Meat Cultures

In this series, we collect posts on swine farming in Germany, vegan diets and the #veganuary movement amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, and dietary proteins supply in Sci-Fi movies and speculative fiction.

Series Editor: Frank I. Müller

The spatial organization of dietary protein provision – hunting, fishing, livestock farming, and their related supply chains – is an important factor in the control of infectious diseases, particularly those which are capable of spreading across species boundaries, known scientifically as zoonotic diseases. Hence the context and methods by which dietary protein provisions are supplied should be considered with similar gravity. With the Covid-19 pandemic, originating from a zoonotic event, questions are being asked as to the nature of present human-animal coexistences and their futures in relation to biosecurity, animal husbandry and capitalist agribusiness.

In Protein Matters’ first series “Meat Cultures”, we will address these questions of dietary protein’s geography, regulation, and aestheticization, in our present context of increased awareness for human-animal transmission of pathogens. Since we are concerned with the spatial organization and cultural representation of food protein, its production, and consumption, we also look at how epidemics and pandemics such as Covid-19 have shaped the organization, distribution, regulation and popular representation of food protein production.

In the pandemic, we are inhabiting the dramatic, unpredictable and non-linear effects of a deadly, zoonotic pathogen. There exists a global consensus that allowing this pathogen to simply run uncontrolled through global societies and food supply chains implies an unacceptable risk to global health. Consequently it has taken (often erratic or inconsistent) governmental interventions that seek to halt the spread of the virus. While most of these interventions are only indirectly related to food provision, issues related to hunger, malnutrition, and access to sufficient quantity and quality of food have gained importance.

The search for alternatives to animal protein – such as plant-based protein – has become an important industry and matter for scientific research. Additionally, start-ups and established pharmaceutical companies are intensively working towards promoting synthetic protein as a solution to the looming climate disaster, given that animal agriculture contributes major amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Critical voices, however, argue that the current hype of cell-cultured protein is not only problematic in technical and pragmatic terms; it is also aggravating the situation of animals in industrial farming, driving away public interest for the cruelty intrinsic to this industry.

Here, we will not advocate for a definite position in debates around animal rights and “cruelty-free meat”. Without any doubt, however, industrial livestock farming is ecologically unsustainable and a disaster in moral terms: Thus protein is a critical matter whose provision must, in the future, cater to human survival, non-human species’ wellbeing, and planetary health.

The upcoming series “Meat Cultures” reflects the interdisciplinary make-up of the Protein Matters consortium, bringing together perspectives from human geography, anthropology, sociology, and computational biology. As we are dealing with a topic of timely relevance for humanity’s, non-human species, and the entire planet’s existence, the interdependencies of nutrition and zoonoses, it is only consequent to zoom into what future imagines as solution: Anke Schwarz and Patrick Weir wage journeys into fictional futures, represented in novels and films, and outline how other worlds envision protein production and consumption.

On a much closer journey, Jordan Oelke takes us to Forst, Brandenburg/Germany. He learns from forest workers who try to make sense of and situate possible more-than-human encounters with the elusive African Swine Fever Virus while breathing microbial life back into blasted landscapes. Mariana Hase Ueta will reflect on the annual Veganuary and its effect on creating broader public awareness for the environmental impact of food industries. Ultimately, Jaro Camphuijsen, a computational biologist, will offer insights from his desk as he develops computational models to replace animal experiments in synthetic meat laboratories.