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Food, Classed? Social Inequality and Diet: Understanding Stratified Meat Consumption Patterns in Germany


Einhorn,  Laura
International Max Planck Research School on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy, MPI for the Study of Societies, Max Planck Society;

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Einhorn, L. (2020). Food, Classed? Social Inequality and Diet: Understanding Stratified Meat Consumption Patterns in Germany. PhD Thesis, University of Cologne, Cologne.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-2829-F
Based on a complementary mixed-methods design, the dissertation sheds light on the relationship between meat consumption practices and consumers’ socioeconomic position. In a first step, two large-scale data sets, the German Einkommens- und Verbrauchsstichprobe (EVS) 2013 and the Socioeconomic Panel (GSOEP) 2016, are used to establish empirical relationships between meat consumption practices and consumers’ socioeconomic position. Education and income do not show the same effects across social groups. Income most strongly affects the meat consumption patterns of low-income consumers, and income effects diminish as income increases. Furthermore, income does not make much of a difference for consumers with low levels of education. Meat-reduced and meat-free diets are also more common among students and among self-employed persons, even after controlling for income and education. Income does not necessarily influence the amount of meat that is consumed but the type and the price of the purchased meat. In a second step, data from 46 semi-structured interviews with non-vegetarian and vegetarian consumers is used to gain a profound understanding of the mechanisms behind these statistical relationships. Differences in consumption patterns do not result from differences in food ideals, but from different capacities for implementing dietary changes. These capacities are significantly shaped by material and non-material resources. I argue that 1) reducing consumption does not require financial resources, but voluntary meat reduction is significantly linked to financial resources in different ways; 2) university education is conducive to meat reduction as it fosters scientism and the ability to quickly gather and exploit new sources of information; 3) high-SES consumers value self-improvement and uniqueness which encourages dietary changes and aids in dealing with social conflict arising from such changes; 4) food neophilia is an important precondition for the adoption and maintenance of meat-reduced diets, and income and education foster food neophilia; 5) familiar foods are an important compensatory tool that offsets negative emotions arising from material scarcity, stress, and social conflict. In the last part, I show that all interviewees categorize, evaluate and judge others’ food and meat consumption practices, and that these judgments have a series of intended and unintended consequences. The main findings, implications and limitations of this study, as well as avenues for future research are discussed.