Sustainable meat consumption practices -
What's the beef?

The Swiss consume too much meat and research on meat reduction has had little success so far.
But what if the key to transforming today's unsustainable meat consumption lies beyond individual responsibility and technical solutions?


  • Lead school School of Health Professions
  • Institute Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Strategic thematic field Thematic field "Sustainable Development"
  • Funding organisation BFH
  • Duration (planned) 01.03.2024 - 31.07.2025
  • Project management Sonja Schönberg
  • Head of project Sonja Schönberg
  • Keywords meat consumption, theory of social practices, sustainable food systems


Around 83 million animals are slaughtered in Switzerland every year. This contributes significantly to the country's greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, from a production perspective, the use of ruminants is a key prerequisite for the agricultural management of Switzerland's extensive grassland areas. The overconsumption of around 50kg meat per person per year is constant and most meat eaters do not want to give up their habit. Attempts to reduce meat consumption touch on something like ‘a holy grail’. Various disciplines have explained meat consumption behaviour from a cognitive-psychological perspective and proposed solutions - with little success. Less scientific attention has been paid so far to conventions, habits, everyday environments and infrastructures in the 'meat system' and their influence on meat consumption. The complexity of the food system on the one and human eating behaviour on the other hand has prompted some scholars to criticise the dualistic account of (not) eating meat. In response, many organisations and institutions are now pursuing a 'less but better meat' narrative. This acknowledges people's preference for meat and at the same time aims to drastically reduce meat consumption. However, there is little consensus on what exactly 'less but better meat' means.

Course of action

This dissertation aims to approach an understanding of 'better meat consumption practices' in Switzerland. It bases 'better' on the multidimensional definition of sustainable diets by the FAO and WHO and includes ecological, socio-economic, and animal welfare aspects. The phenomenon of meat consumption will be explored ethnographically through a social practice theory lens. This framework makes it possible to identify materials, meanings, and competences that influence how meat is produced and consumed in Switzerland beyond the conscious consumption decisions of individuals. The project pursues a qualitative, transdisciplinary and participatory research approach. This involves key actors in the Swiss food and meat system who are at the interfaces between value chains, the environment and the socio-political context. The iterative-inductive research includes participant observation and interviews, will be conducted on five agroecologically managed farms, in five decentralized slaughterhouses, and with 20 meat eaters.


Using Social Practice Theory, a conceptual model of sustainability transition theory is applied to develop a deeper understanding of possible points of intervention within today's complex and unsustainable meat consumption practices.

Looking ahead

The thesis makes a contribution to the strategic BFH topic area of 'sustainable development', participating in the design of development paths for sustainable, resilient and regenerative food systems that provide fair and healthy food.

Ziel ist, ein Verständnis für ‘bessere Fleischkonsumpraktiken’ zu entwickeln.
Ziel ist, ein Verständnis für ‘bessere Fleischkonsumpraktiken’ zu entwickeln.

This project contributes to the following SDGs

  • 2: Zero hunger
  • 11: Sustainable cities and communities
  • 12: Responsible consumption and production
  • 17: Partnerships for the goals