Food Ethics

, Volume 2, Issue 2–3, pp 139–153 | Cite as

Equilibrium of the Food Marketing System: a Debate of an Ethical Consumption Performance Based on Alternative Hedonism

  • Stephanie Ingrid Souza BarbozaEmail author
Discussion Paper


Discussions about the impacts of marketing systems on society have been strongly encouraged in the field of macromarketing. However, these studies have focused on analyzing human and organizational actors, neglecting, to a large extent, the impacts of practices of marketing systems on other non-human stakeholders, such as those associated with or materialized in the form of a product. This article debates the material basis of the product of animal origin based on the concepts of justice, stakeholder theory, and externalities. An argument was developed attributing the status of a moral agent to the animals used to make products and focusing on this debate, arguing for the establishment of a consumption pattern that morally considers animals. This was made feasible by new alternatives for food performances exemplified by the conduct of vegetarian and vegan consumers.


Macromarketing Ethical consumption Food performances Alternative hedonism 


Discussions about the impacts of marketing systems on society have been strongly encouraged in the field of macromarketing, with emphasis on the ethical issues that permeate the process of exchange and the performance of stakeholders (Wilkie and Moore 2006; Layton and Grossbart 2006; Layton 2007, 2011). Traditionally, these studies have focused on analyzing human and organizational actors, neglecting, to a large extent, the impacts of practices of marketing systems on other non-human stakeholders, such as those associated with or materialized in the form of a product.

This article debates the material basis of products of animal origin. The fundamental principle of equilibrium in the food marketing system is applied, as this was developed based on the concepts of justice, stakeholder theory, and externalities. In fact, the ethical issues that affect the product of animal origin demand a conception of a food marketing system that considers the equality of interests in the institutional context of the exchange and fair distribution of externalities among all of the stakeholders involved.

Based on the logic of practical ethics (Singer 2002), an argument was developed attributing the status of a moral agent to the animals used to make products. Meat industry practices were questioned based on reflection regarding the arguments of environmental ethics and animal ethics, which constituted a theoretical-philosophical basis for the refutation of the animal as a material platform in the food marketing system.

The debate argue for the establishment of a consumption pattern that morally considers animals. This was made feasible by new alternatives for food performances exemplified by the conduct of vegetarian and vegan consumers. There was a presupposition that consumers who know the reality faced by the animals in the meat industry would rethink their conduct and seek viable alternative actions for humans, such as a vegetable-based diet (Degrazia 2009; Miele and Evans 2010).

The assumption is that this consumption would boost new industrial behavior, the consolidation of new moral practices and, consequently, the construction of an alternative balance in the food marketing system. Thus, hedonic and nutritional performance alternatives (Vargo and Lusch 2004; Vargo 2011) that can meet the demands of consumers are evaluated, while the meat industry creates products with a different material base that does not infringe on the moral consideration of animals and the morality of the product agents involved in the food marketing system.

Balance in the Food Marketing System

In the context of discussions about marketing systems that involve aspects of justice, stakeholder interests, and externalities (Schwartz and Carroll 2007; Ferrel and Ferrel’s 2008; Forsé and Parodi 2009), it is understood that these systems are constituted by a set of interdependent parts that must be in balance so that the idea of a fair distribution between benefits and sacrifices reaches all of the stakeholders involved, minimizing negative externalities and boosting positive externalities.

In order to understand this idea and equilibrium in a practical logic, which is concretized by the application of ethics in the analysis of the morality of practical questions (Singer 2002), it is pertinent to analyze each one of the agents of the process of exchange. If we consider the suppliers (offering agents) to be those who offer the exchange, it is understood that the role of this stakeholder in a balanced marketing system is related to the elaboration of offers that are coherent with the socioeconomic, cultural, and moral standards of the context in which it is inserted. It is also related to the search for results that are compatible with the effort expended to make this offer and to meet the demand.

Naturally, there are externalities arising from the performance of these agents. Examples of positive externalities, taking the performance of companies as reference, include the satisfaction of the demanders and economic development. Negative externalities can be counted as the dissemination of undesirable consumer behaviors at the extent to which the offers are made in the context of market exchanges.

The demanders engage in the search for offers that satisfy their needs in terms of some performance of their interest and, on the other hand, offer to the exchange system their financial resources, loyalty, satisfaction, and adherence to the behaviors promulgated by the suppliers. Although the consumer is sometimes one of the weakest parties within the marketing system, in order for his or her conduct to ensure equilibrium in that system, the exercise of good morality must be a part of their consumer actions.

Obviously, the demander’s performance in the marketing system can generate impacts for the other stakeholders. Positive externalities are exposed, for example, by the adoption of an idea or behavior considered appropriate to good morality; in turn, negative externalities occur through the consumption of products that generate damages to health or that disseminate exchange practices that impact on damages to the State and society.

In the institutional context of the exchange, indirect agents that intermediate the offers of the marketing systems were also identified. In this context, there is the example of the State. Even if the State is to be positioned as an indirect agent in the marketing system, given the complexity of the supply and demand activities performed by this agent, the influence of the State in the marketing systems is evident when regulatory actions are carried out that adjust the activities of the demanders and suppliers, enabling protection to society and individuals.

From a macro perspective, ‘society’ in generic terms can be taken as an indirect agent by institutionalizing delimiters about consumption practices and organizational actions that cause problems for the stakeholders involved in the marketing system under analysis. In this way, it is possible to design consumer behaviors that promote externalities, such as well-being and quality of life for society, while at the same time corroborating behaviors that harm other stakeholders by incorporating elements that are counterpoint to the actions of the State and organizations.

Considering the more general construction of the concept of stakeholders, it is understood in this article that some agents associated specifically with the product can be recognized as stakeholders, especially in cases where these agents are ‘owners of interests’ (in the philosophical sense of interest that understands it as being the manifestation in which a subject seeks a certain element x, if and only if, that x affects or promotes its well-being (Sapontzis 1987)) in the functioning of the system.

In general, little has been discussed about the imbalances of the marketing system related to the product itself, with the focus mainly being on the moral aspects related to the material basis of a consumption performance. We start from the defense that the product as a component of the marketing system may involve agents who receive benefits and sacrifices. However, it is true that agents associated with the product are strongly impaired in the functioning of the exchange systems, such as animal-based marketing systems, animal-based entertainment systems, cowboys and rodeos, and more intensely, the meat-based food consumption system, or simply, the confinement and death of animals for human consumption.

Considering the prominent discussions on food ethics (Kaiser and Algers 2016), the reflections on the product ‘meat’ are related, from the point of view of the consumer, to its hedonic (the pleasure of eating the meat) and nutritional value (the nutritional benefit that the meat has making it necessary for human consumption). On the other hand, the central problem of the use of animal meat to meet this consumption performance lies in the fact that such appropriation of the product is derived from the extirpation of the life of a subject who participates in the system without having any option.

Starting from the assumption of the institutional context of the marketing systems, we affirm that the situation faced by the agents involved in the institutional context of the exchange is positioned against the animals. From the point of view of the animal product, the marketing system is unbalanced because it considers animal life, as well as the materiality resulting from its death, to be a resource operating in favor of a performance to be consumed.

In order to do this, in the following section an argument is constructed in order to expose the level of moral consideration of animals in the food marketing system through an explanation of the approaches of environmental ethics and animal ethics theories, discussing the issues of balance and justice in marketing.

Moral Bases in the Food Marketing System - the Morality of Products of Animal Origin

In the context of the food marketing system, the meat industry is positioned as one of the key agribusiness sectors in Brazil. However, strongly encouraged by human consumption, the food marketing system of this industry was unable to consider the ethical issues that can be addressed in this context of analysis. In this article, the choice was to analyze the most fragile moral subject in this marketing system, since the treatment given to animals in breeding, reproduction, and slaughter violates all limits of moral consideration praised by theories of environmental and animal ethics.

In general, environmental ethics concerns the way in which humans, recognized as moral agents, must live in a state of equivalence with nonhuman beings, including in this scope the natural and humanly constructed environment (Keller 2010). Such conformity is constituted from the idea of human bioempathy and the feeling of benevolence toward nonhuman nature. In a way, this reverberates in the total realization of the intrinsic value (Haught 2010; O’neil 2010) that relates to the identification of an innate attribute that can be valued and the recognition of the sense of existence as an independent assumption of the concept of bioempathy.

In a macro assessment under the scope of environmental ethics, the approach of hierarchical biocentrism proposes to extend moral consideration to nonhuman beings by understanding that all living things have intrinsic value (Ferré 2010). In other words, hierarchical biocentrism understands that there is a gradation of intrinsic value that starts from the being with greater moral consideration (the human being) for other nonhuman beings.

When analyzing the argument of the hierarchical biocentrism approach applied to the conduct of the meat industry, it is possible to affirm that, although its position is anthropomorphic, intensive meat production is not justified by the argument of mental complexity. In this theoretical approach, the intrinsic value would only be reached insofar as the animal obtains moral consideration through the recognition by the human being of its mental capacity. In this way, the meat industry, by supporting its production with the creation and slaughter of large (cattle), medium (pigs), and small animals (poultry and fish), loses moral justification for carrying out its activities, since these animals possess mental capacity (Bermudez 2007; Allen and Bekoff 2007; Burghardt 2009).

The approach of hierarchical biocentrism is considered here to be valid for the analysis presented, since its scope succeeds in covering the farm animals that are used as resources of the food marketing system. However, its argument is incipient over the other alternatives of analysis exposed by environmental ethics, in that it extends the moral consideration of animals beyond the human determination of value.The overcoming of this limited position of hierarchical biocentrism occurs with the rise of the argument of interest advocated by psychocentrism (Regan 2010). This theory goes beyond the perception of the human being as a determining factor of the intrinsic value of nonhuman beings, placing them at the same level of importance for environmental ethics, insofar as it is based on the principle of equal consideration of the interests of these subjects. In fact, psychocentrism starts from the position of the intrinsic value that there is the recognition of an innate attribute, since sentience is characteristic of most of the animals that are used as resources by the meat industry.

As Singer (2006) points out, if animals should have their interests considered, the use of them as a resource operating in the meat industry is totally questionable, as meat consumption becomes more a matter of supplementing food than an effective need. In order to meet this demand for consumption and achieve a higher level of efficiency, the meat industry imprisons sentient animals in conditions of total inadequacy throughout the life of the animal, disregarding any manifestation of suffering, pain, and disturbance.

Regarding this preoccupation with animal behavior, Musschenga (2002) argues for the concern with the development of the natural capacities of an animal, as expressed when living freely for the preservation of the naturalness of its behavior and appearance. Therefore, the attribute of the naturalness and the behavior of an animal can be incorporated in the intrinsic value, serving as a justification for the non-use of animals in the food marketing system. Briefly, this theoretical approach reinforces the perception of animals as beings that must have their intrinsic value recognized regardless of human valuation and the level of mental complexity they manifest. Thus, it covers the central discussion on the theories of animal ethics to be developed in the following section.

The constituent elements of the egalitarian biocentrism approach (Taylor 2010) are also considered here, as this is a broad and complementary approach to hierarchical biocentrism and psychocentrism, recognizing that any living being has intrinsic value regardless of any defined attribute. This means that animals are valued for belonging to the biotic community of Earth. Such an approach reinforces the value of animals in the food marketing system by determining that the natural environment and the humanly constructed environment are biotic communities of the Earth that need to be in balance; i.e. what would only be achieved by the free expression of nature and life of animals. Although this approach is relevant to environmental ethics, this paper chooses to disregard its positioning, since it is understood that the intrinsic value of living beings is developed by their ability to manifest capacity for action in their favor, avoiding suffering and seeking for their well-being.

Analyzing the set of three approaches, and considering the equilibrium perspective in marketing systems, it is observed that the psychocentrism approach provides moral justifications. This approach includes the interest of animals within the natural environment and the humanly constructed environment, which attach intrinsic value to animals of different forms. That happens because of the anthropocentric nature of the environment built by humans, whose unnaturalness reverberates in the moral consideration of animals, implying in the perception of nonhuman beings as agents that provide the materiality of a food performance.

Focusing on the analysis of the theories of animal ethics, hierarchical biocentrism is based on the assumption that the valuation of animals stems from human perception, in reference to the theory of mental complexity (Aaltola 2005), which considers that such an understanding employs the justification of rationality. In general, the theory of mental complexity understands that the intrinsic value gradation of the animal stems from the valuation of an attribute. In this case, the attribute used for moral categorization is the animal’s neurological physiology.

In the debate promoted by Regan’s theory of interests (2010), animals are considered subjects of a life and therefore should have their right to life respected by human beings. Singer (2010) exposes that all animals have an interest in living a pleasant life free of suffering. Based on what is widely known about the practices of the meat industry, the treatment given to animals disregards their fundamental interest in maintaining life. Moreover, the industry is not moved by the manifestations of physical, psychological, and behavioral suffering shown by animals. Their physical and psychological health problems are understood as production problems, that is, they can be solved quickly.

From the point of view of interest, the industry and the consumption of meat infringe upon the moral reasons cited, not only in the treatment given to animals, but in the extreme devaluation of animal life. They are reproduced strictly for the purpose of becoming a product after death and during this process both producers and consumers ignore their sensitivity. The consumers acquire the hedonic and nutritional performance of the product by not recognizing the intrinsic value that the animals develop; that is, by not understanding that animals have vital and natural interests that must be considered. This theory reaches the argumentative amplitude that reinforces the moral vice of the food marketing system.

Irvin (2004) argues that the search for the realization of the interests of animals, manifested by the ability to satisfy their needs, exposes the contextual imposition on the moral consideration of these subjects. In this sense, if the food marketing system is observed from the perspective of the contextual theory, the application of the instrumental value to the animals involved is apparent (Aaltola 2005). However, the intrinsic value of animals in this system can be considered when raising the debate about the bases of the contextual theory.

The first basis refers to the guarantee of well-being and equality for the definition of the moral status of animals. This is not the case in the meat industry because, as has already been reported, concerns about animal well-being often lead to loss of efficiency and productivity for the industry. The second basis regards the principle of practicality, whose idea of feasible action makes it possible to question the food marketing system in relation to industry and consumption.

With the expansion of the attributes for the consideration of the intrinsic value of the animals in the food marketing system, the meat industry is questioned by the multi-criteria theory, which proclaims the existence of two levels of moral consideration: the individual and the collective. At the individual level, non-human beings have their attributes considered in terms of their ability to express their nature, to avoid suffering, to seek the satisfaction of their needs, and, above all, to expose awareness of the context. In the collective context, the nonhuman beings would reach consideration through the argument for the intrinsic value of the species. According to the two routes identified, multi-criteria theory would refute the conduct of the food marketing system, since animals as individual subjects of a species must have their morality assured by the recognition that the product from this system subjugates a set of beings to the logic of efficiency, curtailing their nature, freedom, and their elemental interest in staying alive.

In parallel with the construction of the equilibrium concept of marketing systems, it is observed that theories of animal ethics foster discussion about the use of animals as a natural resource available to humans. When considering the view of the multiple attributes constructed by these theories for the moral definition, it is understood that the animals used in the material base for the meat industry are sentient beings and endowed with sufficient mental complexity to suffer physically and psychologically. This fact distorts the contextual need of animals as food in face of the nutritional options offered by other products.

In fact, it is possible to recognize that the meat industry adopts a set of resources and processes that can be adapted for the agricultural production or directed to meet the needs of a new profile of consumption. Thus, regardless of the theoretical argument, the food marketing system does not sustain itself morally.

At first, it is observed that in a contextualization of the concept of equilibrium, the idea of justice is shown as the starting point for the analysis of food marketing systems by advocating that this idea originates from the combination of interests among those involved. It is assumed here that a balanced marketing system is one that seeks to meet the interests of all stakeholders involved, prioritizing the efficiency of the system and reducing externalities for the other subjects.

To a certain extent, the definition of equilibrium in marketing systems, especially the one related to food, starts from an anthropocentric analysis perspective, which is observed when the role of direct and indirect agents in the marketing system is analyzed from the perspective of human action. However, this limitation does not revoke the analysis of the moral role of agents in the food marketing system, since the discussion is centered on the morality of the product, whose structuring element is animal life.

A balanced marketing system is one that equally distributes the benefits and costs obtained in the exchange processes. The food marketing system is unbalanced for a stakeholder who has limited neurological and language abilities but should not be morally disregarded. With regard to the sacrifices of these stakeholders in the food marketing system, the first to be mentioned is the donation of animal life as material basis to a consumption performance that could exist without its life being used for this purpose. The second concerns the cruel human treatment of animals in the meat industry. Then, there is the subjugation of the interest of the animals to a consumption that is unnatural given the historical construction that legitimized this human conduct, which is nutritionally unjustified given the alternatives of consumption.

As Lekan (2004) points out, the approach to justice in animal ethics holds that the unfair treatment given to animals in the meat industry is a primary moral error because it demonstrates that the current attitudes of humans towards them are incompatible with moral impartial principles. In this way, consideration of interest as a presupposition refers directly to Singer’s argument in the justification that animals are beings that have an interest in life that is neglected by the industry and meat consumption. Moreover, the fair combination of interests among the agents of the food marketing system disregards the elements that violate the morality of the well-being and expression of animal nature.

To discuss the composition of the food marketing system, the relation between the agents and the morality of the product of animal origin is now presented. The first agents of the food marketing system are the suppliers represented by the meat industry. In fact, the moral conduct adopted by these agents, despite prioritizing the maximization of efficiency in the elaboration of their offerings, is not consistent with the rise of animal well-being issues referred to by Rollin (2011).

From this perspective, the conduct of the meat industry unbalances the food marketing system, as it generates losses for the demanding agents, such as high prices and the insertion of chemical and pharmaceutical products in the feeding of the animals to reach greater productivity. At this point, the meat industry reflects more seriously the externalities in the product itself, whose morality has been violated since the birth of the material base, given the conditions of life and death that these animals are subjected to when inserted in that context.

In addition, stamps and certificates, although derived by a consumption movement concerned with the treatment of animals in the meat industry, are open to questioning because well-being issues should be met according to the animal’s interests rather than the consumer’s interests. In the food marketing system, the consumer is the agent with the greatest power in society to demand new products or hedonic alternatives that overcome the moral bias in animal treatment. However, it is observed in the market that these alternatives are scarcely offered to the consumer, in addition to having a set of food options that, admittedly, do not resemble the historically constructed flavor.

Meat is a category of food product that cannot be justified by the validity of good morality in a balanced marketing system, both by the Cartesian perception of farm animals and, essentially, by the non-necessity of such consumption for human survival. In addition, the dominant logic of services reinforces that the material basis is only the means of a performance (Vargo and Lusch 2004), so that animal materiality is not, in principle, necessary.

Thus, the promotion of an awareness of the intrinsic value of animals and the attributes that justify such sentience, physical and psychological suffering, as well as the restriction of their nature, is one of the possible alternatives to foster the understanding of the moral bias of meat consumption. It is a fact that the isolated use of awareness is not enough, since the actions carried out by social organizations that defend the animal cause, despite having a strong political and social influence, cannot promote a new consumption attitude.

With regard to the indirect agents of the food marketing system, the State appears to be one of the institutions capable of raising awareness about the morality of the product of animal origin. Paarlberg (2010) points out that, although there is a State interest in morally considering the animals involved in this system, there is also a strong political and social structure that reinforces the consumption of meat and provides subsidies to farmers.

Conversely, the change in the State perspective in favor of the morality of animals occurs due to the pressures caused by movements in society. In this way, society is recognized as an indirect agent in the food marketing system. There is a movement in favor of recognizing the attributes of animals as suffering and well-being and the reduction of meat consumption by means of good morality and human health.

Finally, the discussion of product morality in the food marketing system permeated the arguments of direct and indirect agents, and it is necessary to emphasize the moral value of the product originated from animal life. In fact, it is recognized that the product is a stakeholder of the food marketing system that generates imbalance due to the non-moral consideration of its material base, as its central position assures the performance required by meat consumers and guarantees the longevity of the agricultural production chain.

Considering this, in the following section, an argument that reveals the alternatives of performance and consumption that morally consider the animals in the food marketing system is developed.

Practices of Emancipatory Consumption - the Ethical Performance of Alternative Hedonism

This section follows the epistemological positioning of macromarketing and focuses on the elaboration of debate for the operation of the food marketing system through the evaluation of the consumption alternatives.

The food marketing system is unbalanced by the moral disregard of animals, as they are seen as the material base of the meat industry and also as agents who experience negative externalities arising from this system. Analyzing this interpretation in light of Layton’s (2011) understanding, every marketing system is influenced by a priori knowledge shared among the subjects that compose it. From this, it is possible to understand that a positive value has been historically institutionalized around the taste of the meat that enabled the hedonism of the palate, leading, therefore, to the non-questioning of the society about the moral consideration of the animals involved in the food marketing system.

In the macromarketing sphere, issues related to sustainable food consumption alternatives reach a wider range of discussion (Carlsson-kanyama and González 2009), since health researchers identify the need to maintain diets based on vegetables (or on vegetarianism). The vegetarian diet has become increasingly popular, with its growth related to the greater availability of products without meat, improved awareness of healthy eating, and also discussions regarding animal treatment issues (Fox and Ward 2008; Degrazia 2009).

Within the scope of sustainable alternative diets, there is a discussion emerging on diets based on vegetables (related to flexitarian behavior), which value the gradual reduction of animal products to the level of total elimination. A diet based on vegetables can be defined by the presence of fresh and few processed foods, and also by the reduction or elimination of the consumption of meat and its derivatives (Lea et al. 2006a; Ruby 2012).

These food consumption patterns that emphasize increased consumption of plant foods are increasingly being recognized by society as important to human health, sustainability, and animal well-being (Lea et al. 2006b). The macromarketing perspective has advanced towards the analysis of the impact of cultural and social elements of sustainable alternative diets in the food marketing system. Beverland (2014), for example, identifies a set of dimensions that shape the food marketing system and influence the adoption of sustainable alternative diets (diets based on vegetables or vegetarian), such as: human health, environmental sustainability, identity, institutional factors, and morality.

The first dimension of discussion of alternative diets in the food marketing system concerns human health. Diets based on meat are being questioned in terms of its need for human survival, since several studies have proven that this consumption can be harmful to human well-being Harvard Medical School (2014). According to (Lea et al. 2006a, b), people who have already adhered to the vegetarian diet have lower body mass indexes, lower cholesterol levels, and lower rates of death from heart problems, and are healthier in all age groups (Fox and Ward 2008). The second dimension relates to the perspective of sustainability. In a way, the vegetarian diet makes the reduction of pollution, the minimization of climate change, and less extinctions of species possible, since livestock stands out as the activity that causes the greatest emission of greenhouse gases (Raphaely and Marinova 2014).

The third dimension refers to the aspects of identity, since food consumption practices reflect a set of implications for the adoption of the vegetarian diet. Fox and Ward (2008) argue that diet and identity are mutually constitutive, as both are derived and influenced by dietary choices. Fiddes (1994) points out that the consumption of meat is strongly related to what makes us human, as hunting and the ability to dominate animals allowed us to exercise sovereign control over nature.

The fourth path of discussion Beverland (2014) proposes is the institutional factors (including organizations, practices, and beliefs that affect vegetable-based diets). For the author, the institutional force with the greatest impact is the economic one. According to a preliminary assessment, it is possible to state that the vegetarian diet is cheaper for consumers and generates fewer costs for state organizations, such as through the reduction in health costs and of externalities related to the production and consumption of meat.

Undoubtedly, under the rational economic argument, the vegetarian diet is justified, since agricultural production is cheaper to produce and achieves a higher level of sustainability (Broom 2010; Becvarova 2005). In addition, aspects related to meat production have been questioned, since vegetables and cereals are the food base of farm animals, which could be redirection of agricultural production to vegetarian diets could solve some of the problems of hunger and malnutrition (Philips 2005; Craig 2010).

The last sphere of discussion regarding the vegetarian diet deals with the morality of not eating meat. From a perspective of anthropocentric analysis on sustainability, Beverland (2010) points out that, in the context of macromarketing, some moral arguments are relevant, such as: sustainable management of poverty, socioeconomic development, rights, and animal well-being. In the current scenario, concerns about equity and social justice have generated a reaction in favor of the dissemination of diets based on vegetables, given that the food crises in recent years have been driven by the increase in meat consumption (Miele and Evans 2010).

The sphere of moral arguments of the vegetarian diet that concerns us is related to the issues of animal well-being, in particular the moral consideration of animals in the food marketing system (Degrazia 2009). Beverland (2010) discusses a number of moral arguments that justify adherence to the vegetarian diet, including major concerns about issues involving loss of species, destruction of the natural environment, cruelty of animal breeding, animal rights, ethology, and religious elements. However, his approach is limited because he disregards the sentience and the manifestation of suffering as the essence of the morality argument for animals.

Such actions would indeed trigger a new food reconfiguration by moving people toward a broader morality that would include animals on the same level of moral consideration as human beings. That is, it is often emphasized how animals are similar to humans in terms of showing affection, well-being, and avoidance of suffering, in order to argue that our moral responsibilities to animals are similar to our responsibilities to other humans. However, when the moral consideration of the animals reaches a historically legitimized hedonism, the posture contrary to the sentience of animals reappears and negatively impacts the adherence of vegetable-based diets (Dombrowski 2004).

From a moral perspective, Rachels (2004) argues that vegetarianism is based on two simplistic arguments: animal suffering and the unjustified hedonism of meat consumption. The first argument refers to the principle that it is wrong to cause pain unless there is good reason to justify it, so the suffering of farm animals cannot justify the negative externalities that their creation, production, and slaughter generate for the environment, human health and, especially, for the animals themselves. The second argument raises a reflection on the possibility of not eating meat; the morality of the issue lies in the hedonism that the taste of the meat provides to humans and this is not a good reason to justify the suffering of animals included as base material of the food industry (Dombrowski 2004). Based on this construction, the hedonism of the meat consumption is considered to be superfluous and the modus operandi of the meat industry unjustified.

In this sense, vegetarianism and the various manifestations of vegetable-based diets appear to be hedonically viable. Thus, the pure vegetarian and the vegan are put as the highest forms of moral consideration by the complete exclusion of animal products in their diet, although it is possible to exercise minor forms of moral consideration, since the flexitarian diet and the other manifestations of vegetarianism seek to minimize most consumption that causes suffering to animals (Dombrowski 2004).

Contrary to this understanding, the dietary behavior of the vegetable-based diet appears to be nutritionally adequate, since the nutrients that make up meat are easily identified in foods of plant origin. Over the past 50 years, the vegetarian diet has reached the highest number of adherents worldwide. Estimates show that about 2 to 3% of the Western population is vegetarian (and Rideout, 2004). However, the breadth of the vegetarian diet does not seem to reach a larger number of consumers because of the beliefs that permeate its nutritional character. According to Philips (2005), the understanding of being vegetarian does not only mean a set of food choices, but also encompasses a system of beliefs and behaviors that permeate this whole lifestyle.

Beverland (2010) states that there is an association built in Western society that meat is the only source of high quality iron and zinc and that milk is what keeps the bones of the human body resistant. Vegetable-based diets are still negative stigmatized in terms of their perceived lack of protein and other nutrients needed to maintain human health, which are reinforced by health professionals as well as by the meat industry.

To the same extent, Philips (2005) states that, given the range of dietary practices that comprise vegetarianism, vegetarian diets should be evaluated for nutrient intake, as they are characterized by the considerable amount of folates, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and carotenoids. Obviously, a vegetarian diet generally provides a low intake of saturated fat and cholesterol and a high intake of dietary fiber and many phytochemicals that promote health (Craig 2010).

In this way, the major nutrients that demand the highest level of concern in the diet of vegetarians include vitamin B12, vitamin D, fatty acids, calcium, iron, and zinc (Craig 2010). However, there are strategies developed by nutritionists who can provide such nutrients without the need to ingest products based on animal material, the result of which is achieved by increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and soy products.

In this perspective, Philips (2005) points out that there is no reason to suggest that the energy necessary for the proper functioning of the human body is compromised by the vegetarian diet, as foods of vegetable origin (such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and foods like sweets, cakes, and biscuits) provide the amount of daily energy similar to products of animal origin. That is, diet has no impact on the human body’s ability to produce work on a daily basis.

Craig (2010) discusses the composition of the vegetarian diet and defines a set of strategies to address the absence of the macronutrients and micronutrients that make up the meat. As far as macronutrients are concerned, protein emerges as the main generator of questioning by vegetarians. In this context, the protein in the vegetarian diet can be replenished through cereals, vegetables, and grains. Although the intake rate tends to be somewhat lower than omnivores, it is considered to be sufficient to maintain nutritional balance in healthy adults. As pointed out by Philips (2005), the trend is that, for vegetarians, vegetable protein intake still meets the requirements, and even in vegan diets, protein supplies rarely fall below 10% of the human body. That is, the argument in favor of vegetarian nutrition lies in the understanding that most of the vegetable proteins, especially soy protein, contain a sufficient level of amino acids to be considered a complete protein.

This construction of the nutritional aspects that characterize the vegetarian diet validates as the consumption of meat becomes nutritionally unjustified in the face of alternatives of nutritional composition of vegetable origin. That is to say, it seems unjustifiable to argue in favor of maintaining the consumption of meat through the nutritional route, since the adoption of vegetable-based diets can contribute to the maintenance of healthier standards of food consumption. Thus, regardless of the reason the individual is to become a vegetarian, what is fundamental is that vegetarian diets meet human needs while at the same time morally considers the animals that are the material basis of food performance in the marketing system.

According to what has been reported previously, the vegetarian behavior seems feasible through adapting diets to the limitations of the food marketing system. On the other hand, it seems that the food marketing system does adequately offer hedonism both for vegetarians and for the migration of meat consumers. It is a fact; there is an opening for products that seek to replace meat in nutritional and hedonic terms. While there is resistance from meat consumers to the taste of substitute products, it is possible to recognize that there is a lack of quality in the offerings that are aimed at developing products that achieve similarity with meat.

There are substitutes in the food marketing system that are often used as nutritional supplements for individuals who have stopped eating meat, such as soy and its derivatives. It is a fact that soy-based substitute products provide proteins suited to human needs, even though their appearance and taste are not appreciated by consumers and vegetarians. Obviously, food processing technologies make it possible to produce abundant vegetable substitute proteins, which, through the texturing process, become more palatable.

Solbar (2011) points out that there has been an evolution in the processing of soy-based vegetable proteins in order to create products such as tempeh, seitan, and tofu. Although there is no proximity to the taste or the appearance of the meat, there is the chewing characteristic similar to that required by meat, besides the high quality protein. However, the improvements in sensory quality and practical functionality of vegetarians still do not equal the hedonism provided by meat, as the consumers of this product analyze it by its appetizing texture, structure, taste, and appearance.

Hopkins and Dacey (2008) argue for the possibility of developing products with genuine characteristics of meat while at the same time not causing any suffering to the animals or their slaughter. That is, this perspective seems to solve the moral dilemma of meat consumers in hedonic terms. The authors report the possibility of producing the characteristics of meat through biotechnology using the method that could be called “meat culture” or “synthetic meat”, which can be understood from the point of view of carniculture (a term that refers to the agricultural culture, but that in this approach would reach the laboratory perspective).

Although reported succinctly, the technologies described expose possibilities for change in the food marketing system, while emphasizing the issue of current substitute products that are able to meet only the nutritional demands (Edwards and Shultz II 2005). However, with the increase in vegetarian demand, it is necessary for the industry to reorganize itself in operational and economic terms, aiming to provide offerings that reach and promote the behavioral transformation in favor of the moral consideration of animals through vegetarianism.

Final Considerations

The objective of this article was to evaluate the extent to which the balance of food marketing systems is corrupted by the use of the material base of animal origin in their products. A discussion of the balance in the marketing systems was presented to describe moral disregard of animals in the food marketing system, in terms of the point at which animals are understood as individual subjects with intrinsic value that must be assured by the consideration of these rights by human beings.

Therefore, the imbalance of the food marketing system is due to the negligence of the neurological capacities of animals, which receive the greater externalities of this system by donating life and, before that, having to be born and raised in situations of suffering and cruel treatment. The consumption of meat is morally questionable because it subjects the interest of the animals to the logic of the efficiency of the meat industry.

In the face of the presupposition of practical ethics, whose focus is the analysis of the morality of practical questions, the proposition of actions that allow alternatives for moral consideration of animals was elaborated. Thus, the moral consideration of animals is made possible by the paradigmatic change of consumers who understand that animals are beings that hold a high level of moral relevance to human food needs. From a discussion of the theories of environmental ethics and animal ethics, it is understood that the moral consideration of animals and the maintenance of balance in the food marketing system depends on a change in the dietary consumption behavior of individuals, which occurs through the process of delegitimizing an animal-based food performance.

With the exposition of this theoretical analysis, it was necessary to recognize that the viability of a balance of the food marketing system stems from the process of awareness and moralization of food consumption that subjugates animal life to human interests. That is to say, it is fundamental to promote the practices of the meat industry while offering viable alternatives of food that favor the moral consideration of the animals. In general, meat consumption, for Singer (2006), shows the ethical impact of the neglect of the social subject and the cruel practices adopted by the meat industry in the treatment of animals. In a pragmatic way, this would be truly significant if animal law theory reached a threshold beyond moralization, with the consequent consideration of the animals’ rights.

In addition, a theoretical construction that analyzed the use of animals as the material basis of a performance was carried out. In this regard, there was a focus on analyzing the food marketing system and its manifestations in terms of industry and meat consumption. In addition, future discussions of the concept of equilibrium in food marketing systems may include other theoretical approaches and empirical surveys that go beyond the application of the theory of justice, stakeholders, and externalities.


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Author Stephanie Ingrid Souza Barboza declares that she has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Applied Social Sciences and Postgraduate Program in Public and International AdministrationFederal University of ParaíbaBananeirasBrazil

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