Food that matters: exploring the material-discursive boundaries between animal-sourced and vegan food practices
Steffen Hirth (Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester)
Paper short abstract:
In need to 'feed the 9 billion', producing less meat and dairy is still largely overlooked as an alternative to further intensification. This paper explores how boundaries between animal-sourced and vegan food practices are drawn and how they can inform debates on (responsible) productivity.
Paper long abstract:
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 debates about possible ways to meet 'the universe' halfway in order to materialise nutritional energy responsibly.
- Encounters between people, things and environments