ASA11: Vital powers and politics: human interactions with living things

University of Wales Trinity Saint David, 13/09/2011 – 16/09/2011

(P03)

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

Location Room 1
Date and Start Time 15 Sep, 2011 at 09:00

Convenors

James Staples (Brunel University)  email
Jakob Klein (SOAS)  email
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Short Abstract

Papers will explore relations between humans and animals-as-food: ethical consumption & food movements; changing cultural values of meat; meat trade; practices of meat production, preparation and retail; food safety regimes & certification, risk & trust; & links between agriculture, food & health.

Long Abstract

This panel will explore the idea that connections between humans and animals-as-food are not simply one-way relationships between consumer and consumed, but involve a more complex set of relations concerned, among other things, with ecological change, world markets and local economic conditions, health and safety concerns, and changing cultural values.

While increased meat consumption - as well as shifts in the types of meat eaten and the styles and contexts in which it is consumed - might index associated changes in the symbolic meanings of meat, providing for this demand has also had other consequences. In placing increasing strain on fragile ecological systems, intensive meat production has also been associated with, for example, the outbreak of new animal-borne diseases (from 'mad cow' disease to bird flu and SARS) and other emergent health concerns (from rises in obesity and heart disease to food poisoning). In short, the animals we eat do not passively satisfy our changing tastes but, in doing so, become actively embroiled in social relations.

Papers will engage with the two-way relationships that exist between humans and the animals we rear and consume, analysing them in relation to the wider political economy of meat production and consumption. In particular, papers might explore issues including ethical consumption and food movements; changing cultural values of meat or particular types of meat; meat trade including food 'smuggling', 'alternative' and 'conventional' practices of meat production, preparation and retail; food safety regimes and certification, risk and trust; and the links between agriculture, food and health.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

'Meaty' trust-scapes and the political economy of school meals

Author: Manpreet Janeja (University of Copenhagen) email
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Short Abstract

None provided.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on the role of meat in the political economy of school meals. It examines the processes of preparation & consumption of everyday school meals in terms of meat-eating and meat-avoidance practices. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in a 'multicultural' state-school cafeteria in east London, it describes the intertwining of political and economic concerns with the religious, affective, and health dimensions of such mundane practices. It explores the forms of belonging and not-belonging which emerge through these contextual engagements between humans and animals-as-food. In so doing, it illuminates the trans-national networks of trust and risk in which they are entangled.

Beyond beef: putting Indian Christian eating practices in perspective

Author: James Staples (Brunel University) email
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Short Abstract

The culinary experiences of South Indian Christians indicate the importance of meat to forging positive identities in relation to those they perceive as their Hindu oppressors. . Here, I attempt to go beyond what meat-eating meant to those I worked with to consider the significance of their eating-practices within the wider South Asian context.

Long Abstract

While meat-eating among lower caste groups in India might once have been interpreted by anthropologists simply as a marker of their ritual impurity, subsequent research demonstrates that rules governing non-vegetarian diets are not only as complex as those of people who eschew meat altogether, but also that meat-consumption can sometimes be status-enhancing or a powerful act of defiance rather than a symbol of subjugation. The culinary experiences of South Indian, low-caste Christians that I refer to in this paper indicate the importance of meat, and especially beef, to forging positive identities in relation to those they perceive as their Hindu oppressors. Here, though, I attempt to go beyond what meat-eating meant to the rural Christians I worked with (which I have analysed elsewhere) to consider the significance of their eating-practices within the wider South Asian context: a context in which, for example, meat consumption has also come to index a certain kind of urban, cosmopolitan modernity - sometimes referenced by my informants to shore up justification for their own practices - and in which increasing demand for meat more generally threatens broader environmental and economic changes which, in turn, have likely longer term implications for those I worked with. In short, will the beef that currently sustains them cheaply and to their social advantage continue to do so, or do their culinary practices, entangled as they are in a wider network of ideas, people, ideas and commodities, suggest other possible outcomes?

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

Author: Yve le Grand (ICS - Institute of Social Sciences - University of Lisbon) email
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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.

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.

Buddhist vegetarianism and the changing meanings of meat in urban China

Author: Jakob Klein (SOAS) email
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Short Abstract

In Kunming, Southwest China, the popularity of new Buddhist vegetarian restaurants reflected a shift in the meanings of meat from a sign of success to a site of risk. The establishments were emerging as places for displaying middle class sensibilities and exchanging ideas about the ethics of eating.

Long Abstract

Chinese Buddhists have long promoted vegetarian diets on the grounds of compassion for all living things. Vegetarian restaurants have existed near Buddhist temples. In recent years, Buddhists in mainland China, informed by or connected to movements in East Asia and beyond, have come to articulate Buddhist notions with discourses on dietary health, environmental protection and animal rights. In cities including Kunming in Southwest China, Buddhist vegetarian restaurants have proliferated. In Kunming, these sites both reflected and contributed to the changing meanings of meat. Meat-eating has been a marker of success in China. The rapid growth in the consumption of meat since the 1980s has been read as a sign of the country's modernization. However, the increase in meat consumption has involved the intensification of meat production. Kunmingers I interviewed in 2006-2009 complained about the perceived deterioration in the taste and safety of meat, especially pork, and some raised concerns about environmental degradation and animal welfare. Some reported switching to 'ecological' meats. Others claimed to have decreased their meat intake or to have switched from pork to beef or mutton. Among middle-class Kunmingers, meat avoidance was emerging as a 'modern' lifestyle choice. Buddhist vegetarian restaurants offered meat-free foods and perspectives on the changing food supply that were at once culturally familiar and cosmopolitan. The restaurants emerged as complex sites of alternative food consumption, where people gathered to eat healthy foods in peaceful, aesthetically pleasing surroundings; to develop and display middle class sensibilities; and to exchange ideas about the ethics of eating.

Meeting the demand? Tracing meat and metabolic illness in global health nutrition

Author: Emily Yates-Doerr (University of Amsterdam) email
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Short Abstract

This paper, which draws upon longterm research in the Guatemalan highlands and ongoing fieldwork with global health nutritionists in Europe, examines diverse valuations of meat to call into question the divisions drawn between feast and famine, and necessity and desire.

Long Abstract

It appears obvious— at least it is taken as fact within the public health nutrition community: the global demand for meat is on the rise. According to the dominant narrative, when middle class consumers from developing countries get a 'taste of meat' they (naturally) want more of it. In order to meet the demand, intensified agricultural production systems become necessary. Since meat is, by many accounts, a rich source of nutrients, and since many in the world are malnourished, there would seem to be a harmonious balance. Except, it has not worked out this way in practice. In response to a purported growing global demand, the substance of meat - as with the lives of the animals that provide it - changes form. This change becomes traced to and through human bodies; as concern about metabolic illnesses becomes widespread, micronutrient malnourishment and myriad forms of hunger persist. This paper, which draws upon long term ethnography in the Guatemalan highlands and ongoing fieldwork with global health nutritionists in Europe, follows the material lives of meat through various sociopolitical and embodied tensions. I illustrate how interest in the effects of meat upon the health of future bodies brings together - viscerally and metabolically - the bodies of human and non-human beings. My examination of diverse valuations of meat, at times a substance of health and at times a poison, calls into question not only the bodies of feast and the bodies of famine, but also the naturalized divisions between necessity and desire.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.