DOI link for ECONOMICS
DOI link for ECONOMICS
Press releases announcing the results of the most comprehensive series of statistical surveys of vegetarianism in Britain cite only cost and health as significant influences. The ethical dimension is scarcely mentioned (Realeat surveys 1984-1990). The meat industry similarly stresses ‘rational’ considerations of nutrition and price in its promotion. For example, when the Meat and Livestock Commission launched a three-year marketing campaign, ‘Persuading consumers that meat and meat products were nutritious, value-for-money foods [was] the ultimate aim of the plan’ (Butcher & Processor 1987b:5). In each case the implication is that consumers choose by evaluating clear criteria such as cost and healthiness. It is simply assumed that meat is highly valued, as shown by its regular and long-standing use as an indicator of welfare and economic development:
The better-paid workers, especially those in whose families every member is able to earn something, have good food as long as this state of things lasts; meat daily, and bacon and cheese for supper. Where wages are less, meat is used only two or three times a week, and the proportion of bread and potatoes increases. Descending gradually, we find the animal food reduced to a small piece of bacon cut up with the potatoes; lower still, even this disappears…
Nakornthab (1986) uses meat eating similarly as a primary measure of Thailands’ urban development, alongside use of electricity, tax revenue, and car ownership, and Shields (1986) takes rising meat consumption as a ‘clear illustration’ of increasing prosperity in the Iraqi city of Mosul in the nineteenth
century. David Riches, similarly, disputes Sahlins’s conception of hunter-gatherers as the ‘original affluent society’ (Riches 1982) on the grounds that in many such societies ‘the consumption of meat is very highly regarded [yet] constitutes as little as 20 per cent of food intake’, from which he concludes that their meat intake is, for them, inadequate. Its securing, he holds, is inhibited by cultural factors such as gambling which restrict time-consuming hunting (Riches 1982:216). However, to dispute a people’s well-being on the grounds that they prefer to allocate time to one leisure activity (gambling) than to an arduous activity (hunting) required to obtain extra quantities of a particular good, is hardly supportable. That this does not reflect how the particular people concerned think hardly enters into the matter-an attitude Riches justifies on the grounds that interpretation of behaviour is the anthropologist’s prerogative (Riches 1982:6)—a defensible argument taken to indefensible lengths. Riches falls into the trap of seeing meat as inherently desirable in unlimited amounts, presumably because we esteem it so. This example has a wider relevance than to the subsistence-economy peoples discussed by Riches, for the same attitude occurs in standard economic analyses of ‘modern’ societies.