Excessive meat consumption is associated with environmental, ethical and public health concerns. Substituting meat with plant-based alternatives has been located as a key strategy for consumers to reduce their meat intake. While a growing body of research seeks to measure consumers’ acceptance of substitute foods, less attention has been paid to how meat substitution is organised through everyday practices. Based on 50 interviews with consumers with varying levels of meat consumption in Norway, this paper explores how substitution is accomplished in everyday life, and how substitutes are leveraged in the project of meat reduction. A theoretical framework connecting theories of social practice and food qualification allowed investigating substitution as a contextually contingent process rather than the outcome of a simple product swap. The paper finds that many participants were open to the idea of meat substitution, and meatless meals could be acceptable and often desirable. However, substitution was complicated by a prevalent scepticism towards prefabricated substitute products and lacking competence to provide home-cooked alternatives fulfilling expectations in established food practices. The paper argues that ‘qualifying’ foods as substitutes depends on a range of factors beyond the material reconstruction of meatiness present in prefabricated products, problematising the idea of substitution as a straightforward strategy for meat reduction so long as consumers are motivated and/or have access to plant-based options. Shifting consumption from meat to plant-based alternatives require fundamental changes in the organisation of food environments and eating practices beyond measures targeting consumer attitudes or increasing the availability of convenient substitute products.
Meat alternatives may play an important role in sustainable food transitions. However, numerous barriers to the increased consumption of these products have been identified. This paper explores the consumption of meat alternatives in relation to ‘foodyism’, understood here as contemporary discourses and practices of gourmet food glorifying ‘exoticism’ and ‘authenticity’. Foodyism can be viewed as a relevant cultural barrier to the increased uptake of meat alternatives, especially due to its adherence to the notion of authenticity. The paper argues that the cultural and symbolic tension between foodyism and meat alternatives must be sufficiently resolved if meat alternatives are to play a key role in sustainable food transitions. Accordingly, inspired by practice theoretical approaches in consumption research, and based on an analysis of qualitative data collected in Finland in 2020 through an online questionnaire (N=448, of which 49 were included in the final analysis), the paper focuses on describing the reconciliation of foodyism and meat alternatives already evident in the food-related practices of food practitioners. The performances of reconciliation described in this paper are characterised by ‘looking beyond individual ingredients’, ‘laborious and skilful cooking’, and the meanings of home food and creativity. The results suggest that the ways of ‘doing foodyism’ may be changing in the wake of the current ecological crises, and the paper argues that the new patterns are worth advocating in efforts to advance the practical and symbolic acceptance of meat alternatives.
In this conversation Sophia Efstathiou and Rebeca Ibáñez Martín discuss how a love for the animal you are going to eat, or gustar, offers an alternative to industrial animal husbandry. They discuss how changing relationships between humans and animals in intensive farming mediated by technologies of effacement break these attachments, ironically allowing for the animal to be replaced. Looking to ethnographic work and situated analyses of working with animals opens up possibilities for different ways of being with animals. Meat is performatively constituted, and it can be constituted differently and less violently.
The aim of this paper is to empirically explore and conceptualise how marketing and markets shape the formation of edibility in the context of alternative proteins. While meat and dairy substitutes have attracted commercial and scholarly attention, promoting alternative proteins more widely has often proved to be difficult. Alternative proteins often challenge consumers’ understandings of what is safe, appropriate and enjoyable food to consume. Disgust, distrust and even opposition are common consumer reactions. Taking a constructivist market studies approach and drawing on an ethnographic study of the marketing and consumption of plant-based substitutes, we explore the work performed by marketing to overcome these problems and make plant-based substitutes edible. Making use of the concepts of market device and qualification, the analysis shows that plant-based substitutes are constructed as edible in two ways. First, through productising and the related practices of packaging, disclosing, aestheticising and branding, plant-based substitutes are qualified as safe, enjoyable and appropriate for consumption. Second, through animating plant-based substitutes are linked to established food traditions, social eating and the performance of family, thereby creating a meaningful context for this food. It is through this dual move that plant-based substitutes become edible. Our analysis shows that edibility formation went beyond merely making plant-based substitutes tasty or acceptable. The market devices studied worked to construct plant-based substitutes as a much-needed resource for everyday (plant-based) food practices.
This commentary is a reflection on cultured meat and, more generally, food innovation, articulated from the perspective of political ecology (for a proposal around the ‘political ecology of food’ see ). This approach allows to critically investigate the status and role of novel foods in the context of the ecologic crisis, highlighting the complex entanglements of power, labour and value that subtend processes of food innovation and shape imaginaries of future food systems, as well as pathways of sustainability. As such, political ecology also calls for a reflection on food politics at large, envisioning transformative practices that question current arrangements of gender, class, race, species. In its unwillingness to ‘solve’ or close down the vast problem of food innovation, political ecology highlights ambiguities, risks, but also opportunities, as tools to guide a radical political imagination around food in the context of the contemporary ecological crisis. This stands in contrast with the polarising and partial way in which cultured meat tends to be represented in present public debates. The Italian ‘ban’ on cultured meat that is likely to be introduced is particularly interesting and it will serve as a starting point for this commentary.
Current meat consumption trends are associated with extensive resource use, environmental degradation, and detrimental effects on animal and human health, making meat reduction a core sustainability target. The experiences of meat reducers, often conceptualised as flexitarians, have gradually attracted more academic attention. This literature has shown that in many cases meat reducers do not radically reduce their meat intake and have untangled a complex web of factors contributing to meat consumption, reduction and avoidance. This article contributes to a nuanced understanding of the experiences, approaches and challenges faced by meat reducers. The data was collected through in-depth interviews with 26 self-declared meat reducers in Norway. By framing consumption as embedded in social practices, this article highlights how broader cultural, social and material conditions structure eating and hence meat consumption. A central finding is that through processes of socialisation and habituation, performances of eating often conform to the prevailing conventions inscribed in the socio-material environment in which they are embedded. We thus question the popular depictions of individuals as efficient drivers of dietary changes and highlight the many factors involved in reproducing the ‘normalness’ of meat-intense diets, demonstrating how individual intentions, choices and habits are themselves rooted in, and circumscribed by, prevailing conventions, that is, practices.
This empirical paper explores the transition to a vegetarian or a vegan diet, at the meeting point of individual biographies and their social context. It is based on 13 interviews conducted with 14 participants in the province of Quebec, Canada. It mobilises a conceptual framework that couples a social practice approach (SPT) with the concept of ‘fractures’ as developed by O’Neill and colleagues (). The results show that the transition to a vegetarian or a vegan diet involves tastes, ethical concerns and skills that were formed since childhood, and that it also depends on the interaction of elements specific to a social context such as a supportive social environment or the availability of meat replacement products. The participants’ experiences also suggest that transitions can be sparked by life events such as a new friendship, a new relationship or moving out of the parents’ house, all of which have in common a transformation in the social relations and networks central to everyday life. The conclusion discusses the role played by time, social relationships and space in the participants’ accounts and how it can be read through the lens of SPT and ‘fractures’, to understand how individual experience can be tied to change on a larger scale.
Controversy surrounds research reports that promote reduced meat consumption in Norway. By studying these controversies in the media, we ask why meat reduction is polarised seemingly between environmental and agricultural, urban and rural voices. We show how a ‘conventional’ definition of meat reduction in a self-regulating market tends to disconnect consumption habits from agricultural policies. The result is a paradox: Norwegians are urged to eat less meat, but farmers must produce more to stay afloat. In this conventional frame, meat reduction is seen by rural and farmer voices as a further exaggeration of agricultural decline, depopulation and centralisation. To unravel this controversy, we contrast this with a critical ‘post-productivist’ view of conventional agriculture and volume-centred farm subsidies since the 1950s. We show how a different, more interactive understanding of consumption as interrelated with Norwegian food policies, production and distribution emerges, highlighting a path through the controversy. By reimagining a change from subsidies for production volume to production methods, climate, health, environmental and rural issues are brought into conversation with each other. While largely remaining a marginal voice in a heavily polarised debate, we show how alternative notions of meat reduction can help us move past meat reduction controversies. The article stresses that the two concepts of meat reduction are characterised by distinct notions of consumption, suggesting that the popular understanding of what consumption is can be a barrier to, or a part of, a meat-reduced future.