The meaning of meat: (Un)sustainable eating practices at home and out of home

Appetite. 2020 Oct 1;153:104730. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2020.104730. Epub 2020 May 15.


Many sociological accounts of life in the 21st century include reflections on the dissolution of distinctions between the public and private sphere, aided by social media and information technology. In this paper, we argue that everyday practices around the consumption of food continue to display strong home/out-of-home divisions, especially regarding the consumption of meat and its deeply rooted social meanings. Using data from a German online survey on food preparation and consumption practices, we report and critically examine empirical evidence of significant differences between public and private food consumption. In addition to divergent meanings, we pay particular attention to environmental impacts related to the resource implications of eating in or out. For many, eating out in a restaurant means to treat oneself to something special. Cultural links between eating meat and the celebration of special occasions, the role of meat as a signifier of hospitality, and meat consumption as an expression of high social status leads to considerable resource implications for the practice of eating out and hosting guests. This, in turn, throws up interesting questions regarding the (in)effectiveness of sustainable food campaigns, many of which have hitherto ignored the distinction between public and private consumption. We conclude by arguing for strategies that connect the consumption of plant-based dishes to already established social practices such as hosting guests, barbecuing or celebrating special occasions.

Keywords: Behavior change; Food consumption; Meat; Practice theory; Social meaning of food; Sustainable diet.

MeSH terms

  • Diet*
  • Environment
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Meat*
  • Restaurants