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Meating the Anthropocene: Barriers and opportunities for alternative proteins in Norway

What will we eat in the Anthropocene? What are the alternatives to unsustainable animal proteins, and how can we make them work – for everyone?

This project explores alternative proteins and their potential role in facilitating sustainable and equitable food consumption in Norwegian households.

About the project

Sustainable and equitable food systems are a prerequisite for achieving all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). High rates of animal protein production and consumption is a particularly urgent challenge for social and environmental sustainability. As more resources are being used to tackle this challenge, and technology is rapidly changing the trajectory for food and agriculture, some have predicted a ‘fourth agricultural revolution’.

There is much debate on food systems transition and a meatless future. In some wealthy countries, the decades long growth in meat consumption is now stagnating, and a market for alternative proteins – from plant-based meat analogues and edible insects to still hypothetical foods like cell-cultured meat – is growing. A new food-tech industry is emerging along with these new proteins, fuelled by promissory narratives of a future where ‘meat’ no longer comes from animals.

But while surveys indicate that consumers are more willing to try new alternatives to meat than before, we still don’t know much about how eating habits change in practice. What role do – and can – these alternative proteins play in consumers’ diets?

Through a mixed-methods approach, and with the Norwegian food system as empirical context, my project focuses on the potentials for alternative protein sources at various stages of development to be implemented in households’ food practices. The project also considers the implications of transitioning towards alternative proteins for sustainability and equity in the food system more broadly. 

Alternative proteins notably include:

  • Plant-based proteins currently existing on the market, including whole plant foods and meat and dairy analogues
  • Insect foods, currently only a fringe product in Norway
  • Cell-cultured and fermentation-based proteins, predicted to be commercialised in the coming decade

Research questions

The overarching research questions is: What are the potentials for sustainably and equitably shifting food consumption towards alternative proteins in consumers’ diets in Norway?

To answer this question, the project focuses on how households engage with animal- and plant-based proteins currently figuring in the food system, how they make sense of novel protein foods in light of their existing food practices, and how household consumption is shaped by production and provision of different proteins in the food system.

In so doing, the project develops current knowledge of alternative proteins in the Norwegian/Nordic context, and adds to the limited scholarship on the ‘social’ aspects of socio-technological sustainability transitions in the food sector. It also seeks to make a valuable contribution to the limited social scientific inquiry into alternative protein research. A final goal is to connect lofty debates on global food futures with specific insight into the dynamics of current food consumption patterns and practices.  

Background

The project is carried out by PhD Fellow Johannes Volden, supervised by Dr. Arve Hansen, and co-supervised by Professor Bjørnar Sæther. 

Financing

This project is financed by a PhD Fellowship from the Centre from Development and the Environment, University of Oslo.

Collaboration

The project is associated with ‘Include – research centre for socially inclusive energy transitions’, the project ‘MEATigation: Towards sustainable meat-use in Norwegian food practices for climate mitigation’, and the research group ‘Sustainable consumption and energy equity’.

Published May 31, 2021 8:55 AM - Last modified Oct. 12, 2021 3:19 PM