Research Assistant and PhD candidate Paula Arcari presented a paper at the thirsd Minding Animals Conference in New Delhi, India in January 2015. The 7-day conference was held at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and covered a range of themes in animal studies including Animals and Culture, Women and Animals, Animal Law and Public Policy, and others. The full program with keynote speakers is available (205kb .pdf).
Titled ‘“[It] makes me feel happy to be eating it”: Capturing complexity in constructions and practices of ethical and sustainable meat’, the abstract for this paper was based on preliminary findings from her empirical research with producers and consumers of meat labelled and promoted as being ‘ethical’ and ‘sustainable’. The final paper focused on the theme of categories and boundaries – specifically the categories in which we place animals and the boundaries between them that help maintain normalized practices of meat consumption and the use of animals as food.
Read the full abstract for this paper here:
As a direct response to concerns regarding the environmental impacts and treatment of animals associated with factory-farmed meat, many international bodies recommend more sustainable or ‘efficient’ production processes and improved animal welfare measures. Recently, several large-scale producers and global retailers including McDonalds have announced plans to switch to ethically and sustainably produced meat products.
Ethical and sustainable meat is therefore widely regarded as providing a solution to the problems associated with factory farming, or at least a step in the right direction, and there are early indications of the development of associated industry-wide standards. Promotional literature and images imply that this type of meat is more sustainable than factory farming, encourages reductions in currently unsustainable levels of consumption, and treats animals more ethically.
In this paper, I explore how ethical and sustainable meat stacks up against these objectives. I will present preliminary outcomes from a qualitative study of practices and associated meanings involving meat promoted and/or labeled as being ethical and sustainable. Semi-structured interviews with 26 consumers and 15 producers in greater Melbourne were conducted between June and November 2014. Questions focused on discourses, practices and sensual associations relating to meat and animals.
My emerging findings indicate that meat is considered a necessary and/or natural part of the human diet with ethical and sustainable meat considered a better option than factory-farmed meat. Practices associated with ethical and sustainable meat are varied with some commonalities as well as inconsistencies. However, the quantity of meat being consumed does not appear to be reducing and may even be increasing.
An unexpected finding was interviewees’ physical expressions of discomfort during certain questions, suggestive of a strong affective and emotional dimension to ethical and sustainable meat practices, particularly where meanings associated with food, meat and animals intersect and potentially conflict. Based on these ideas, in this presentation I explore whether ethical and sustainable meat provides a way of conceptually and materially sidelining a range of practical and ethical misgivings regarding the use of animals as food because there is broad social consensus that it is ‘sustainable’, ‘ethical’, ‘happy’ and ‘humane’.
What might this mean for efforts to reduce or eliminate meat consumption and challenge the normalised use of animals as food? As long as the environmental impacts of meat production and the broader ethical implications of animal use continue to be underplayed and obfuscated in this (and other) way(s), activities that have serious consequences for the environment, climate, human health and animals will continue largely unchallenged and unabated.