Why do people continue to eat meat, even when they are aware of its health consequences, the environmental externalities, and the harsh conditions in many confined animal feeding operations?
In this article in Sociological Forum, we examine a diverse sample of Canadian meat eaters and vegetarians to study justifications for eating meat. We identify 4 key cultural repertoires that people employ to make sense of their continued meat-eating: embodied masculinity, cultural preservation, consumer apathy, and consumer sovereignty. Building off prior psychological findings, the identification of these cultural repertoires allows us to understand more fully how and why people maintain their meat consumption—even in the face of growing public discourse about meat’s significant health, environmental, and social risks.
Building on the insights from our new article in Social Forces, Emily Huddart Kennedy, Shyon Baumann and I blogged this week for the ASA Section on Consumers & Consumption. We discuss some of our findings on social status and ethical food consumption, the idea of “Cultural Capital 2.0,” and a visit to a farm-to-table restaurant in Victoria.
The intention to buy organic food tends to be associated with parents who have children under the age of five. Health and taste concerns are top of mind in informing their purchases.
The intention to buy local food tends to be associated with educated, white women consumers. For these shoppers, collectivist concerns like the environment and supporting the local economy are a key motivator.
We argue that the predominant ‘individualist’ vs. ‘collectivist’ framing in the scholarly literature should be reformulated to accommodate an intermediate motivation.
Organic food consumption is often motivated by a desire to consume for others (e.g. children) in ways that aren’t straightforwardly individualist or collectivist, but that instead exemplify a caring motivation that falls somewhere between the two.
Photo credit: plasticchef1 on Flickr Creative Commons
A commentary I published in the Journal of Marketing Management, “Can consumers buy alternative foods at a big box supermarket?”, is now available online (and free for the month of May). It’s part of a special issue that considers the question of “alternatives” in food and drink markets (Eds. J Smith Maguire, J Lang and D Watson). I use a case study of ethical meat to consider the diverse, often contradictory ideals that inform consumers’ search for alternatives to mainstream market options.
I propose three main takeaways. 1) The goal of producing consumer alternatives is significantly hampered by the competing, and often contradictory demands of market forces. 2) The discourse of food alternatives uses a ‘win-win’ logic suggesting that consumers don’t have to sacrifice anything or change their habits. I believe that consumer projects for ecological and social change face a necessary but exceptionally challenging task of reshaping, and even downgrading consumer expectations. 3) Although I’m deeply sympathetic to the desire to “feel good” about shopping, the search for eco-social alternatives cannot simply make consumers feel good about their purchases. Food ‘alternatives’ have to go beyond feel good feelings, and address the material realities and limitations of niche markets.