Eating Out Ethically: An Analysis of the Influence of Ethical Food Consumption in a Vegetarian Restaurant in Guangzhou, China

EATING OUT ETHICALLY: AN ANALYSIS OF THE INFLUENCE OF ETHICAL FOOD CONSUMPTION IN A VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT IN GUANGZHOU, CHINA

Geographical Review 105(4)

Chen Liu, Xiaomei Cai, Hong Zhu

 

American Geographical Society: What is the main purpose of your study?

Chen Liu: The main purpose of this study is to explore how vegetarian consumption in contemporary Guangzhou is engaged into the day-to-day ethical eating in restaurants. Questions of how restaurants create ethics for vegetarian eating, and how the consumers reproduce such ethics and  reshape the restaurant spaces have been discussed.

American Geographical Society: What are the practical, day to day implications of your study?

Chen Liu: The principle practical implication of this study is that people could shape their living environment and everyday spaces morally and ethically through eating. Also, this study implies that everyday practices (such as eating in this research) place pivotal roles in making meanings of urban spaces. 

American Geographical Society: How does your study relate to other work on the subject?

Chen Liu: This study develops the wider literatures on the connections between ethical eating, social identity and place. As indicated by previous studies, all of the locations of retailers who are selling ethical products; geographically based food and consumption cultures; and the diversity of classes in different place-specific consumer cultures should be focused by geographers. This study echoes these foci through an analysis of the producing of ethics by both the restaurant and the ethical consumers and its intersection of the doings of social relations and identities. We have discussed how place matters when the production and consumption occur in the same space.
In addition, this study has filled the lacuna of ethical eating research in China’s context. Although ethical consumption is a frequent discussed topic in China, rare studies have paid attention to how ordinary people create their ethics in the day-to-day life in contemporary China. For filling this gap, this research use the example of the ethical eating in a vegetarian restaurant to examine the daily use of ethics in consumption within the socio-cultural contexts of urban China.

American Geographical Society: What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?

Chen Liu: The main findings of this study suggest that the vegetarian restaurant can be constructed as an ethical food space through two paths: the restaurant can provide an ethical environment for vegetarian eating, and generates ethics among the humans encountered during their eating experiences; likewise, the restaurant is shaped and reshaped as an ethical food space through the expression of the consumers’ social identities and “self-other” relations. Moreover, the practice of ethical eating in the restaurant are embedded into the politics of care, which, in return, are influenced by the ideologies of vegetarianism in China, the mingling of traditional and modern, and the connection between Eastern religious concepts and Western environmental/animal-welfare ideas.

American Geographical Society: What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?

Chen Liu: As this study has focused on the practices of ethical eating in a vegetarian restaurant, it might be read as a contribution to the wider literature on the practice of ethical food consumption. The key theoretical implication of this study, thus, is highlighting the role of practice in the academic works on consumption.

American Geographical Society: How does your research help us think about Geography?

Chen Liu: This research help us rethink the ideas of place and distance. For the idea of place, this study confirms that the meanings of place are not only created by the builder (for this research, the owner and organizer of the restaurant), but also constructed and re-constructed by the encounters in place (for this research, the consumers). For the idea of distance, this study demonstrates that the dichotomy of geographical distance/proximity should be taken into consideration when geographers talk about caring.

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