ArticlePDF Available

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



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
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which
permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not
used for commercial purposes.
Food that Matters: Boundary Work and
the Case for Vegan Food Practices
Steffen Hirth*
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
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).
Food that matters 235
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
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,
236 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
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
Food that matters 237
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
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’
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
238 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
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.
Food that matters 239
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
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
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
240 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
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
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
Food that matters 241
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
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
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
‘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
242 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
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
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
Food that matters 243
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
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
244 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
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
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
Food that matters 245
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
(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
246 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
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
Food that matters 247
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
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
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)
248 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
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.
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
Food that matters 249
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
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).
250 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
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
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.
*Corresponding author.
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).
Food that matters 251
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
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).
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.
Allen, C. (2017) Co. Cork dairy farmer sends second lot of stock to UK animal sanctuary.
Available online at http://www.agril ng-news/co-cork-dairy -farme r-sends -secon
d-lot-of-stock -to-uk-anima l-sanct uary/ Accessed 30 May 2020
Anders, A. and J. Eisenbach (2017) Biocyclic-vegan agriculture. Growing Green International 39
(Summer/Autumn) pp. 3234
Barad, K. (2003) Posthumanist performativity: toward an understanding of how matter comes
to matter. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28 (3) pp. 801831
Barad, K. (2007) Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of mat-
ter and meaning (Durham, London: Duke University Press)
Barnett, C., P. Cloke, N. Clarke et al. (2011) Globalizing responsibility: the political rationalities
of ethical consumption (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell)
BBC (2019) Devon farmer ‘too upset’ by slaughter gives lambs to Kidderminster sanctuary.
Available online at nd-47026123 Accessed 30 May
Beardsworth, A. and T. Keil (1992) The vegetarian option: varieties, conversions, motives and
careers. The Sociological Review 40 (2) pp. 253293
Bennett, J. (2010) Vibrant matter: a political ecology of things (Durham: Duke University Press)
Burnett, G. (2017) On humanure and vegan organic growing systems. Growing Green
International 38 (Winter/Spring) pp. 1415
Butler, J. (1993) Bodies that matter: on the discursive limits of ‘sex’ (New York: Routledge)
Carolan, M. and D. Stuart (2016) Get real: climate change and all that ‘it’ entails. Sociologia
Ruralis 56 (1) pp. 7495
Ceballos, G., P.R. Ehrlich, A.D. Barnosky et al. (2015) Accelerated modern human–induced spe-
cies losses: entering the sixth mass extinction. Science Advances 1 (5) pp. e1400253
Cole, M. (2014) ‘The greatest cause on earth’: The historical formation of veganism as an ethical
practice. Pp. 203224in N. Taylor, R. Twine eds, The rise of critical animal studies: from the
margins to the centre (London: Taylor & Francis Group)
Cole, M. and K. Morgan (2011) Vegaphobia: derogatory discourses of veganism and the repro-
duction of speciesism in UK national newspapers. The British Journal of Sociology 62 (1) pp.
Countryfile (2017) Worcestershire. Available online at ammes/
b08xhdrl Accessed 15 October 2019
Cudworth, E. (2014) Beyond speciesism: intersectionality, critical sociology and the human
domination of other animals. Pp. 1935 in N. Taylor, R. Twine eds, The rise of critical animal
studies: from the margins to the centre (London: Taylor & Francis Group)
252 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
Eisenbach, L.D., A. Folina, C. Zisi et al. (2019) Effect of biocyclic humus soil on yield and qual-
ity parameters of processing tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.). Bulletin of UASVM
Horticulture 76 (1) pp. 4752
Evans, D.M. (2019) What is consumption, where has it been going, and does it still matter? The
Sociological Review 67 (3) pp. 499517
FAO (2006) Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options (Rome: Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)
Foster, J.B. (1999) Marx’s theory of metabolic rift: classical foundations for environmental so-
ciology. American Journal of Sociology 105 (2) pp. 366405
Fornace, K., M. Liverani, J. Rushtonet al. (2013) Effects of land-use changes and agricultural
practices on the emergence and reemergence of human viral diseases. Pp. 133149 in S.K.
Singh ed., Viral infections and global change (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons)
Foucault, M. (1980) Power/knowledge: selected interviews and other writings, 19721977 (New
York: Pantheon Books)
Fuchs, D., A. Di Giulio, K. Glaab et al. (2016) Power: the missing element in sustainable con-
sumption and absolute reductions research and action. Journal of Cleaner Production 132 pp.
Gibson-Graham, J.K. (2006) A postcapitalist politics (Minneapolis, MI: University of Minnesota
Goodman, M.K., D. Maye and L. Holloway (2010) Ethical foodscapes?: Premises, promises, and
possibilities. Environment and Planning A 42 (8) pp. 17821796
Hall, J. and I. Tolhurst (2015) Growing green: organic techniques for a sustainable future
(Manchester: The Vegan Organic Network)
Harris, E. (2009) Neoliberal subjectivities or a politics of the possible? Reading for difference in
alternative food networks. Area 41 (1) pp. 5563
Hetherington, K. (2004) Secondhandedness: consumption, disposal, and absent presence.
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 22 (1) pp. 157173
Hirth, S. (2019a) All food is ‘plant-based’ – particularly meat and dairy. Discover Society 71.
Available online at https://disco verso -based -parti
cular ly-meat-and-dairy/ Accessed 17 October 2019
Hirth, S. (2019b) Food that matters: sustainability and the material-discursive boundaries of
carnist and vegan food practices (Manchester: The University of Manchester) Available on-
line at https://www.resea rch.manch l/files/ 12288 4960/FULL_TEXT.PDF
Accessed 8 June 2020
Hughes, R. (2017) Countryfile HITS BACK as viewers have MELTDOWN over ‘vegan’ farmer
eating an EGG. Available online at https://www.expre iz/tv-radio/ 82390 6/
Count ryfil e-Adam-Henso n-Matt-Baker Accessed 15 October 2019
IPCC (2019) Climate change and land. Available online at t/srccl/
Accessed 30 September 2019
Joy, M. (2010) Why we love dogs, eat pigs, and wear cows: an introduction to carnism (San
Francisco, CA: Conari Press)
Kolasi, E. (2018) The physics of capitalism. Monthly Review 70 (1). Available online at https://
month lyrev cs-of-capit alism/ Accessed 18 December 2019
Krüger, T. and A. Strüver (2018) Narratives of ‘good food’: consumer identities and the appropri-
ation of sustainability discourses. Zeitschrift für Wirtschaftsgeographie 62 (34) pp. 217232
Lamont, M. (2012) Toward a comparative sociology of valuation and evaluation. Annual Review
of Sociology 38 (1) pp. 201221
Lamont, M. and V. Molnár (2002) The study of boundaries in the social sciences. Annual Review
of Sociology 28 (1) pp. 167195
Larsson, C.L., U. Rönnlund, G. Johansson and L. Dahlgren (2003) Veganism as status passage:
the process of becoming a vegan among youths in Sweden. Appetite 41 (1) pp. 6167
Marx, K. (1981 [1894]) Capital. Vol. 3 (New York: Vintage)
Food that matters 253
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
McFarlane, C. (2013) Relational sociology, theoretical inhumanism, and the problem of the non-
human. Pp. 4566 in C. Powell and F. Dépelteau eds, Conceptualizing relational sociology
– ontological and theoretical issues (New York: Palgrave Macmillan)
Morris, C. and J. Kirwan (2006) Vegetarians: uninvited, uncomfortable or special guests at the
table of the alternative food economy? Sociologia Ruralis 46 (3) pp. 192213
Nimmo, R. (2010) Milk, modernity and the making of the human: purifying the social (London,
New York: Routledge)
Pachucki, M.A., S. Pendergrass and M. Lamont (2007) Boundary processes: recent theoretical
developments and new contributions. Poetics 35 (6) pp. 331351
Powell, C. (2013) Radical relationism: a proposal. Pp. 187208 in C. Powell and F. Dépelteau
eds, Conceptualizing relational sociology – ontological and theoretical issues (New York:
Palgrave Macmillan)
Rockström, J., W. Steffen, K. Noone et al. (2009) A safe operating space for humanity. Nature
461 pp. 472475
Schmutz, U. and L. Foresi (2017) Vegan organic horticulture – standards, challenges, socio-eco-
nomics and impact on global food security. Acta horticulturae 1164 pp. 475484
Schneider, D. (2017) Landwirtschaft ohne Tiere?. Available online at http://www.suedd eutsc n/ernae hrung -landw irtsc haft-ohne-tiere -1.37303 60?utm_sourc e=Maileon
Accessed 16 October 2019
Shotwell, A. (2016) Against purity: living ethically in compromised times (Minneapolis, MI:
University of Minnesota Press)
Twigg, J. (1981) The vegetarian movement in England 18471981: a study in the structure of its
ideology (London: University of London) Available online at ry/thesi s/
index.html Accessed 15 April 2018
Twine, R. (2017) A practice theory framework for understanding vegan transition. Animal
Studies Journal 6 (2) pp. 192224
Twine, R. (2018) Materially constituting a sustainable food transition: the case of vegan eating
practice. Sociology 52 (1) pp. 166181
Ward, N. (1993) The agricultural treadmill and the rural environment in the post-productivist
era. Sociologia Ruralis 33 (34) pp. 348364
Warde, A. (2005) Consumption and theories of practice. Journal of Consumer Culture 5 (2) pp.
Warde, A. (2016) The practice of eating (Cambridge: Polity Press)
Whatmore, S. (2006) Materialist returns: practising cultural geography in and for a more-than-
human world. Cultural Geographies 13 (4) pp. 600609
Willett, W., J. Rockström, B. Loken et al. (2019) Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet
commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The Lancet 393 (10170) pp.
447492. -6736(18)31788 -4
Wrenn, C.L. (2017) Trump veganism: a political survey of American vegans in the era of identity
politics. Societies 7 (4) pp. 32
Yeh, H.-Y. (2013) Boundaries, entities, and modern vegetarianism: examining the emergence of
the first vegetarian organization. Qualitative Inquiry 19 (4) pp. 298309
Yeh, H.-Y. (2014) Voice with every bite: dietary identity and vegetarians’ ‘the-second-best’
boundary work. Food, Culture & Society 17 (4) pp. 591613
Steffen Hirth*
Sustainable Consumption Institute (SCI), Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS)
The University of Manchester
Booth St W
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
Regional Centre of Expertise Graz-Styria (RCE)
University of Graz
Heinrichstraße 18, 3. Stock
... Emerging from the vegan movement, one such alternative is SOA, also referred to as vegan organic, veganic, or biocyclic-vegan agriculture. Unlike animal-based organic and conventional agriculture, this horticultural method and certification forbids the use of animal by-products such as manure or bone meal as fertilizers in crop cultivation (Hagemann and Potthast, 2015;Hirth, 2021;Schmutz and Foresi, 2017;Seymour and Utter, 2021). By outlining the biomaterial specifics of foods cultivated in this way, I will show how SOA goes beyond the conventional framing of the term 'vegan' as an identity of consumers or any plant product and shifts it towards a performative practice. ...
... This implicitly renders change as a mere function of dietary choice and consumer lifestyles and veganism as an eating practice. But as I have argued before, veganism exhausts itself neither in eating nor in individuals' identities and lifestyles (Hirth, 2021). Against this background, I discuss how veganism conceived as a performative practice, not an identity or ideology, may help to better connect debates on dietary changes with the materiality of production and the common planetary interest in sustainable food systems. ...
... SOA challenges this conception in that its material-discursive practices omit animal by-products as fertilizers in crop cultivation. From this perspective, a carrot is not vegan per se; that status rather depends on the question whether it was nourished free from animal manure, bone meal, or other animal derivatives typically used for soil replenishment (Hirth, 2021). Re-thinking veganism in these terms channels our view away from a consumer identity or an essentialized property towards the processes of materially cultivating veganism-both in the agronomic and cultural practice sense. ...
Full-text available
Academic, policy, and public debates have increasingly led to calls for the adoption of plant rich diets. Livestock's 'long shadow'-its high environmental footprint-and the need to transform food systems towards sustainable practices are widely recognized. However, despite their incremental normalization, vegan and vegetarian diets can still lead to fierce debates between people with different dietary identities. Arguing that identity-based understandings of who or what is 'vegan' obfuscate necessary changes in production and provisioning practices, this contribution develops a wider understanding of vegan food practices by shedding light on stockfree organic agriculture's organization, biomateriality, and its 'short' shadow. The chapter makes a contribution to food system organizing with a practice approach.
... AFOA approaches represent a promising alternative for farmers wishing to pursue partial or full transitions to plant agriculture, in their ability to circumvent potential shortages in animal-based soil amendments that may transpire. Additionally, difficult emotions related to acknowledgment of animal sentience and concern about the environmental impacts of livestock production can lead to changes of heart about animal production among farmers and ranchers (Hirth, 2021;Salliou, 2023). AFOA approaches allow growers to avoid reliance on products from livestock industries or operations that they find environmentally irresponsible or morally reprehensible. 3 AFOA, including and beyond the three codified approaches introduced above, is a viable (e.g., Pimentel et al., 2005;Cormack, 2006;Eisenbach et al., 2019;Kakabouki et al., 2021;Kanisziewski et al., 2021;Hefner et al., 2022;Niether et al., 2023), less resource-intensive (Hirth, 2022) path forward in the face of numerous changes that may make animal-based plant agriculture and animal agriculture more tenuous or less enticing enterprises. ...
Full-text available
Animal-free organic agriculture resides at the margins of sustainable agriculture discourse, practice, and imaginaries, which center animal-based forms of farming. However, the concerns and goals of sustainable agriculture are overwhelmingly consistent with those of many forms of animal-free organic agriculture (AFOA), described as organic farming sans animal production, labor, and byproducts. Despite this sidelining, AFOA has great potential to contribute to a more robust sustainable agriculture movement. In order to emphasize the continuities between animal-based and animal-free sustainable agriculture, this Perspective identifies a number of key similarities between animal-free and animal-based sustainable farming, including mutual foci on soil health and shared opposition to intensive animal agriculture. It contends that beyond being compatible with sustainable agriculture, AFOA holds answers to some of the difficult questions currently and potentially confronting animal-based agriculture, such as projected impacts of climate change on animal agriculture and stability of supply chains for animal-based soil amendments. Barriers to greater inclusion of AFOA into the sustainable agriculture movement exist as well; this piece suggests potential ways to address some of these challenges, including the integration of AFOA into formal sustainable agriculture education.
... Veganic agriculture, or sometimes called stockfree farming (Schmutz and Foresi, 2017), aims at producing crops without the use of livestock and their by-products (typically manure). While veganism is usually considered as a consumption behaviour, veganic agriculture is an approach to agricultural production inspired by similar principles (Hirth, 2021). The recent emergence of this type of agriculture shows a trend towards disconnecting food production for humans from the use of livestock on farms. ...
Full-text available
Transitioning away from livestock farming would limit the carbon footprint of humanity and reduce the pressure on water, land and biodiversity. It would also improve human health, as animal farming increases the risks of pandemics and bacterial resistance. All of these risks and opportunities make a compelling case for a transition towards plant-based diets. In case of a large-scale transition, hundreds of thousands of farmers would have to quit animal farming and switch to other activities. Such transition is potentially happening in developed countries, where industrial operations are located, consumption per capita is the highest and alternatives to animal products are increasingly available. However, there is considerable resistance from farmers to this transition. There is thus a need to better understand potential transition pathways to support smooth transitions. To do so, 27 stories of farm transitioning out of livestock farming – so called transfarmation – were collected. Most of these cases are located in Switzerland and the US. These accounts were published on the websites of organizations that support farmers transitioning out of livestock production or by farmers themselves. In this qualitative study, I coded these accounts to identify patterns in the drivers, behaviour, and decision-making of farmers explaining their transition. Two main patterns were identified: (1) transfarmations from intensive poultry or pig farms towards a mushroom or market gardening farm, driven by economic interests and (2) transfarmations driven by compassion to animals, mostly leading to a farmed animal sanctuary or market gardening farm. Support organizations for transfarmation seem to be particularly beneficial for the second type of transition. I conclude this paper with research perspectives on the topic of transfarmation, especially on the role of gender and the potential of transfarmation for the green care economy.
... With its emphasis on the future and on giving nonhumans greater scope to co-construct new wilds with humans, rather than striving to recreate pristine historic wilds purified of humans, this is perhaps better thought of as 'wilding' than 'rewilding'. It must also, crucially, mean an absolute reduction in animal agriculture, which is the only way to address 'livestock's long shadow' of massive greenhouse gas emissions, habitat loss and accelerating anthropogenic extinction (Steinfield et al. 2006;Hirth 2020). Moreover, there is a need for a clear-eyed understanding that these things will not and cannot be effective alongside economic business as usual and continued growth -capitalism cannot be 'offset'. ...
Full-text available
Initially framed as a provocation intended to challenge the exclusion of human activity from studies of long-term physical changes in the earth system, the Anthropocene remains an essentially contested concept. Despite its increasing prevalence across multiple disciplines and fields, there is little consensus over its veracity either as a geological, socio-environmental or socio-historical hypothesis. But for anyone committed to thinking seriously about what used to be called society-environment relations, engagement with the Anthropocene is now inescapable. This chapter engages with the Anthropocene from the perspective of posthumanist thought, arguing that whilst the concept is riddled with contradictions, tensions, and potential flaws, these are also productive paradoxes which can contribute to our thinking, ethics, and politics in the context of the spiralling ecological crisis. The discussion undertakes a critical posthumanist reading of the Anthropocene, with particular attention to its central paradoxes around agency and responsibility, and the implications for various influential approaches to environmental politics and green social transition.
... 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. ...
Full-text available
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.
Feeding the growing world population in a sustainable way is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Crop diversification with legumes contributes to improved availability of plant-based proteins, next to additional farming system benefits. The competitive balance between species and the technological requirements to develop economic and environmentally attractive systems are key matters of concern. The digital version of this book is available free of charge. You can download the book here: Pages 110-116
Full-text available
Globally, aquaculture is one of the fastest growing animal protein sources. Not only will it continue to grow throughout the next decade, it will also increase its relative contribution to the human food system (Naylor et al., 2021). This growth will mainly be achieved from inland ponds as aquaculture production at sea faces limitations. However, conventional intensification of inland aquaculture will continue to exert pressure on the environment from land use competition, energy use, effluent discharge, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Therefore, the challenge is to enable growth of the aquaculture sector while still producing within planetary boundaries. Recent advances in feed formulation and technology, however, permit the recycling of agricultural and animal wastes through aquaculture. Natural production using the nutritious pond (NP) concept turns waste nutrients into aquafeed ingredients, raises protein use efficiency, and increases in-situ reuse and upgrading of waste nutrients. This chapter describes the underlying biological concepts and application strategies of the NP concept.
Soybean is the number one protein crop in the world. A rising star now covering 8% of the global cropland, which doubled between 1961 and 1991 and again more than doubled in the last 30 years. But Europe is importing most of its soybean. What about European soybean production?
Although farmers markets are often described in relatively homogenizing terms, there is nonetheless significant diversity in their form and function, and that diversity remains underexamined within the academic literature. Drawing on document analysis of a novel dataset of Oregon farmers market organization's vendor rules and regulations, this paper challenges commonly-held assumptions about the values often assumed to be inherent to alternative food networks and embedded forms of exchange. In examining the stated mission, values, and goals of farmers market organizations, this study found that geographic proximity, economic, and community-oriented values and goals predominated. Farmers market organizations showed comparatively less focus on values such as equity, health, and sustainability. These findings are surprising, given how frequently farmers markets are equated with ethical and sustainable consumption. Additionally, this paper presents empirically-driven findings related to how farmers market organizations define and codify the parameters of local vendors, local food, and direct-to-consumer sales, and how markets use standards and regulations to advance a vision of ‘good food’ that centers on quality, authenticity, scale of production, health, sustainability, and ethics.
Full-text available
Full text available: - - - 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).
Full-text available
This article was published in Discover Society 71:
Conference Paper
Full-text available
A field experiment was conducted to evaluate the effects of biocyclic humus soil, a newly found apparently carbon stabilized form of organic matter with significantly different characteristics from common composts or other forms of organic matter (humus), on yield and quality of processing tomato. The experiment was laid out in a completely randomized design with three replications and three fertilization treatments (untreated, inorganic fertilizer and biocyclic humus soil). The highest fruit yield (116.8 t/ha) was obtained by using biocyclic humus soil. There were no treatment effects on fruit firmness (4.34-4.60 kg/cm 2), total soluble solids (4.29-4.76 °Brix) and total acidity (0.25-0.31 g citric acid/100 g fruit) content of fruits. In conclusion, the tomato plants grown in biocyclic humus soil had 45% more yield than in conventional plots, and this big difference is probably related to the fact that the humus soil as a substrate provides an optimum environment for plant growth.
Full-text available
Zusammenfassung Im Bereich der Ernährung sind es ganz alltägliche und allgemein akzeptierte Produktions- und Konsumpraktiken, die zu Nachhaltigkeitsproblemen führen. Als Lösung gilt in öffentlichen Nachhaltigkeitsdiskursen die Kombination aus ‚grünem Wachstum‘ und verantwortungsbewussten Konsument*innen. Die individuelle Aneignung dieser Diskurse steht im Zentrum dieses Aufsatzes. Auf Basis welcher Deutungsmuster, Werte und räumlichen Beziehungen werden Ernährungsidentitäten, Verantwortungszuweisungen und alltägliche Ernährungspraktiken naturalisiert und aufrecht erhalten bzw. kritisiert und verändert? Zur Beantwortung dieser Frage wird auf qualitative Interviews mit Konsument*innen zurückgegriffen, in denen sich eine komplexe und ambivalente Form der Aneignung öffentlicher Nachhaltigkeitsdiskurse zeigt. Einerseits werden dominante Muster der öffentlichen Nachhaltigkeitsdiskurse (re-)produziert. Andererseits wird dem Optimismus bezüglich des Gestaltungspotenzials von verantwortungsbewussten Konsument*innen eine Absage erteilt. Weiterhin werden Widrigkeiten beklagt, die einer als gelungen empfundenen Ernährungspraxis entgegenstehen. Die Umgangsweisen mit dem alltäglichen Scheitern bei der Umsetzung eigener Ansprüche sind sehr divers und reichen von Versuchen des ‚Wachrüttelns‘ anderer Konsument*innen über die Kompensation durch außeralltägliche Events, in denen die Idealvorstellungen einer guten Ernährung gelebt werden können, bis hin zum fatalistischen Einfügen in den Zwang der Verhältnisse. Darüber hinaus wird in gegenhegemonialen Narrativen die Kontingenz machtvoller Strukturen in Erinnerung gerufen, die immer auch auf Widerstand stoßen und somit stets verhandel- und veränderbar bleiben.
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.
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.