Accepted Paper:

Activism through commensality: food and politics in a Temporary Vegan Zone.  


Yve le Grand (ICS - Institute of Social Sciences - University of Lisbon)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I present the fieldwork that I have done in 2009 with an environmental activist group based in Lisbon, Portugal. The group uses a weekly vegan dinner as a vehicle for raising awareness about the environmental impact of industrial food production, meat in particular.

Paper long abstract:

Exploring more sustainable foodways is essential for food production and consumption not to become environmental dilemmas. Current issues and developments in the global food system of industrial meat production and its detrimental impact on the environment have led various researchers and institutions to suggest that eating less meat and adopting a vegetarian - or even a vegan - diet would lessen the impact of GHG emissions into the environment. How is this picked up by environmental activists?

During the fieldwork - 4 months of participant observation - I have studied the Jantar Popular (JP), literally the people's dinner, that GAIA - Grupo de Acção e Intervenção Ambiental, an environmental NGO, facilitates every Thursday of the week, except for August.

The dinner is vegan, made with organic, gmo-free, locally produced and socially just ingredients. Facilitated by GAIA, this dinner is completely organized by volunteers, from planning the menu to cleaning up the space(s) at the end of the evening: without volunteers there would be no dinner.

During the JP the eater is connected through food with the other eaters. Thus,

commensality becomes an ideal tool for activism, putting environmental food politics into practice through 'just' eating in common. At the same time, the JP becomes a Temporary Vegan Zone (TVZ), as it creates an opportunity for people to transcend their everyday experience of food.

Being in the TVZ, is an opportunity to think and talk with other people with every bite that is taken. At the same time one is temporarily free from corporate food oppression.

Panel P03
Biting back: eating and not eating meat in industrializing food systems