Researcher Moos Koning (Consumption and Healthy Lifestyles) wants to find out what role meat plays in traditional festive meals. Given the time of year, he is focusing on Christmas dinner. Participants in his Living Lab give the researchers a glimpse of their daily lives, for example by sharing screenshots of family chat sessions.
‘I trained as an ethnologist,’ says Koning. ‘Ethnologists have long studied our everyday lives but also how we celebrate festivals. I am doing the same, but through the lens of sustainability, health and political polarization. The research project I’m working on at the moment is about the role of meat during festive occasions.’
Koning is working on his one-year research project with another researcher from the Cultural Heritage research group at the Reinwardt Academy, Amsterdam University of the Arts. They started this summer by studying barbecues and now the focus is on Christmas meals. ‘The Reinwardt Academy mainly looks at heritage. The Christmas dinner is a combination of culinary, family and cultural heritage,’ explains Koning.
Koning is using a Living Lab approach for his research. The students taking part in the study send him screenshots of app chats with family members. ‘We want to learn from them how they decide on the Christmas dinner. Where and when does the discussion start and what activities, aspects and factors play a role in that decision?’
‘Meat consumption is not always an individual choice,’ explains Koning. ‘When people get together for a meal, the choice of whether to eat meat has often already been made for us. In some families, long-standing traditions are a determining factor in the Christmas dinner whereas others take a different approach every year. The fact remains that about 80 per cent of Christmas dinners include meat. That can — and should — change.’
‘We are asking students to suggest a change to their families and then share the responses with us. Such a change could be a proposal to have a vegetarian Christmas dinner, or share a recipe for Beet Wellington with your family if they always eat Beef Wellington. Or you could make the meat part of the Christmas dinner more special by not eating meat in the run-up to Christmas, for example.’
Koning hopes he will be able to use the input the participants share with him to draw conclusions about the role of meat in our Christmas dinners and in particular why and how people stick to the tradition of eating meat during festive occasions. He will use that information to look for pointers on making current traditions more sustainable.