Beyond Meat, a food technology company based in California, is currently developing a range of plant-based proteins that aim to provide more sustainable, ethical, and healthful alternatives to conventional meat. Its products are also aiming to be viscerally equivalent in terms of their meatlike taste, texture, and overall sensory experience. These alternative proteins (APs) are not, however, intended merely as a substitute for conventional meat. Instead they are viewed and marketed by their developers as meat, made simply from a different raw material and via different methods. Yet as animal meat has become increasingly linked with environmental, health, and ethical concerns, Beyond Meat is having to negotiate a careful balance between positioning its products as meatlike in some respects and not meatlike in others in order to gain consumer adoption. To become “meat” in consumer thinking not only depends on the things these APs are made of—both material and ideological—but also the things that are actively excluded; as such, their materiality is made of purposefully chosen “stuff” and “non-stuff.” The article explores this decision-making via my fieldwork encounters with Beyond Meat's products. Using a visceral-autoethnographic approach, I discuss how certain (non)stuff was “made to matter and not matter” (Evans and Miele 2012) to me during these encounters, and how this careful balancing of stuff can create new and problematic imaginaries, moral politics, and misguided understandings of what constitutes “better” foods and “better” eaters. The observations made contribute to existing discussions on visceral methodologies, perceptions of (novel) foods, embodied consumption practices, and the ways in which bodies are made as eaters and things as food.
Alternative Proteins and the (Non)Stuff of “Meat”
Alexandra Sexton is an ESRC-funded PhD researcher in Human Geography at King's College London. Her research interests include food geographies and practices in the Anthropocene, the (bio)politics of eating and food security, and perceptions of edibility. Her current research explores the development of new alternative proteins (including lab-grown meat, edible insects, and plant-based proteins), and traces their emergence amid contemporary politics and discourses of food security, public health, and ethical consumption.
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Alexandra Sexton; Alternative Proteins and the (Non)Stuff of “Meat”. Gastronomica 1 August 2016; 16 (3): 66–78. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2016.16.3.66
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