Issue 9: Nutrition transition and animal-source foods consumption

August 1, 2021

A number of developing countries are experiencing nutrition transition. This term refers to "the significant dietary, lifestyle, and epidemiological shifts that occur as global incomes rise. . . . driven by globalization, trade, urbanization, and consumer preference". This issue of Academic Studies Without Tears gives examples of nutrition transition and meatification in different regions of the world, from Africa, Latin America, to Asia. LEARN MORE

A key characteristic of nutrition transition is the shift from carbohydrates-rich staples (e.g. cereals, roots, tubers) to foods derived from animals. Nutrition transition therefore provides a framework and lens through which advocates can view the increase in animal-source foods consumption in developing countries, and consider questions relevant to their core assumptions and actions.

Question one:

  • Why are people in developing countries consuming more animal-source foods? Is it a simple, linear case of A (e.g. more money in people's pockets) leads to B (e.g. more money spent on meat)?
  • Studies based on the nutrition transition concept serve up plenty of "facts on the ground" that point to the complexity involved in changes to dietary patterns. In view of these multiple dimensions, is it wise for advocates to assume that in order to depress the demand for animal-source foods in these countries, providing consumers with tasty, reasonably-priced alternative protein sources and encouraging them to go vegan is sufficient, and there is no need to pay attention to any of the strands woven tightly into the nutrition transition fabric (e.g. government policies, trade liberalization, supermarketization, food choice environment, socio-cultural considerations, global food systems)?

Question two:

  • What is nutrition transition's linkage to the rise in large-scale production of food animals in countries experiencing nutrition transition and in places that export to these countries?
  • According to the current understanding of how nutrition transition works and gets going, the dietary shift owes a lot to supply-side factors, including plenty more animal-source foods being produced and made readily accessible to consumers. How does this understanding fit in with the reason often given by advocates that it is primarily heightened consumer demand for animal-source foods that causes the rise in large-scale farms?
  • Can the main weapon currently deployed by advocates to try to defeat factory farming — namely, reducing developing countries' consumer demand for animal-source foods — make a huge difference in curbing industrial animal agriculture, when evidence from nutrition transition research indicates that the jump in animal-source foods consumption in these countries is more of a corollary and response to instead of the root cause of the mass production of such foods and farmed animals?
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