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On (not) Knowing Where Your Food Comes From: Children, Meat, and Ethical Eating

Sun, August 13, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 512G


Knowledge is a presumed motivator for changed consumption practices in ethical eating discourse: the consumer learns more about where their food comes from and then makes different consumption choices. Despite its intuitive appeal, scholars are beginning to illuminate the limits of knowledge-focused praxis for eating and ethical eating more specifically (e.g., Carolan 2015; Guthman 2008). Knowledge may shape food decision-making, but these decisions do not occur in a vacuum; everyday food choices rely on a complex matrix of habit, comfort, and emotion. In this paper, we use data from qualitative interviews and focus groups (n=53) with Toronto mothers about feeding meat to children to explore the limits of a knowledge-based conception of ethical consumption. While the goal of raising an informed child consumer has become central to Canadian and American discourses of “good” mothering, we find that the case of meat-eating provides an exception to this gendered and classed ideal. Rather than revealing the story behind the meat on a child’s plate, mothers express concern about protecting their children from the harsh realities of animal slaughter. Looking at this data contributes to theories of consumer culture by developing literature on the limits of knowledge-based approaches to consumer praxis. Building on Cook (2008), we argue that an analysis of childhood can generate new insights within consumption theory. In addition, the paper makes an empirical contribution that reveals consumers’ discomfort and disgust with eating animals.