Is meat a scapegoat: exploring the shifting narrative around the place of red meat in society


Meat is all about context according to visiting Belgian Professor Frédéric Leroy.

Tasked with exploring the shifting narrative of red meat in today’s food system and food culture, Professor Leroy, who has a background in microbiology, food science and human and animal well-being at Vrije University Brussels, discusses the history of meat and how perceptions of it have changed through time.

Speaking to facilitator Daniel Eb, of Dirt Road Comms, he contends that the way we should explore the place of food needs to expand beyond simply looking at taste, nutrition, or sustainability, and include the role it has in shaping culture, society, and human identity.

In undertaking that investigation, Professor Leroy discovered that meat occupies a special status in the foodscape, stating that eating and preparing it is highly ritualised, and contending that its symbolic value is unmatched.

Recently, this has led to meat becoming a "pharmakon", meaning that it is considered at the same time to be a remedy, a poison, and more recently a scapegoat.

He states that the increasing disconnect between urban and rural life , and the increasing distance between producers and consumers of meat, has led to a shift in our relationship with meat - from animal to commodity.

In addition, post-industrialisation, the food industry, motivated by looking at ways to endlessly grow profits in a saturated global market, has actively sought to disparage meat in favour of promoting cheaper and highly-processed plant-based products that they are able to charge high prices for.

Anxieties around meat, fostered by the disconnect between food production and consumption, are being propagated by mass-media running anti-meat campaigns in a post-truth era where the facts are cherry-picked and headlines are sensationalised, according to Professor Leroy.

He claims that veganism is no silver-bullet, and the scapegoating of meat is dangerous and will see us ignoring things like fossil fuels and ultra processed foods, that are actually hurting our health and the planet.

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