vegan politics that undercuts these radical roots (e.g. White, 2018). The paper ultimately argues that while it is important to identify tensions that have arisen with veganism’s shift from the political margins, it is also necessary to avoid labels such as ‘purity politics’ that over-simplify what vegan politics means to those who engage in it in the contemporary context.
Food that Matters: Exploring the Material-Discursive Boundaries Between Animal-Sourced and Vegan Food Practices
The University of Manchester, United Kingdom
Today’s agriculture in the Global North encourages diets high in animal-protein that depend on the use of fossil fuels. With agricultural policies becoming increasingly aware of the ecological consequences of intensive food production and the undesirability of further deforestation, forms of ‘sustainable intensification’ based on (bio)technology for doubling agricultural productivity by 2050 are now promoted in view of the rising world population. In need to ‘feed the 9 billion’, producing less meat and dairy is still largely overlooked as an alternative to further intensification. As keeping animals inevitably goes along with losses of nutritional energy when crops are converted into animal-derived foods, stockfree agriculture holds the possibility of rising productivity requiring neither more land nor further intensification.
Theoretically drawing upon Karen Barad’s (2007) relational, posthuman, and new materialist approach to material-discursive practices, this paper explores both animal-sourced and vegan food practices in the context of different foodscapes. Qualitative interviews and website analysis showcase how a ‘vegan’ supermarket maintains its customer-base by not calling itself ‘vegan’; a vegan advocacy network certifies a vegan organic standard of production; a beef farmer converts to vegan organic vegetable growing; a dairy company justifies animal husbandry with the natural suitability of the land.
Reading these cases ‘diffractively’ through another, the paper unravels resonances and dissonances to illustrate what actors are included and excluded in food mattering. By reconfiguring boundaries between animal-sourced and vegan food practices, these case studies inform debate about ways to materialise nutritional energy responsibly and, thereby, mitigate climate change and mass extinction.
Transformative Change towards a Sustainable Meat Consumption
Roskilde University, Denmark
Reducing our meat consumption is an essential part of the transition towards a sustainable western society (e.g. Bayley & Harper 2015; Wellesley et.al. 2015; Springmann et.al. 2018). Attaining a greater understanding of the sociological structures and mechanisms that support or challenge our way to a lower meat consumption is therefore of major importance. This paper provides insights into just that by analyzing the results of a survey conducted in the fall of 2018 among 1178 Danish flexitarian, vegetarian/ vegan citizens, as well as omnivores in the transition towards a diet with less meat. The preliminary findings show that only 1.8% finds support in the public authorities. On the other hand, around half of the participants find that documentaries (53.6%) and their network (49.4%) have supported them in the process of change. However, 61% of the participants still struggle in one way or the other to eliminate meat from their diets; and even more so (74.4%) among the meat-eating participants. The reasons behind these perceived challenges are many. Nevertheless, social gatherings are found to be the most challenging (47.8%), particularly among the meat eaters (74.4%). Clarifying the supporting as well as challenging structures and mechanisms towards a diet with less or no meat, leads to an essential understanding of the social, institutional and political structures that are required to change, if we wish to underpin a greater transition of people’s meat consumption practices in Denmark.