Topic: Meaty ethics: the problematisation of meat eating and sustainable diets
Keywords: Ethics and meat eating; Sustainable diets; EAT-Lancet report; Problematisation; Social media and public discourse
Discourses, knowledges, representations and norms related to ethics in food chains are contested and involve complex patterns of politicisation and governance (Maye et al, in press). This paper examines the recent debate about meat eating and sustainable diets. More specifically, we consider meat eating as a ‘hot topic’ debated in public discourse in response to the publication of the EAT-Lancet Commission (2019) ‘Food in the Anthropocene’ report. This report called for a radical shift and reduction in the amount of meat, particularly red meat, we consume as a society to reverse negative food system impacts on the planet. The report sparked significant public debate. Using Twitter data and analysis of newspaper articles, we analyse the report and the response its recommendations generated. As well as examining this specific moment of meat eating problematisation, we consider also strategies of responsibilisation proposed to address the problem, including counter-strategies that contest the science behind the publication, differentiating, for example, between different systems of meat production or challenging the nutritional logic of reduced meat diets. The ‘sustainable diets’ concept (Mason and Lang, 2017) raises important questions regarding the ethics of food production consumption, including entanglements with humans and nonhumans and the social and political implications of transitioning to food choices where we eat less meat and more plant-based alternatives. More generally, the case study shows how a focus on hot topics reveals wider questions about morals, ethics, politics and accountability in agri-food governance, including the way ethical strategies of responsibilisation enable reflexivity in food chains. This includes consideration of the way food politics is evolving in the public sphere, particularly the role of social media as an arena of interaction that generates debate and in some cases leads to direct confrontation between ethical values, social norms and sustainability choices.