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Food that Matters: Boundary Work and the Case for Vegan Food Practices

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Abstract

Meat and, less so, dairy are contested for their significant ethical and social‐ecological impacts. Abjuring animal products, veganism is conventionally treated as a dietary ideology related to consumer identities. Drawing upon practice and materialist turns, this article explores variations in the performance of veganism and how its boundaries are drawn. Yet, rather than an eating practice, I suggest to look at veganism more broadly and conceptualised as a food practice which also involves provisioning. By example of stockfree organic agriculture (SOA), a production‐based, processual understanding is outlined by which plant foods are “vegan” if animal by‐products are not used as fertilisers in crop cultivation. Thereof, a conceptual case is made to shift the focus away from veganism as a consumer identity and towards performative vegan food practices (VFP) as a global responsibility to reduce the ‘long shadow’ of livestock and maintain Earth as a relatively safe operating space.
Sociologia Ruralis, Vol 61, Number 1, January 2021 DOI: 10.1111/soru.12317
© 2020 The Authors. Sociologia Ruralis published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of European Society for Rural
Sociology
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which
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Food that Matters: Boundary Work and
the Case for Vegan Food Practices
Steffen Hirth*
Abstract
Meat and, less so, dairy are contested for their significant ethical and social-ecological
impacts. Abjuring animal products, veganism is conventionally treated as a dietary
ideology related to consumer identities. Drawing upon practice and materialist turns,
this article explores variations in the performance of veganism and how its boundaries
are drawn. Yet, rather than an eating practice, I suggest to look at veganism more broadly
and conceptualised as a food practice which also involves provisioning. By example of
stockfree organic agriculture (SOA), a production-based, processual understanding is
outlined by which plant foods are ‘vegan’ if animal by-products are not used as fertilisers
in crop cultivation. Thereof, a conceptual case is made to shift the focus away from
veganism as a consumer identity and towards performative vegan food practices (VFP) as
a global responsibility to reduce the ‘long shadow’ of livestock and maintain Earth as a
relatively safe operating space.
Key words
boundary work, food identity, material-discursive practices, stockfree organic
agriculture, sustainability, veganism
Introduction
In sociological studies of food, veganism is usually conceptualised as an eating
practice (Twine 2018). This context of eating entails a focus on vegan consumers
and their dietary choices, identities and attitudes (e.g., Beardsworth and Keil 1992;
Larsson et al. 2003; Wrenn 2017) as well as discourses on veganism (Cole and Morgan
2011). However, the practice as a whole exhausts itself neither in eating nor in indi-
viduals’ identities. Disregarding relations of food supply beyond consumers neglects
vitally important dimensions of Twine’s call for ‘materially constituting a sustainable
food transition’ (2018, p. 166). Sustainability-focused1 arguments for vegan and veg-
etarian practices have also been neglected by academics concerned with alternative
food networks (Morris and Kirwan 2006).
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By building on the turns towards practices, materiality, and nonhuman agencies,
this article redefines veganism more broadly as a food practice which involves produc-
tion as much as consumption. A case is made for acknowledging and accounting for
collective patterns of production and consumption by shifting the conceptual focus
away from veganism and towards performative vegan food practices (VFP), which mat-
ter in view of their potential for mitigating the social-ecological crises threatening the
‘safe operating space’ (Rockström et al. 2009) of our food systems.
In sociological debates on consumption and food, theories of practice suggest to
take into account the routinised nature of eating (Warde 2016; for the specific con-
text of veganism see also Twine 2017), but it is also acknowledged that people ‘adapt,
improvise and experiment’ since practices ‘also contain the seeds of constant change’
(Warde 2005, p. 141; see also Evans 2019 for a recent discussion). By contrast, cultur-
alist approaches tend to be preoccupied with how consuming shapes lifestyles and
identities, looking only or mainly at the ‘front end of consumption’ (Hetherington
2004, p. 158). In Globalizing Responsibility, Barnett et al. (2011, p. 72) seek to overcome
a strong binary between consumers and producers suggesting that ‘provisioning and
consumption are inextricably entwined’, and that the analytical attention is thus in
need to shift from consumers to ‘practitioners’. In order to provide a corrective for
the context of veganism, my production-focused approach undertakes a conceptual
shift away from consumer identities and choices in moments of purchase towards the
relationalities of provisioning for food practices.
The disciplinary boundary of sociology, traditionally designated to ‘the social’ and
defined as an exclusively human domain, has itself become subject to boundary work
of critical sociologists drawing upon animal studies to argue that social lives relate
to and are made of a multiplicity of species (McFarlane 2013; Cudworth 2014). ‘[E]
ven if the goal of sociology is to explain human behavior’, as McFarlane (2013, p. 53)
notes, ‘this goal is not obtainable if the analysis is limited to humans’. Therefore, my
corrective shift away from consumption and towards production is accompanied by
a shift away from (1) putting humans at the centre of the analysis, (2) regarding them
as the sole carriers of practices (practitioners), and (3) awarding them exclusive rights
of belonging to the conceptual and ethical realm of ‘the social’.
Next to practice turns, the research conducted also grounds on materialist turns
and relational theory. Whilst resonating with Carolan and Stuart (2016), who illus-
trate their ‘ecologically embedded relational realism’ through the example of climate
change in an agrifood context, this paper particularly draws upon Karen Barad’s
(2003, 2007) posthumanist and performative account of material-discursive prac-
tices. By saying that ‘language has been granted too much power’ and that discourse
and culture have been receiving attention, whilst ‘the only thing that does not seem
to matter anymore is matter’ (2003, p. 801), she makes an important point about
the rampant anthropocentrism within social sciences. Conceptualised in resonance
with Barad’s approach of Agential Realism, practices can be understood as entangled
human and nonhuman agencies that continuously reconfigure matter and meaning.
Thus, what she calls material-discursive practices performs the boundary work neces-
sary to put veganism and carnism in practice.
As my emphasis is on sustainability and social-ecological relations between
human, domesticated, and wild animals as well as plants and the life that is soil,
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Barad’s posthumanist perspective on boundary-drawing practices is a welcome ad-
dendum to existing sociological approaches to boundary work (Lamont and Molnár
2002; Pachucki et al. 2007; Lamont 2012) which have been applied to food studies,
for example, to examine vegetarians’ boundary work (Yeh 2013, 2014). Sociologists
have been engaging with veganism in the context of its historical emergence from
the vegetarian movement, for example in England (Twigg 1981; Cole 2014), which
includes the analysis of the constant boundary work done by its members to define
the movement: ‘The exclusion of veganism from vegetarianism in the 1940s is a good
example of a more exclusive boundary of the new vegetarianism’ (Yeh 2013, p. 305).
A much more recent evidence of ongoing boundary work is the emergence of the
term ‘carnism’ which denominates a dietary ideology complementary to veganism
and vegetarianism that, unlike them, states that eating meat is normal, natural, and
necessary (Joy 2010).
Speaking about VFP rather than about vegans is a conceptual move that acknowl-
edges the perhaps surprisingly fuzzy boundaries of veganism, vegetarianism, and
carnism, and it broadens the scope towards the ways in which not merely consumers
but also producers engage in the boundary-drawing practices that materialise food
relations. In acknowledgement of the materiality of social-ecological crises such as cli-
mate change (IPCC 2019) and the sixth mass extinction event (Ceballos et al. 2015), it
is ultimately production, not (only) consumption, of animal-sourced foods that has to
decrease. With the FAO’s (2006) report ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’ at the latest, meat
consumption has an increasingly bad reputation for its ecological footprint, but rarely
are the ‘biophysical variables’ (Carolan and Stuart 2016) and reasons for it made ex-
plicit, let alone the logical conclusion that stockfree systems have, in turn, a short
shadow. For exceptions, see Hirth (2019a) juxtaposing so-called ‘plant-based’ food
with the even greater base of plants an animal metabolism requires for feed conver-
sion as well as Kolasi’s more general account of thermodynamic energy (in)efficien-
cies leading the physicist to suggest an ‘ecologism’ which involves ‘the adoption of
mass veganism among industrialized nations that no longer rely on animals for food
production’ (2018). The collective need to address the materialities by which diets
cast longer or shorter ‘shadows’, however, is overshadowed by a dogmatic and fierce-
ly-led debate obsessed with the internal authenticity of individuals’ dietary identities.
Spatially, the focus on identity entails that veganism tends to be discussed almost ex-
clusively in urban contexts where most of the purchases and end consumption takes
place. By acknowledging its agricultural dimensions an outlook on the biophysical
and practical dimensions of what is vegan widens the scope of the phenomenon to
land use and the cultural and biological diversity of rural foodscapes and livelihoods.
Therefore, this paper is centred upon stockfree organic agriculture (SOA) which,
in the national context of the UK, refers to food certified as ‘vegan organic’ (Schmutz
and Foresi 2017). This can broadly be defined as an additional certification to the
organic standard assuring that horticulture is free from animal by-products conven-
tionally used to fertilise fields such as manure or bone meal.2 Drawing upon SOA
this paper makes two points about boundary work. Firstly, SOA entails extending the
locus – and indeed the definition – of ‘vegan’ away from the common-sense boundary
of veganism as a kind of consumer choice and identity towards the materiality and
performance of food provisioned without derivatives of farm animals. Secondly, a
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performance-based conception of ‘vegan’ may help to maintain a safe, social-ecolog-
ical operating space for all life on Earth by extending the responsibility for ‘acting
veganly’ beyond conventional boundaries distributed more evenly across food-related
identities: In need to shorten the livestock sector’s shadow, performing VFP predom-
inantly becomes an undogmatic responsibility of ethical producers and consumers
alike, regardless of their personal identities as vegans, vegetarians or ‘meat eaters’
(carnists).
Material-discursive boundary work and purity
How is veganism kept ‘pure’ as a discrete practice? Examining how the boundaries of
food practices are drawn involves an understanding for the impurity of the processes
by which boundaries are drawn. Tracing the exclusions and inclusions executed as
part of specific practices unravels the ‘ontological labour of purification’ (Nimmo
2010, p. 155) that is put into and materialises practices.
The sociological literature on ‘boundary work’ (Lamont and Molnár 2002;
Pachucki et al. 2007; Lamont 2012) has been applied by Yeh (2013, 2014) to exam-
ine how the boundaries of vegetarianism are drawn. Lamont and Molnár understand
social boundaries as ‘objectified forms of social differences’ which are materialised
in inequalities and symbolic boundaries as ‘conceptual distinctions made by social
actors to categorize objects, people, practices, and even time and space’ (2002, p.
168). Those symbolic boundaries are equally used to ‘enforce, maintain, normalize,
or rationalize social boundaries’ as they are to ‘contest and reframe the meaning of
social boundaries’ (Lamont and Molnár, 2002, p. 186).
Although not explicitly connected, the literature on social and symbolic boundaries
resonates with social theorist and theoretical physicist Karen Barad’s (2007) notion of
‘boundary-drawing practices’. Her approach gives the analysis of boundaries a post-
humanist twist through which ‘the social’ is not confined to entanglements between
humans. In critical acknowledgement of poststructuralist theorists such as Foucault
(1980) and Butler (1993), Barad’s (2007) Agential Realism is meant to rid discourse
approaches from their human-centred elements by making a materialist turn. Her
framework is used to examine how human and nonhuman agencies continuously
work together as part of material-discursive practices that perform the boundary work
necessary to put veganism or carnism in practice. In Agential Realism, boundaries are
indeed real but they are enacted or become determinate through agential intra-action,
the boundary work done by entangled agencies.
Moreover, these conceptions of boundary work resonate with Powell’s (2013) sug-
gestion to conceptualise relations as ‘work’. Since work ‘always changes something’,
he broadly defines it as ‘the production of difference’ (Powell, 2013, p. 196). This per-
spective ‘immediately entails a bidirectional analysis, prompting us [firstly] to inquire
what transformation produces and [secondly] what work, what relations, went into
producing that relation’ (Powell, 2013, p. 197). Importantly, work is no longer an exclu-
sively human domain. In Barad’s terms, the work that shifts boundaries is conducted
by human and nonhuman agencies cooperating un/consciously and in/voluntarily
in material-discursive practices. By way of inclusion or exclusion, material-discursive
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practices normalise or problematise and, thereby, continuously (re)configure present
configurations of practices. Similarly, Krüger and Strüver ask in their analysis of nar-
ratives of ‘good food’:
‘Based on which interpretive patterns, values and spatial relationships do food identities,
attributions of responsibilities and daily practices get normalized and hence stabilized or, on
the contrary, politicized and challenged?’ (2018, p. 217).
I understand food practices as a domain in which ‘good’ and ‘bad’ agricultural
and culinary practices are negotiated and materialised through boundary-drawing
practices. This intersects with debates and (intra-)actions in the context of sustain-
ability. What passes as sustainable or unsustainable production and consumption
practices is also negotiated and materialised through boundary work. Carnism, as Joy
(2010) claims, is a largely invisible system of beliefs. Keeping it invisible – in order
to maintain its status as a socially accepted practice – requires boundary work. The
human-nonhuman boundary is emplaced by efforts of ‘purifying the social’, as Richie
Nimmo puts it:
‘our encounters and relations with nonhuman animal others, unless meticulously policed
by networks of humanist discourse-practices, have the potential to induce destabilizing and
transformative reflections upon our own ‘nature’ as humans’ (2010, p. 6).
Boundary making – attempts at excluding and including – is always an imper-
fect process. As Alexis Shotwell (2016) argues in Against Purity, there is no perfectly
sanitised state, place, or practice that we can (re)turn to in our hope for addressing
colonialism, disease, pollution, and climate change. However, an acknowledgement
of impurity is not to be misunderstood as an ethical free pass to indulge oneself
arbitrarily in the imperfection of the practices one performs. Rather, it forces us to
recognise ‘that individual purity or actions aiming toward it are not going to solve the
collective, complex problems in which we are differentially complicit’ (Shotwell 2016,
p. 202; italics added). Both phenomena, veganism and carnism, are ‘the effect of
boundary-drawing practices that make some identities or attributes intelligible (deter-
minate) to the exclusion of others’ (Barad 2007, p. 208), but in a world of multiplicity
– a constantly changing spacetime manifold – none of them is able to retain total
purity through the exclusions made.
By focusing on material-discursive difference patterns that mark the boundaries
of food practices, this paper avoids analysing veganism and carnism in a predom-
inantly ideational, identity-based way. Correctively, the materiality of agricultural
production and provision is emphasised. This itself shifts attention from individual
dietary purity to the collective sustainability of food systems. My conception of VFP
outlined in the following sections broadens the boundaries of veganism, intended as
a social-ecological intervention that prioritises the question of maximum permissi-
ble quantities of animal-sourced foods produced by a global collective over the mere
ideological question whether or not individuals or groups think of eating animals as
morally right.
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Methods and data
The research conducted involved examining the often taken-for-granted practices by
which the boundaries of veganism and carnism are drawn. In order to operationalise
a material-discursive analysis in line with the theory drawn upon, the applied quali-
tative, interpretative methodology integrated discourse-analytic and ethnographic
methods, focusing on agential difference patterns, rather than explaining why particu-
lar actors act as they do.
Methodologically this was inspired by Gibson-Graham’s (2006) ‘reading for dif-
ference rather than dominance’, which Harris (2009) applies to the example of alter-
native food networks. They highlight that whenever researchers look at dominance
only, the marginalisation of alternatives is at risk of being further increased. Thus,
wherever power geometries are at play and change is at stake, reading for difference is
what makes sure that all practices, even the emerging and quantitatively insignificant
one’s, are granted consideration and the possibility to thrive. The discussion will later
touch on what this means for vegan organic agriculture as a marginal but emerging
paradigm.
More specifically, this meant examining how producers position themselves to-
wards the possibility of achieving sustainable development through absolute reduc-
tions of animal agriculture; but also what role animal agriculture, on the one hand,
and veganism, on the other, play in producer discourses on sustainable food produc-
tion and consumption. Guided by these questions, I examined the ways in which
stock-based and stockfree farms, retailers, and food-related advocacy networks deter-
mine the boundaries of veganism and carnism and, thereby, materialise vegan and
carnist food practices.
Approved by the University Research Ethics Committee (UREC), data were col-
lected between 2016 and 2017 from agricultural and retailing foodscapes in Greater
Manchester, Derbyshire, and South West England, involving a mix of participant ob-
servation (including field notes and photography), in-depth interviews with stakehold-
ers on site, and an interpretative examination of their sustainability-related websites
and reports. Data collection and analysis involved three main steps.
Firstly, qualitative discourse analysis was applied to documents and images, mainly
from websites and sustainability reports, of producers, retailers, and advocacy organi-
sations. In this initial step most attention was given to one big British retailer as well
as one single-branch co-operative grocery store which does not sell any meat, dairy, or
other animal-sourced foods. Websites and documents were preserved by help of the
archival software Zotero which not only functioned as a ‘hub’ for integrating different
types of data (textual and visual), but also for interpretative coding of text passages
and images.
A second tranche of data involved six in-depth interviews which, on average, lasted
2h 12m. The interview style can be described as both narrative and semi-structured
as they began with open questions, for example, ‘What is “good” or “bad” food?’, and
were guided by more specific questions towards the end. Usually arranged by email,
the interviews were all conducted face-to-face, mostly on site, then recorded and tran-
scribed. Interviewees3 included a sustainability director of a big retailer, two members
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of a co-operative grocery store, staff of a big dairy company, farmers of a former beef
and dairy farm, and the founder of a vegan advocacy network.
Finally, in order to get insights into the materiality and regular practices of the sites,
research involved ethnographic observation and participation. In the case of the retail-
ers, this involved becoming a customer for daily grocery shopping. Engaging with a
vegan advocacy network meant to participate in working group meetings and help out
on vegan fairs. For other sites, observations took place in the context of the interviews,
for example, on tours to see farm animals, a biogas plant, and a cheese dairy. This in-
volved taking photos (N = 569), writing field notes, and drawing sketches of the sites.
Starting off by deliberately choosing two very different retailers – a big ‘ordinary’
and a small ‘vegan’ one – the rest of the ‘organically’ evolving data production was
an exercise in tracing their suppliers (farms and growers), and further recruiting in-
terviewees and generating data using the entanglement of the foodscapes. Where
applicable, that also involved media coverage about interviewees or their companies
which added to the material for interpretative analysis. While the research design
does not allow conclusions representative of retailers and farmers in the UK, cases
were chosen precisely for their peculiarity, i.e., the difference they make, which would
have been lost focusing on typical cases only. Due to its conceptual focus, this paper
does not present findings on the examined big retailer and the dairy company.4 The
sample of findings presented in this paper largely revolve around two cases about
vegan organic agriculture which were chosen for their particular value in illustrating
the case for vegan food practices.
Drawing the boundaries of veganism
In the UK, vegan organic production refers to an agricultural standard by the Vegan
Organic Network (VON) optionally added on to the organic certification of the Soil
Association. The difference to standard organic is that vegan organic rejects animal
by-products for fertilising soils.
The following subsection showcases how vegan organic crop cultivation is depoliti-
cised in media reactions by personalising the collectively-oriented reasons farmers
gave for abandoning animal farming. It is also claimed that, partly due to the conven-
tional boundary by which veganism is a mere consumer identity and eating practice,
the media failed to convey what vegan organic methods mean. Another subsection is
supposed to repoliticise vegan organic agriculture by outlining its material-discursive
practices, before the next section goes on to discuss these findings in a conceptual
sense.
A ‘strictly personal’ decision: abandoning animal agri-culture
Drawing on the case-study of Bradley Nook Farm, this subsection illustrates the farm-
ers’ reasons for abandoning animal agriculture in favour of vegan organic crop culti-
vation as well as media reactions to this decision. Tensions are showcased which arise
from a journalistic failure to convey what ‘vegan organic’ means, coming along with
conventional tendencies to regard the term ‘vegan’ exclusively as an eating – rather
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than a farming – practice and to locate ‘the ethical’ within ‘the consumer’, resulting
in a de-politicisation of the farmers’ reasons for changing their practices as ethical
producers.
Farmer Jay Wilde had been vegetarian for 25 years when he inherited his father’s
beef farm in 2011. With his wife Katja, they kept the farm going for some years, then
transformed it from a beef into a dairy farm before deciding to give up animal agricul-
ture altogether by cultivating food crops by a vegan organic standard. Sending around
100 animals to slaughter one last time could have earned them £40,000 to 50,000
but they decided to release most of the cattle at a 2,000 acre sanctuary in Norfolk and
let about a dozen of them live out their lives on their own 170 acre farm.
In the interview I conducted with them, two reasons for their decision stood out,
both expressing care for others. Firstly, bringing the cattle to the abattoir as farmers
who ‘looked after them as well as you could’ entailed that ‘you felt as if you are betray-
ing them […] because it must have been terrifying. I’m sure they could tell something
really bad was happening as you unloaded them at the other end’ (Interview, Bradley
Nook Farm). Secondly, the farmers exhibited broader concerns about human rights,
in particular the one to food, the local wildlife on the farm as well as current and fu-
ture terrestrial life’s ecological conditions for existence:
‘We’re hoping to produce more actual food, more calories, more protein, feed more people
and produce [food] which is healthier, more sustainable, a lower carbon footprint because of
the amount of water that successive generations of cattle consume, the amount of methane
they burp and the ammonia that comes from the manure, all sort of bad greenhouse gases
and pollutants’. (Interview, Bradley Nook Farm)
Considering the currently high salience of vegetarianism and veganism in public
debates it is hardly surprising that their decision received attention by media formats
such as Countryf ile, a BBC programme on countryside life and farming practices.
In his report, host Adam Henson introduces the situation at Bradley Nook Farm as
follows:
‘Farming is a business that’s always changing. New technologies and environmental pres-
sure means things are changing as fast as ever but the reasons for the change on this farm
in Derbyshire are strictly personal’. (Countryfile 2017, 36m 36s; italics mine)
Whilst the case of Bradley Nook Farm is without a doubt about change, it is puz-
zling why Henson first addresses environmental pressure as a factor that general-
ly-speaking does change farms nowadays, only to make a clear cut in the next step
by saying that the drivers of change on this farm are of a different kind. More spe-
cifically, the ‘environmental pressure’ he mentions could involve droughts, floods,
or other extreme weather conditions induced by anthropogenic, livestock-associ-
ated climate changes. However, the conjunction ‘but’ disassociates the reasons for
the changes from large-scale, social-ecological concerns. The boundary drawn here
reduces the decision to a personal compassion with farm animals and excludes it
from the realm of public or collective concerns. Regarding compassion with farm
animals as a ‘strictly personal’ choice sentimentalises the care for others (and anthro-
pocentrically focuses on the sensitive human rather than the nonhuman addressees
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of compassion). Implicitly, this blanks out an attitude in which cattle are part of so-
cial/public/collective concerns, rather than merely individual/private/personal ones.
Another important consequence is that the Countryf ile report does not address, and
thus de-politicises, the social-ecological reasons for giving up animal agriculture that
the farmers expressed in my own interview.
A second media echo from an online article of the Daily Express sensationalises
the case by observing ‘viewers in melt-down as vegan farmer eats an egg’, a headline
based on reactions of the Countryf ile audience on social media after seeing farmer Jay
Wilde eating an egg:
As fans of the show continued to share their bewilderment, the official [Twitter] account for
Countryfile stepped in to clarify the mess’.
‘He’s vegetarian. He’s turning the farm over to farm organic vegetables to sell on the vegan
market’, the BBC programme tweeted, before continuing to retweet another viewer with:
‘The commentary was “over a vegetarian breakfast”’.
The 59-year-old farmer decided to give away his cows – worth £50,000 – to an animal sanc-
tuary in Norfolk after an enlightening visit from a member of the Vegan Society.’ (Hughes
2017)
Although the sensationalism by which vegans are stereotypically depicted as not
being capable of resisting the temptation of eating animal products (see also Cole
and Morgan 2011) is used in the headline, the Daily Express article then elaborates on
how Countryf ile ‘clarifies’ by explaining that Jay Wilde is a vegetarian, not a vegan,
and intends to ‘farm organic vegetables to sell on the vegan market’. However, rather
than clarifying, this separation of the cultivation (organic vegetables) from the distri-
bution (vegan market) illustrates that Countryf ile and Daily Express confuse (or omit
to explain) what vegan organic agriculture actually means. As will be outlined in more
detail in the next subsection, vegan organic characterises the process of vegan cultiva-
tion, one which forbids the use of animal manure or bone meal for fertilising fields
and nourishing food crops. This specific material-discursive practice, which consis-
tently excludes farm animals as nutrient providers of horticultural crop production,
is significantly different from conventional conceptions of both vegan and organic.
Within the common-sense boundaries of the term, ‘vegan’ is understood not as a
process but as an attribute of a person, a product or, in this case also a market. That
is, for example, a vegan person, a carrot, and a place or platform to purchase the for-
mer. Yet, the odd construct of a ‘vegan market’ is (wrongly) suggestive of (1) Bradley
Nook Farm’s crops being grown specifically for vegans or (2) at least sold on a market
that is exclusively frequented by vegans, as if non-vegans were either not welcome to
consume these grains and vegetables or not expected to be interested in eating them.
Suggesting the farmers intended to grow ‘organic vegetables to sell on the vegan mar-
ket’ misleads the audience by not explaining the meaning and materiality of the cou-
pled term ‘vegan organic’ as an organic standard of agriculture that excludes livestock.
Instead, the news value of the article, and the bewilderment it purports to allevi-
ate, originate in an assumption and allegation of unauthentic behaviour. That the
term veganism framing the news stories on this case occurred simultaneously with
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the farmer’s egg consumption resulted in the perception of a lack of authenticity, an
alleged mismatch between values and actions of the farmer. That perception is pre-
cisely the one through which the conventional boundary of veganism becomes visible,
one which is entirely focused on, if not obsessed with, the integrity of individuals and
their diets. An individualised sense of food based on personal identity and authen-
ticity creates an imperative to be oneself; that is, anything (legal) can be consumed
without social punishment as long as it matches compellingly with ones (alleged)
personal values, beliefs, or desires. Countryf ile host Henson, for example, concludes
his report with both admiration and incomprehension:
‘I’m not sure I’d have made the same call as Jay. The £50,000 he could have achieved by
selling his cattle would have come in handy […] But you could say that makes his decision
to switch from farming beef to veg even more courageous. Jay has recognised the opportu-
nity the land and buildings on this farm offer him as an alternative to cattle farming. And
whatever your views on veganism, you have to admire him for sticking to his principles’.
(Countryfile 2017, 44m 24s)
The quote illustrates boundary work that renders the authenticity of one’s ethical
principles as vital, on the one hand, and depoliticises the very content of those princi-
ples, on the other. After all, Henson does not suggest that the viewer admires Jay for
his principles but rather to admire him for sticking to them, as if sticking to principles
would be legitimate whatever the principles.
It is on the grounds of these predispositions, that journalists, entrusted with the
task of mediating the changes on this farm, failed to either understand or convey
how the term ‘vegan’ was actually used by the farmers. Conventionally, ‘vegan’ is
only understood as an eating practice and thus a personal identity closely connected to
individual choice. Hidden through the creation of this horizon remained the farmers’
plan to perform food practices by a vegan organic production standard which they
deem necessary for reasons far from ‘strictly personal’ – next to their care for their
cattle, they share collective concerns over the social-ecological crises associated with
today’s ‘normal’ food production. To be fair, one could well argue that the decision
was ‘personal’ in the sense of ‘peculiar’ as few farmers subject their practices to a
comparable ethics of care; yet this peculiarity does not justify to refrain from explain-
ing the vital practical differences ‘vegan organic’ entails. As this subsection had a
stronger emphasis on the discursive elements of material-discursive practices in order
to outline conventional boundaries of ‘vegan’, the next section will also detail material
elements constituting ‘vegan organic’ production to make up for their absence in
representations of the media.
Vegan organic agriculture
As an agricultural practice, vegan organic cultivation aims at circulating nutrients
sustainably while excluding any material input from domesticated animals. Different
from conventional or organic agriculture, the vegan organic standard (as certified by
the Vegan Organic Network and the Soil Association) fully excludes both synthetic
fertilisers and animal derivatives such as manure or bone meal (see also Schmutz and
Foresi 2017). As it does not rely on nutrients from fossil fuels or farm animals, this
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standard draws on other practices, materialities and relationalities to maintain soils.
After a brief outline of the ‘more-than-human’ (Whatmore 2006) agencies involved
in this method of cultivation, the article addresses how this emerging paradigm chal-
lenges animal-dependent organic agriculture, on the one hand, and mainstream
vegan culinary culture, on the other.
In order to illustrate the ‘agential intra-actions’ (Barad 2007) of vegan organic cul-
tivation, I will elaborate on four material-discursive practices to maintain soil fertility
without farm animal inputs. Firstly, humus soil matured over a period of a couple of
years is regarded as a ‘nutrient battery’ that activates a mechanism which enables the
plant to actively absorb an appropriate amount of nutrients through its roots, rather
than passive (basically ‘force-fed’) nutrient intake by way of water-soluble chemical
fertilisation (Anders and Eisenbach 2017). Secondly, nutrient cycles can be main-
tained by ‘green manures’ which are defined as ‘plants that are grown specifically to
benefit the soil, replacing nutrients, improving soil structure and increasing organic
matter content’ (Hall and Tolhurst 2015, p. 15). For example, clovers, beans and pulses
are good for maintaining the nitrogen cycle (N), while deep-rooting green manures
such as lucerne, red clover, lupins and chicory are able to bring phosphates (P) and
potassium (K) up from the subsoil (2015, p. 35). These intra-acting agencies relieve
stockfree growing from synthetic fertilisers or animal by-products which are regarded
as unsustainable and thus unethical forms of fertilising.
The third and the fourth practice are, for various reasons, neither performed nor
allowed in commercial growing, but they illustrate the social-ecological metabolism
(Marx 1981 [1894], p. 195, 959; see also Foster 1999) that would be necessary to con-
sistently close nutrient loops. Taking our human corporality seriously, the term ‘hu-
manure’ implies an understanding that we – our bodies and their excrements – must
become part of that nutrient cycle to make it sustainable (Burnett 2017). Finally, from
a deeply ecological, posthumanist, and relational perspective, even seemingly passive
and inactive things are actually endowed with ‘vibrant agencies’ (see Bennett 2010).
Stones, for example, slowly break down and provide minerals to crops. Thus, consis-
tently closed nutrient loops would also require the use of dead human bodies. After
all, it can be seen as a sign of humanist privilege, hubris, and exceptionalism that,
through the use of bone meal and blood as fertilisers, ‘normal’ agriculture makes
dead farm animals a part of the nutrient cycle but not deceased members of our own
species. In sum, vegan organic cultivation marks a set of exclusions and inclusions
– some in practice, some in theory – that involve agential intra-actions and result in
material-discursive practices fundamentally different from conventional and organic
agriculture.
Proponents regard SOA – whether it is referred to as vegan organic or veganic or
biocyclic-vegan – as a paradigm shift in two ways. Firstly, as part of a broader ‘par-
adigm shift taking place in our societies’ with consumers who increasingly ‘want to
buy products that have been produced in a responsible manner with regard to the en-
vironment, animal ethics, health and social welfare’ (Anders and Eisenbach 2017, p.
32). Secondly, as an agricultural paradigm shift that, through stockfree ways of main-
taining soil fertility, is fundamentally different from current standards. Thus, from a
perspective of ‘reading for difference rather than dominance’ (Gibson-Graham 2006;
see also Harris 2009), it is a paradigm shift not for a dominance becoming apparent
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(in absolute terms it is a marginally practised method), but for the material-discursive
differences it entails.
The very being and meaning of stockfree vegan production leads to an alternative
account of how the boundaries around veganism are drawn. This can be illustrated
with the case of a ‘vegan’ grocery store which, although they refrain from marketing
themselves as such, are vegan by food regulations. That is, they are a value-driven busi-
ness, firstly, for not selling any animal-sourced foods – no meat, dairy, eggs, fish, etc.
– and, secondly, for their organic range of fruit and vegetables. Importantly, they seek
out organic standards such as Demeter5 which quality-wise is considered even better
than the EU organic standard:
‘We search out the Demeter standard here as much as we can, and we switch suppliers to be
able to have the Demeter products over and above the standard organic […] it’s very much on
the radar of the veg buying teams to do that. […] but for our customers, I don’t think that’s
in their minds at all really. I think, there are very few. But for most people it’s just organic’.
(Interview, co-operative grocery)
However, from the perspective of SOA standards, Demeter – or any other organic
mode of production that involves animal husbandry – is not ‘vegan’ at all, as an advo-
cate of SOA explains:
Apart from the fact that they [Demeter] are heavily into animal husbandry, in order to main-
tain soil fertility […] you […] grind up cow horn and you put it in a bucket, and at a certain
phase of the moon, you stir it in a particular fashion […] To me they are another organisation
with these strange religious aspects to them […] Much of their emphasis, is on killing cows,
killing animals. I simply don’t go along with it. […] I mean, okay, that is how the main culture
operates anyhow, and [Rudolf] Steiner [whose ideas inspired Demeter], he was a man of his
times […] It’s easy to look back and criticise people. You have to see people in the context of
their own time.’ (Interview, VON)
Veganism is materially bound to organic and non-organic horticulture through
practices such as fertilising with horn or bone meal, but it is particularly through
the material-discursive practices of SOA that this becomes visible as conflicting. To
be fair, far from being hypocritical, most ‘vegan’ retailers as yet simply have no alter-
native to offering plant foods nourished by animal derivatives. Indeed, people and
practices have to be seen in the context of their own time. Theoretically, however, the
example illustrates that conventional understandings do not tie veganism to agricul-
tural process. Similarly, as Schneider argues for the case of Germany,
A certification as “vegan” or “vegetarian”, as issued by the Vegetarierbund [equivalent to the
Vegetarian/Vegan Society], exclusively refers to food legislation but does not cover the produc-
tion’. (2017; my translation from the German original)
Simply put, conventional food regulations treat plant foods such as a carrot as
vegan per se. This taken-for-granted assumption is challenged by the practical inte-
gration of vegan and organic. SOA challenges animal-dependent organic agriculture
by referring to it as the ‘conventional organic. The challenge to the established vegan
culinary culture is that from now on it depends on the process of production whether
or not a carrot is ‘vegan’. As an SOA advocate explains, currently ‘vegans are – many
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I think unconsciously – making a compromise […] Most of the food I eat will be “or-
ganic” but there is a very good chance it will be grown with animal manure. So, to me,
being vegan is food that does not contain any animal by-products whatsoever’. The
rather trivial identity through which vegans commit to eating plants, while the plants
themselves are implicitly perceived as inherently vegan, obscures the dominant role
of livestock in the material practices of most horticulture. SOA redraws where veg-
anism begins.
Discussion: towards vegan food practices
The fundamental question posed by the Vegan Organic Network, ‘Where does being
vegan begin?’, translates to the sociological question how boundary work in form of
material-discursive practices shapes veganism. It requires further discussion on how
a processual understanding redraws mainstream conceptions of veganism. On that
basis, I suggest a conceptual shift from eating practices towards food practices in gen-
eral, and towards VFP in particular. This involves to sketch the differences between
representational and identity-based conceptions of veganism, on the one hand, and a
relational understanding of it as a performative practice, on the other. I contend that
reconceptualising veganism towards a performative practice, rather than confining it
to a dietary ideology, grants some space for reconciliation within a rather fierce and
entrenched public and academic debate on veganism and animal husbandry.
As I suggest, vegan organic agriculture implicitly conceives the very being of veg-
anism as a process. This process is materialised by human and nonhuman agen-
cies – sunlight, water, soil, plants, mushrooms, stones, human growers and eaters,
machines, and more – intra-acting within the room for manoeuvre of routinised, yet
mutable, food practices. Other agencies such as fossil fuels and animal by-products
are deliberately avoided. Put differently, the newly emerging emphasis is on account-
ing for the relational practices people involved in food provisioning find themselves
in, rather than mere consumer identities and choices; it is about acting veganly rather
than being vegan per se. The conventional boundaries of both ‘organic’ and ‘vegan
are redrawn. Involving animal agriculture, ‘organic’ is rendered as the ‘conventional
organic’, while ‘vegan’ is now conceived as a performative process – a relation rippling
through spacetime – rather than a symbolic, seemingly timeless, and thus metaphys-
ical representation, property, or identity held by a person or a product. Being vegan
is no longer the essential property of a carrot (and a person consuming it). Rather, it
is a property acquired through specific food production and consumption practices.
In the case of Bradley Nook Farm’s media reception, it was shown how that sense of
relationality and materiality implicit to vegan organic agriculture was ‘tamed’ through
the boundary work of mainstream perspectives on veganism and agriculture. Treated
as a ‘strictly personal’ affair, veganism and the collectively-oriented reasons for per-
forming it are continuously dematerialised and depoliticised by the established order
which, thereby, normalises carnist agricultural and culinary practices. Thus, I under-
stand food practices as iteratively and intra-actively performed agri- and culinary cul-
ture, whereas an eating practice confines the view more narrowly to the agency and
identity of the human consumer. The more veganism (or any other food choice) is
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framed as something related to individual (consumer) identities, the less room there
is to account for the materiality of collective production and consumption, which is
particularly dramatic considering the role of specific food production practices in
climate breakdown and mass extinction (Ceballos et al. 2015; IPCC 2019). In sum,
vegan organic agriculture’s processual, relational approach has a higher potential
to deliver awareness of social-ecological entanglements than a representational one
which is superficial in that it is largely confined to eating and the ‘front end of con-
sumption’ (Hetherington 2004, p. 158).
Dogmatic debates are often tedious for vegans and carnists alike. In this research,
I have deliberately not focused on animal rights and the question whether using non-
human animals for food is morally right. On the one hand, this moral trench could be
deepened if SOA is interpreted as redrawing an even ‘purer’ boundary of what vegan
is, with carrots being vegan only when they are certified by vegan agricultural stan-
dards. On the other, a conceptual shift away from identities and ideologies towards
performative practices holds potential for vegans and carnists to set aside dogmatic
debates and somehow ‘meet halfway’. Performativity implies that veganism is not
a property of prefixed subjects. Instead, vegan subjects and objects – persons and
foods, producers and consumers – emerge from relations, or in Barad’s (2007) terms
agential intra-actions. Thus, the whole food supply network matters. The attribute
‘vegan’ emerges from the ‘purity’ of the productive process as a result of material-dis-
cursive practices, rather than from the ‘purity’ of vegans as a result of an authentic
identity.
Accepting individual dietary impurities may also pave the way towards a sustain-
able food transition. It entails that not only vegans, but also carnists and vegetarians,
can perform VFP – simply, for example, when self-identified ‘meat eaters’ or ovo-lacto
vegetarians have a meal free of animal input; most consistently when those foods are
grown by SOA.
Analysing boundary-drawing practices has revealed that the boundaries of vegan-
ism and carnism are neither self-evident nor fixed. With Shotwell’s (2016) Against
Purity in mind, this impurity of diets is in a way welcome, or at least we can learn
from it. The impurity of diets brings to mind that vegans constantly, and either uncon-
sciously or involuntarily, make ethical compromises as their food is being nourished
by animal derivatives. In turn, there are hardly any carnists who purely eat meat (nei-
ther do they need to nor would they want to), although, in the heat of the argument,
it may sometimes appear so. In an otherwise deeply entrenched debate, an awareness
of the impurity of all diets would be a common ground more of which is needed to
acknowledge that, ultimately, everybody depends on intact ecosystems as a pre-con-
dition for all food practices. The emergence of f lexitarians, who consciously reduce
animal-sourced foods, already suggests a trend towards a more performance-based,
undogmatic application of VFP.
However, a majority of ‘meat-eaters’ in the Global North maintains a lifestyle that
requires animal husbandry to be highly productive. Identity-focused framings still
strongly encourage individuals to merely deliberate on whether or not they find eat-
ing animal-sourced foods morally right. This creates a binary trench between vegans
and the mainly carnist but also ovo-lacto vegetarian rest of society. The vital (or lethal)
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differences materialised through rates of consumption and, particularly, production
of animal-sourced foods tend to be blanked out easily.
By contrast, a performative framing pays attention to the consistencies of pro-
cesses, not identities. Put differently, what matters is the amount of animal-sourced
foods produced and consumed by humanity as a collective, not by individuals, a per-
spective which is more adequate to address social-ecological crises. Barad’s (2007)
work is a critique of approaches anthropocentrically equating discourse with language
or human concerns while ignoring matter’s role in the configuration of practices.
Correspondingly, the conventional obsession with consumer identities – e.g., being a
‘meat eater’ or a vegan – prevents a real emphasis on the materiality of food practices.
If veganism, in the frame of a consumer identity, usually seems to happen in the cafes
and restaurants mushrooming in the capitals of the world, a practice-based account
of it is an opportunity to highlight how rural foodscapes contribute to, are shaped by,
and may help mitigating the crises of our food systems.
Conclusion
Are carrots vegan? On first sight, this question sounds as tautological as asking
whether vegans are vegan. Both questions, however, are valid in the context this
article has unfolded against the background of a public and academic outlook that
conventionally regards veganism as a mere eating practice and thus a consumer af-
fair. Although the acknowledgement of practice theoretical approaches (Twine 2017,
2018) is paralleled by calls for increased consideration of provisioning (Hetherington
2004; Barnett et al. 2011), social scientific research on veganism largely remains con-
fined to vegan consumers, their lifestyles and identities. In recognition of the neces-
sity to go beyond a consumer focus, I suggest to reconceptualise eating practices as
food practices which comprise consumption and production.
The emergence of SOA, which forbids the use of animal by-products to fertilise
food crops, renders visible tensions along two boundaries of veganism. Firstly, it
opens veganism up as a producer issue. Secondly, it challenges the conventional
boundaries of the term ‘vegan’ as either a personal identity or an essential property of
any plant food. The insight that a carrot is no longer vegan per se, marks a paradigm
shift. Whilst tying what vegan is to whether that carrot was nourished by animal deriv-
atives or not can be interpreted as an even stricter, purist boundary, I prefer to empha-
sise that it is also a shift away from a representational, identity-based, and essentialist
towards a relational, performative, and materialist account of what, therefore, I call
vegan food practices (VFP) rather than veganism.
Today, an increased number of ethical producers want to break out of the per-
ceived cruelty of animal farming6 as well as what Ward (1993) called the produc-
tivist ‘treadmill’. Through a practical focus on VFP, rather than an ideological one,
conventional and animal-based organic production could learn from SOA. With a
deep understanding of humus soil, green manures, mulching, and other methods,
SOA tackles the prominent defence of animal agriculture about difficulties of main-
taining soil fertility without livestock. While more long-term assessment is needed,
initial comparative experiments found stockfree methods to be more productive than
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conventional ones (Eisenbach et al. 2019). Moreover, the high thermodynamic effi-
ciency (see Kolasi 2018; Hirth 2019a) of low-livestock or stockfree operations is an
opportunity to degrow animal agriculture and, thereby, provide sufficient amounts of
quality food while freeing up land available for biodiversity protection or restoration,
rather than just producing ever more food.
A sustainable food transition is not reducible to changes in eating behaviour.
Currently, behaviouristic approaches trying to nudge people into ‘better’ consump-
tion overly focus on spaces where most of the purchases and end consumption takes
place. This is not to deny that, next to eating, vegan practices already involve political
struggles of social movements, but even most activism is usually centred upon pro-
moting vegan eating practices. Taking a material-discursive practice approach to what
is vegan thus also aims at highlighting relations beyond local urban contexts and
social-ecological citizenship beyond the (vegan) ethical consumer. Firstly, this involves
rural foodscapes and livelihoods. Ethical producers need regulative support in enabling
ethical provisioning networks and nonconsumption (see also Goodman et al. 2010).
Following Morris and Kirwan (2006, p. 208), future research on SOA may shed fur-
ther light on the governance and ‘the ongoing cognitive praxis of vegetarianism [incl.
veganism], its place within the alternative food economy [particularly the organic
movement] and its potential to contribute to rural development’. Secondly, I suggest
that the ethical minimum of food practices is to sustain Earth as a relatively safe oper-
ating space (see Willett et al. 2019). The Covid-19 crisis highlights that we are already
losing that safe operating space, with zoonotic pandemics not only being related to
wild animal meat, but also becoming more likely through both livestock’s dispro-
portionate land use narrowing nonhuman habitats and pathogens spread through
animal by-products (Fornace et al. 2013). Based on the benefits of SOA’s short shadow,
performing VFP predominantly – not necessarily exclusively – becomes a global re-
sponsibility of vegans, vegetarians, and ‘meat eaters’ (or, then, flexitarians) as well as
consumers and producers alike.
Increasing the collective human performance of VFP and calling for absolute re-
ductions of animal agriculture (see Fuchs et al. 2016) involves undogmatic, yet ef-
fective, systemic changes. Whilst post-colonialist interventions of telling people in
the Global South not to diversify their diets with animal-sourced foods should be
avoided, a controlled, farmer-friendly degrowth of intensive farming is required. On
the one hand, by making horticultural operations more viable, independent from syn-
thetic and – at least less dependent on – animal-based fertilisers. On the other, by sig-
nificantly reducing the current overproduction of animal-sourced foods for both the
Global North and the middle and upper classes in the Global South. Such a transition
may benefit from stockfree practices to maintain soil fertility and a material-discur-
sive dimension of ‘vegan’ bound to its short shadow, not consumers’ identities.
Funding information
This research was supported by the University of Manchester’s Sustainable Consumption
Institute (SCI).
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Conflict of interest disclosure
I certify that I have no affiliations with or involvement in any organisation or entity with any
financial interest (such as honoraria; educational grants; participation in speakers’ bureaus;
membership, employment, consultancies, stock ownership, or other equity interest; and ex-
pert testimony or patent-licensing arrangements), or non-financial interest (such as personal or
professional relationships, affiliations, knowledge or beliefs) in the subject matter or materials
discussed in this manuscript.
Ethics approval statement
The research was approved by the University of Manchester’s Research Ethics Committee
(UREC).
Data availability statement
The data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the corresponding
author. The data are not publicly available due to privacy or ethical restrictions.
Notes
*Corresponding author.
1
Here, I broadly understand ‘sustainable’ as the long-term quality of reproductive practices
not to entail social-ecological crises such as global heating, extreme inequalities, mass ex-
tinction or other forms of existential threats to the relatively safe operating space Earth’s
inhabitants have found on it. Theoretically drawing upon Barad (2007), the article also ac-
knowledges that human and nonhuman agencies negotiate meaning and matter of ‘sustain-
able’ through material-discursive practices.
2 In this article, I use stockfree organic agriculture (SOA) as a broader term for the agricul-
tural initiatives which consciously exclude animal by-products from cultivating crops while
applying agroecological methods (yet not necessarily officially certified as organic). Vegan
organic agriculture is one such standard provided by the Vegan Organic Network (VON)
who have also coined the term ‘stockfree’ as a normative alternative to the more commonly
used term ‘stockless’ which traditionally denotes farmers who merely happen to have no
livestock. By contrast, stockfree agriculture is value-driven, and whilst it could in principle
also denote non-organic farms, the initiatives I am aware of consciously exclude the use of
synthetic pesticides and fertilisers as well as genetically modified organisms. My use of the
term vegan food practices (VFP), in turn, is broader encompassing both consumption and
production as well as organic and non-organic foods and practices.
3 Where applicable, specific consent has been given by interviewees for non-anonymity. This
applied mostly to interviewees who anyway receive public attention. Other interviewees re-
main anonymous.
4 The conventional retailers and farms, which have business models based on carnist food
practices, were analysed to see the ways in which the social-ecological footprint of ani-
mal-sourced foods features in their sustainability claims and efforts, but also how they
position veganism or vegetarianism within sustainability debates. This was to ensure the
inclusion of boundary work beyond the vegan movement. Largely centred upon the actors’
efforts to improve practices within animal agriculture as part of an efficiency and consumer
choice paradigm, those results cannot be detailed here (see Hirth 2019b).
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5 Drawing upon Rudolf Steiner’s theories, Demeter International is an organisation certifying
foods produced organically by means of biodynamic agriculture which is explicitly based on
livestock integration.
6 After seeing the BBC Countryfile episode examined in this paper, the decision at Bradley
Nook Farm directly prompted a Co. Cork dairy farmer to send some of her stock to the same
sanctuary (Allen 2017). Another farmer in Devon, said to be too upset by slaughter, gave his
lambs to a sanctuary (BBC 2019).
Acknowledgement
I am grateful to Professor Alan Warde, who supervised my PhD, and to my friend and colleague
Dr Harald Wieser, both working at the Sustainable Consumption Institute, as well as the editor
and anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.
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Steffen Hirth*
Sustainable Consumption Institute (SCI), Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS)
The University of Manchester
Booth St W
Manchester
M15 6PB
United Kingdom
254 HirtH
Sociologia Ruralis, Vol 61, Number 1, January 2021
© 2020 The Authors. Sociologia Ruralis published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of European Society for Rural
Sociology
Regional Centre of Expertise Graz-Styria (RCE)
University of Graz
Heinrichstraße 18, 3. Stock
Graz
8010
Austria
steffen.hirth@manchester.ac.uk
... There is a need for reconciliation by locating consumption within the wider context of political economy and elucidating practices within their systemic and material conditions for existence (Warde 2014;Evans 2020;see Welch et al. 2020 for an overview). This resonates with recent empirical work combining practice and materialist turns to conceptualise veganism not only as a dietary identity but more broadly as a food practice that includes production (Hirth 2021). In acknowledgment of Evans, who calls for "new conceptual vocabulary" (2020, p. 4) to think across the production-consumption dualism, this study combines consumers' everyday food practices with food sustainability discourses and, by emphasising the imperial character of food provision, elucidates both against the background of the wider political economy. ...
... alnat ura. de/ de-de/ ueber-uns/ nachh altig keit/ nachh altig keit-bei-alnat ura/) lifestyle and identity without putting it in the context of (ecological) sustainability (see also Hirth 2021). This resonates with Ehgartner's observation "that rather than the problem of meat consumption being discussed, it is the opportunity of protein diversity, which is mobilised" (2020, p. 480). ...
... These practices are still more common, yet equally endangered, in the South and they are also part of global movements of social justice. Thirdly, advocating for veganism or flexitarianism as a dietary choice of individuals is insufficient as that bias foregoes the need to de-imperialise agriculture by reducing animal agriculture in absolute terms and by including novel agricultural movements such as vegan organic agriculture (Arcari 2017;Hirth 2021;Fuchs et al. 2016;Nobari 2021;Seymour and Utter 2021). ...
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It is widely accepted that overcoming the social-ecological crises we face requires major changes to the food system. However, opinions diverge on the question whether those ‘great efforts’ towards sustainability require systemic changes or merely systematic ones. Drawing upon Brand and Wissen’s concept of “imperial modes of living” (Rev Int Polit Econ 20:687–711, 2013; The imperial mode of living: everyday life and the ecological crisis of capitalism, Verso, London/New York, 2021), we ask whether the lively debates about sustainability and ‘ethical’ consumption among producers and consumers in Germany are far reaching enough to sufficiently reduce the imperial weight on the environment and other human and nonhuman animals. By combining discourse analysis of agri-food businesses’ sustainability reports with narrative consumer interviews, we examine understandings of sustainability in discourses concerning responsible food provision and shed light on how those discourses are inscribed in consumers’ everyday food practices. We adopt Ehgartner’s discursive frames of ‘consumer sovereignty’, ‘economic rationality’, and ‘stewardship’ to illustrate our findings, and add a fourth one of ‘legitimacy’. Constituting the conditions under which food-related themes become sustainability issues, these frames help businesses to (1) individualise the responsibility to enact changes, (2) tie efforts towards sustainability to financial profits, (3) subject people and nature to the combination of care and control, and (4) convey legitimacy through scientific authority. We discuss how these frames, mirrored in some consumer narratives, work to sideline deeper engagement with ecological sustainability and social justice, and how they brush aside the desires of some ostensibly ‘sovereign’ consumers to overcome imperial modes of food provision through much more far reaching, systemic changes. Finally, we reflect on possible paths towards a de-imperialised food system.
... Academic and practitioner literature has favorably associated veganic approaches with various agronomic factors, including: yield, quality, nutrient cycling, soil nitrogen level, soil carbon storage, soil biology, soil organic matter, and energy inputs (Pimentel et al. 2005;Cormack 2006;Hepperly et al. 2006;Eisenbach et al. 2018;Matsuura et al. 2018;Eisenbach et al. 2019;Roussis et al. 2019;Rosato et al. 2020;Utter and Seymour forthcoming) 3 ; sustainable agriculture or food systems (Hall and Tolhurst 2007;Visak 2007;Burnett 2014;Bonsall 2015;Hagemann and Potthast 2015;Hirth 2020;Kassam and Kassam 2021;Nobari 2021); food safety (O'Brien 1964;Seymour 2018a;Alsanius et al. 2019;Utter and Seymour forthcoming); diminished environmental impacts (Markussen et al. 2014;Seymour 2018a); marketing potential (Jürkenbeck et al. 2019;Jürkenbeck and Spiller 2020); and "animal-friendly" (Visak 2007) and "post-lethal" (Mann 2020) agriculture. Despite the diversity of veganic 2 "Stockfree" was selected as a "more neutral technical term," not necessarily associated with veganism (Schmutz and Foresi 2017, p. 477). ...
... One case study of a veganic farm in the United States indicates that the owner-operators chose to practice veganic agriculture to align their organiccertified operation with their recent personal transition to veganism (Seymour forthcoming). Another case study of a vegan organic farm in the United Kingdom suggests that the former cattle farmers transitioned to veganic agriculture out of care and concern for animal welfare, food security, and the environmental and climate impacts of cattle production (Hirth 2020). Schmutz and Foresi reported on a small German-language study of vegan organic growers' motivations for excluding animal inputs, which found ethical, social, and ecological motives for this practice, suggesting that it is an "idealistic" approach (2017, p. 476). ...
... Clear communication between farmers, retailers, consumers, and other actors will be an important component of market expansion. For instance, as illustrated by the UK media inaccurately describing what "vegan organic" means and why farmers grow this way (Hirth 2020), accurate messaging will be critical for cultivating public understanding and acceptance of veganic agriculture. Participants often connected the topic of veganic certification to marketing and consumer education/awareness advantages. ...
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Veganic agriculture, often described as farming that is free of synthetic and animal-based inputs, represents an alternative to chemical-based industrial agriculture and the prevailing alternative, organic agriculture, respectively. Despite the promise of veganic methods in diverse realms such as food safety, environmental sustainability, and animal liberation, it has a small literature base. This article draws primarily on interviews conducted in 2018 with 25 veganic farmers from 19 farms in the United States to establish some baseline empirical research on this farming community. Its qualitative perspectives illuminate farmer perceptions of and experiences with veganic growing, including definitions, knowledge acquisition, values, and challenges. Results highlight a lack of agreement about the meaning of veganic agriculture in terms of allowable inputs and scope. Participants have drawn on a wide array of veganic and non-veganic resources to ascend their veganic production learning curves, also relying on experimentation and trial-and-error. Their farming is motivated by a diversity of real and perceived benefits, most notably consistency with veganism, food safety advantages, and plant and soil health benefits. Veganic product sourcing and the dearth of veganic agriculture-specific resources present considerable challenges to farmers. The article briefly discusses possibilities for developing veganic agriculture in the United States, such as through a US-based certification system and farmers’ associations, based on considerations of the trajectory of the US organic farming movement and veganic developments in Europe. Finally, the article suggests the importance of expanded research into soil health and fertility in plant-based systems to support practicing and potential veganic farmers.
... Pastaruoju metu mokslininkų dėmesys veganams ir veganizmui pasaulinėje mokslo arenoje auga, iš paraščių veganų tyrinėjimai tampa pagrindine tyrimų ašimi, tiek socialinio ir politinio judėjimo aspektu (Gheihman, 2021;Kalte, 2020;ir kt.), tiek kalbant apie mitybos kultūrą / modelius / ideologiją (Laaksa et al., 2021;Gallagher et al., 2021;Modlinska et al., 2020;Hirth, 2021;ir kt.), tiek kitais aspektais. Nepaisant to, sociodemografinės veganų charakteristikos aptariamos itin retai, daugiausiai remiamasi kokybinių tyrimų duomenis ir tyrinėjamos veganizmo bei vyriškumo sąsajos (Oliver, 2021;Hart, 2018;ir kt.), veganizmas paauglių tarpe (Larssona et al., 2003) ir kt. ...
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Disabled people together with other vulnerable groups in the Lithuanian labor market face multiple barriers to employment. Inclusive employment is part of a social integration policy for people with disabilities. The paper presents two main instruments for promoting inclusive employment in Lithuania: social enterprises and active labor market policies (ALMP). The aim of the analysis is to answer the question whether social enterprises and active labor market policies improve the transition of vulnerable groups, especially the disabled, to the open labor market. The article examines the changes in state-supported labor market integration mechanisms using retrospective comparison and secondary data analysis methods. The work is based on the findings from the research “Labor market policies for employment in various conditions of the economic development cycle” (DSTI, 2012), and opensource data provided by the responsible state institutions and international organizations. The analysis of the normative construction and implementation of measures for the integration of vulnerable groups of the population, including the disabled, into the labor market performed from inclusive employment approach showed that the participation of the disabled in the open labor market is less promoted than participation in sheltered employment. The structure of funding for the integration of the disabled into the labor market creates particularly favorable conditions for social enterprises in comparison with other market participants who may intend to employ a disabled person as well but do not have an appropriate status. Even if the rules on the financing of social enterprises were slightly changed during the time, the control of their social integration activities was partially tightened with no means to influence the content of these activities. Previous research on active labor market policies have generally shown positive longterm integration of people with disabilities into the labor market, however, participation of people with disabilities in ALMPs is still low. There is still a big demand for buildings, transport, and infrastructure adjustment to the needs of people with disabilities. There is also a lack of recognition that adaptation of environment is one of the key issues in the context of the integration of people with disabilities into the open labor market. Integration measures such as wage subsidies are still dominant, but the implementation of job place adjustment and other measures that remove or reduce obstacles to the functioning of a disabled person are hampered. The information and motivation measures in the workplace applied by the employment services for the disabled are not yet sufficiently developed. Involving a wider range of actors, such as business or non-governmental actors, in the provision of services for the integration of people with disabilities into the labor market would enable to reduce gaps and increase innovation in this area.
... The innovations included in the list were chosen because more promising than others in providing relevant advantages for producers and/or consumers (Balzano et al., 2016;Cayuela-S anchez and Caballero-Guerrero, 2019;Hirth, 2021;Lo Bianco et al., 2021;Lolis et al., 2019;Marchini et al., 2013;P erez et al., 2021;Kalogianni et al., 2019). In particular, the innovations "super intensive", "ultrasound", "microwave" and "protoreactor" have been suggested as capable to increase considerably the efficiency of the EVOO production process; the innovations "bag in box", "nitrogen flushing" and "single serving" have been chosen as excellent in preserving the quality of the product during its whole shelf-life; the innovation "vegan" has been chosen because considered to be attractive for consumers with specific needs; finally, the innovations "not filtered" and "ancient trees" consist in a retrieval of oldstyle processes that are scarcely used and signalled by producers. ...
Article
Purpose This study aims to investigate consumer acceptance for a set of innovations that can be applied to the production process of extra-virgin olive oil. The final purpose is to verify whether, and to what extent, consumer acceptance of innovations varies depending on the type of technology used and the profile of consumers. Design/methodology/approach A cross-sectional consumer survey has been carried out in Italy. A structured questionnaire was administered to a national representative sample of individuals who are responsible for grocery shopping ( N = 1,003). Consumer acceptance for a set of ten innovations has been measured. Statistical differences between the various measures have been analysed through pairwise comparisons using Wilcoxon's signed-rank test, and subsequent effect sizes have been estimated. A cluster analysis has been also performed to distinguish consumer segments with different response patterns. Findings The results showed that the type of technology affects significantly the level of consumer acceptance of the tested innovations. In addition, high heterogeneity has been detected among consumer responses, and this leads to identify three consumer segments with different response patterns. Originality/value The study is focused on extra-virgin olive oil, which is one of the most important traditional food product in Mediterranean countries. This is the first study where several innovations for extra-virgin olive oil were jointly tested and compared for acceptance through a survey on a nation-wide representative sample of consumers.
... Eine rationale Diskussion um eine Reduktion der konsumierten Fleischmenge wird heute nahezu verunmöglicht, indem Fleischverzicht streng mit Identitäten wie Veganer*innen oder Vegetarier*innen verknüpft wird. Anstatt einer nüchtern betrachteten Praxis, die jeder Mensch zu einem gewissen bereits Grad verfolgt (das Frühstück in Kontinentaleuropa ist weitgehend vegetarisch), wird der Fleischkonsum damit zu einem identitätspolitischen, symbolisch aufgeladenen Konfliktfeld(Hirth 2021). So geht damit oft der Vorwurf einher, bevorzugend vegan oder vegetarisch lebende Menschen würden dies nicht aufgrund von ökologischen oder ethischen Bedenken tun, sondern um ihre moralische Überlegenheit und ihren sozialen Status zu demonstrieren(Markowski und Roxburgh 2019). ...
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This is a conceptual article that uses the concept “boundary object” in order to discuss what role the loosely defined notion “standard product quality” plays with regard to coordination and controversies in the Norwegian agrifood market. The Boundary object theory offers a unique approach to exploring the boundaries (shared spaces) between standard and non‐standard product qualities as framed by the involved actors. This theory emphasises the difference between doing and being: Analysing what quality does in social settings is a more informative approach than discussing what quality is. The core arguments are illustrated by a review of available studies of the Norwegian agrifood market. The first part of the article concludes that standard quality coordinates the hegemonic stakeholders (producers, retailers, regulators and consumers) without presupposing consensus between them. The second part of the article addresses the controversies in the boundaries between the hegemonic agricultural agrifood system and competing alternatives related to organic, terroir and animal welfare‐qualities. The study discerns no signs of any transformative quality‐turn away from the Norwegian hegemonic agrifood system and the inherent emphasise on “standard product” quality. On the other hand, this is not static since different interpretations of quality continuously challenge each other. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
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Full text available: https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/en/theses/food-that-matters-sustainability-and-the-materialdiscursive-boundaries-of-carnist-and-vegan-food-practices(770c7ed4-5279-4969-b165-0558dc9f635b).html - - - Acting upon Livestock's Long Shadow to mitigate climate change, mass extinction, and other social-ecological crises requires fundamental changes in food practices. Labelled as "ethical consumers", vegans, vegetarians, and meat-reducing carnists already attract considerable attention. However, food practices on the production side, which are just as much an ethical issue, also require reconfiguration in order to achieve sustainable development. In a critical assessment of tendencies that depict consumer demand as the only legitimate means of change and depoliticise absolute reductions of animal-sourced foods, this thesis extends the locus of vegan food practices to various productive processes drawing on cases such as stock-based and stockfree farms, retailers, and food-related advocacy networks. By exploring these foodscapes, it is examined how the material-discursive boundaries between vegan and carnist food practices are drawn, particularly in response to animal agriculture as a sustainability challenge. Inspired by practice and materialist turns, my research builds on debates on ethical consumption, responsibility, and sustainability within sociological and geographical food studies. Relational and posthumanist approaches are drawn upon to conceptualise practices and conduct material-discursive analyses. Qualitative methods are applied to outline relations within and between agricultural and retailing foodscapes in Greater Manchester, Derbyshire, and South West England, involving a mix of participant observation (incl. field notes and photography), in-depth interviews with stakeholders on site, and an interpretative examination of their sustainability-related websites and reports. The findings revolve around the marginal but emerging agricultural and culinary paradigm of "vegan organic" production. It excludes the use of manure, bone meal, or other animal derivatives for the replenishment of soil fertility and relies instead on nutrient-fixing plants and practices such as composting or mulching. Thus, veganism, rather than being a dietary identity, becomes a relationally grounded approach to how vegans and plant foods come into being performatively through material-discursive practices. Conventionally, however, the term "vegan" as applied in both food regulations and everyday life, is merely a label either for people who abjure from animal products or for vegetal products. This dematerialised consumption-based mainstream conception of veganism personalises food practices, confines ethics to a sentimental care for domesticated animals, and depoliticises social-ecological reasons for veganism. In order to maintain a safe operating space for all life on Earth, I suggest that performing vegan food practices as much as possible is an undogmatic responsibility of ethical producers and consumers alike, regardless of their personal identities as vegans, vegetarians or "meat eaters" (carnists).
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Often stereotyped as being apathetic to the human suffering, the American vegan movement has historically failed to build alliances with other social justice movements. As intersectional feminism gains a foothold in the movement and external political crises challenge the movement’s frame of reference, the role that identity plays in movement progress has become a serious concern. Using the 2016 election as a flashpoint, this article considers if the identity backlash characterized by the Trump campaign finds parallels in the American vegan movement. A survey of 287 American vegans finds limited evidence of Trump veganism, defined here as a single-issue focus on speciesism that rejects the relevance of human-experienced systems of oppression. However, respondents do find that movement diversity efforts are insufficient, especially when controlling for race and gender. Most respondents were ethically-motivated vegans, liberal voters, and intersectionally-oriented activists who reported multiple engagements with various leftist movements. Only four percent of respondents voted Trump, while 14% agreed with or were neutral about Trump’s campaign promise to put “America first”. Those who were vegan for reasons of self-interest and had been vegan for less than a year were significantly more likely to support Trump’s conservative agenda and were slightly less likely to participate in other social movements.
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Human economies are complex biophysical systems. By exploring some fundamental concepts in physics, we can develop a better understanding of the ways that the energy-intensive activities of capitalism are changing humanity and the planet.Click here to purchase a PDF version of this article at the Monthly Review website.
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This article considers the relationships between consumption, the environment, and wider sociological endeavour. The current vogue for applying theories of practice to the policy domain of ‘sustainable consumption’ has been generative of conceptual renewal, however the field now sits closer to the applied environmental social sciences than to the sociology of consumption. The analysis proceeds via a close reading of the intellectual currents that have given rise to this situation, and it identifies a number of interrelated issues concerning conceptual slippage and the exclusion of core disciplinary concerns. Accordingly a more suitable definition of consumption is offered, an agenda for re-engaging with foundational approaches to consumer culture is established, and a renewal and reorientation of critique is proposed. Working through and building on the contributions of practice theoretical repertoires, this article suggests that consumption scholarship offers a distinctive set of resources to discussions of current ecological crises and uncertain social futures. These are briefly described and the conclusion argues that consumption still matters.