The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

A study of meat-eating

Joint Research Coordinator NOBAYASHI Atsushi

Reserch Theme List


meat-eating, food culture, animal liberation


The objective of this research is to focus on meat-eating as one of the elements in human food consumption, to examine the relationship between ecological adaptation and cultural status, and to explore the changing character of meat-eating in today’s consumer culture, including possible future trends. During human evolution, both meat and vegetables have been part of ecological adaptions, and their consumption has been shaped by cultural behavior reflecting social status. The use of meat for redistribution, sharing, and sacrifice, together with taboos and rules surrounding meat, all point to important social functions clarified by anthropology. Since the industrialization of the production and distribution of meat in the second half of the 20th century, meat-eating has become everyday in societies with advanced economies. Meanwhile, scenes of taking meat from animals have faded from everyday life. This is the social context in which, in Europe in particular, ethical movements exemplified by “Animal Liberation” have spurred a growing debate over animal rights and whether meat should be eaten at all. Most of this debate has, however, been framed by utilitarianism and duty discourses. The distinctive relationships between humans and animals in different societies and cultural traditions have not received the attention they deserve. Besides clarifying the tangled web of issues related to meat-eating, this research will also consider the proper role of meat in today’s global consumer society. It will also aim to bring a fresh viewpoint to the relationship between humanity and animals.