Categorising Meat Alternatives: how dominant meat culture is reproduced and challenged through the making and eating of meat alternatives

Student thesis: Phd


Meat alternatives are foodstuffs made to resemble animal flesh, but manufactured from other ingredients, that have become increasingly popular in British mainstream diets. These products are on the one hand appreciated as an opposition to animal products and their associated issues; on the other hand, they are often used to replace meat in an indistinguishable manner, thereby providing an alternative to this core constituent of British food culture. This thesis explores this apparent contradiction between challenging and reproducing hegemonic meat culture. To achieve this, this thesis assesses qualitatively (a) the history of meat alternatives in the United Kingdom, (b) their description in texts of producers and consumers, and (c) the cultural embeddedness of meat alternatives by their advocates in relation to meat. From a theoretical perspective, this analysis builds on the category studies literature, which allows understanding meat alternatives as a set of goods with shared properties and meaning systems, that emerge from other previously existing categories. Specifically, it is argued that as categories become established, they may ultimately influence the original understandings they were built upon, such as meat culture. Grounding findings in diverse and detailed perspectives from various actors, this research utilises interviews with manufacturers and related stakeholders, print advertisements, taste test videos, and tweets. Furthermore, market research, industry news, and academic literature is reviewed to contextualise the research. It is found that historically both meat (through its use of animals and the associated externalities) and vegetarian foods (through its alleged inconvenience and inappropriateness for a 'normal' life) are opposed. However, as meat alternatives became mainstream, arguments against meat were internalised as well as outsourced to dietary choices. These choices are made convenient and nearly invisible through meat alternatives which are rendered as a tool for a smooth transition, as they afford the same meanings and occasions as their meat counterparts. Conversely, the requirement or desire for meaty tastes or textures is individualised. The findings suggest that understandings of meat alternatives strongly build on hegemonic meat culture. Specifically, meat culture is reproduced through the reliance of meat alternatives on the practices, occasions, and meanings of meat-like foods. Conversely, dominant meat culture is challenged by an increased exposure to non-meaty tastes, textures, or formats; thus opening the possibility to create new norms in food consumption. As they are morally and environmentally preferable, meat alternatives are largely understood as 'better meat' rather than as exclusive to meat, albeit subject to individual approval of sensory desirability. It is argued that meat alternatives may help to reduce the consumption of animal meats in the short term as they simplify access to meat-free diets through existing tacit and practical knowledge. However, they reinforce the notion that meat eating is normal, pleasurable, or convenient, which delegitimises other non-'meat' food choices. As such, meat alternatives may present a long-term barrier to the elimination of non-human animal meat in human diets, both practically and symbolically.
Date of Award31 Dec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJosephine Mylan (Supervisor) & Frank Boons (Supervisor)


  • tweets
  • youtube
  • interviews
  • advertisements
  • framing
  • content analysis
  • social construction
  • categorisation
  • taste test videos
  • category studies
  • ideology
  • meat alternatives
  • meat substitutes
  • alternative proteins
  • carnism
  • meat
  • culture
  • plant-based

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