[Thesis]. Manchester, UK: The University of Manchester; 2019.
Acting upon Livestock's Long Shadow to mitigate climate change, mass extinction, and
other social-ecological crises requires fundamental changes in food practices. Labelled
as "ethical consumers", vegans, vegetarians, and meat-reducing carnists already attract
considerable attention. However, food practices on the production side, which are
just as much an ethical issue, also require reconfiguration in order to achieve sustainable
development. In a critical assessment of tendencies that depict consumer demand as
the only legitimate means of change and depoliticise absolute reductions of animal-sourced
foods, this thesis extends the locus of vegan food practices to various productive
processes drawing on cases such as stock-based and stockfree farms, retailers, and
food-related advocacy networks. By exploring these foodscapes, it is examined how
the material-discursive boundaries between vegan and carnist food practices are drawn,
particularly in response to animal agriculture as a sustainability challenge.
Inspired by practice and materialist turns, my research builds on debates on ethical
consumption, responsibility, and sustainability within sociological and geographical
food studies. Relational and posthumanist approaches are drawn upon to conceptualise
practices and conduct material-discursive analyses. Qualitative methods are applied
to outline relations within and between agricultural and retailing foodscapes in Greater
Manchester, Derbyshire, and South West England, involving a mix of participant observation
(incl. field notes and photography), in-depth interviews with stakeholders on site,
and an interpretative examination of their sustainability-related websites and reports.
The findings revolve around the marginal but emerging agricultural and culinary paradigm
of "vegan organic" production. It excludes the use of manure, bone meal, or other
animal derivatives for the replenishment of soil fertility and relies instead on nutrient-fixing
plants and practices such as composting or mulching. Thus, veganism, rather than being
a dietary identity, becomes a relationally grounded approach to how vegans and plant
foods come into being performatively through material-discursive practices. Conventionally,
however, the term "vegan" as applied in both food regulations and everyday life, is
merely a label either for people who abjure from animal products or for vegetal products.
This dematerialised consumption-based mainstream conception of veganism personalises
food practices, confines ethics to a sentimental care for domesticated animals, and
depoliticises social-ecological reasons for veganism. In order to maintain a safe
operating space for all life on Earth, I suggest that performing vegan food practices
as much as possible is an undogmatic responsibility of ethical producers and consumers
alike, regardless of their personal identities as vegans, vegetarians or "meat eaters"