Social Science And The Future Of Food
As an organization dedicated to helping animal advocates increase their impact, we at Faunalytics view farmed animal advocacy as an especially effective area for doing the most good. This type of advocacy is leading the way from an effective altruism cause prioritization perspective because of its combined performance on: 1) importance, 2) tractability, and 3) neglectedness. Much of the work in sorting out the relative importance of a cause is a numbers game. We have highlighted that the number of animals that humans consume as food is staggering and eclipses all other commonly discussed forms of human-caused harm to animals. The plight of chickens and fishes is particularly compelling from a numbers standpoint.
Interventions aimed at changing individual dietary behavior have been a mainstay of the movement’s tactical repertoire. However, food technology and the marketplace are increasingly becoming a focal point for animal advocates who want to increase their impact for farmed animals. Moving into the spotlight are plant-based alternatives and clean meat (also known as cultured meat), which is real meat produced using animal cells rather than animal slaughter. Not only are these products thought to be the future of food by animal advocates—and indeed something we have been tracking in our research library over time—but increasingly in popular channels as well including tech trends.
This is a fertile time for alternatives to conventional animal products. New Harvest is moving a considerable amount of money to academics researching cellular agriculture. The Good Food Institute is growing furiously and on the cusp of an announcement about two new food companies they have launched. Clean meat companies such as Memphis Meats, SuperMeat, and Mosa Meat are positioned to take the theoretical promise of clean meat and make it a reality. Meanwhile plant-based companies such as Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and Hampton Creek are already championing high quality plant-based products currently on shelves and in restaurants, working hard and intelligently to move this category of food from the margins to the mainstream.
There are strong supports already in place to buoy the work of natural scientists and start-ups working on the technical piece of the puzzle. However, with plant-based alternatives already creating buzz and the first introduction of clean meat products into the marketplace estimated to be only five years away, there is a pressing need to ensure that research-informed decisions based on social science greet these new food technologies when they debut. There is both a need to coordinate the sharing of existing research that can inform practice as well as to help foster strategic thinking and fruitful research partnerships for future endeavors.
Faunalytics, with the help of The Good Food Institute and others, has stepped in to lead the effort. We are helping organize the clean meat and plant-based alternatives research spaces in the social sciences and beyond through collaboration and information sharing. To this end, we have developed bibliographies to help inform advocates and researchers about the existing research. We have also created a researcher directory and a place to brainstorm on future research directions to help facilitate networking and encourage strategic thinking around research questions and study designs. If you are involved in social science research related to clean meat or plant-based alternatives, be sure to make use of these resources and help spread the word to anyone who would benefit from being part of this community:
The Clean Meat Bibliography and Plant-Based Alternatives Bibliography are open access working bibliographies designed to help connect researchers and those interested in the field with relevant literature. Feel free to make use of anything cited here and please add anything missing to these lists so we can make sure everyone has access to the most up-to-date literature in this area.
2. Email Lists
The Clean Meat Group and Plant-Based Alternatives Group are forums for those actively interested in or conducting research into clean meat or plant-based alternatives. If this describes you, please add yourself to one or both mailing lists to stay in touch with others in the field. Note that only members can view content, though anyone can apply to join.
The Researcher Directory will identify those working in or interested in these fields. If you’re engaged in this area, add yourself to the directory so the community has a sense of its reach and to allow members to strike up private communications and collaborations and to limit unnecessary duplication. Note that users must first request access.
4. Research Ideas
The Research Ideas document serves as a space for brainstorming on needed research in the social sciences (and elsewhere) for clean meat and plant-based alternatives, including everything from research questions to study designs. If you have ideas for research on the future of food that can make a difference on the ground, please stop by this page to brainstorm with likeminded folks. Note that users must first request access.
Faunalytics sees alternatives to conventional animal products as an urgent and high impact area. In addition to helping craft the above resources, we are also in discussions with The Good Food Institute and other researchers to identify a particularly pressing research question on the topic of clean meat. Our goal is to contribute to the advancement of knowledge in this space with a focus on applied research.
We are enthusiastic about the prospects of such a partnership and hope that by carefully crafting the subject and design of this latest in-house research, we can continue to cast our gaze towards increasing the efficacy of harm reduction efforts for farmed animals.
 Note that wild-animal suffering is increasingly being considered as a cause thought to have the potential for a high return.
January 11, 2017 - by Kathryn Asher