Hidden in Plain Sight: How Industry, Mass Media, and Consumers’ Everyday Habits Suppress Food Controversies

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In this article, I develop the concept of ‘suppressive synergy’ to explain how meat products retain their everyday legitimacy amongst consumers despite the controversies which surround these products. While sociologists have offered various explanations for and solutions to contemporary food controversies, absent from this literature is a more integrated explanation as to how industry, mass media, and consumers’ everyday habits reciprocally limit the public's engagement with these arguments. I investigated this empirically elusive phenomenon by conducting six focus groups plus follow-up interviews with urban meat consumers in the US and a content analysis of meat-related articles in the New York Times (1983–2011). Findings indicate that suppressive synergy occurs on both spatial-temporal and cognitive-affective dimensions. The meat and livestock industry enchants consumers with ornate products while sequestering production facilities in remote areas. Consumers, resistant to abandon their everyday habits and the cultural imperative of meat consumption, routinely avoid and dissociate themselves from meat-related controversies. The mass media further normalises meat culture by infrequently covering these debates. This only reinforces public indifference, as the dearth of controversial stories bolsters the cultural presupposition that meat consumption is a generally benign activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)791-815
Number of pages25
JournalSociologia Ruralis
StatePublished - Dec 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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