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Navigating the Future of Meat: Report from a collaborative workshop at SLU

Published: 16 February 2024
Workshop participants discussing. In the background a roll-up for the podcast Meat: the Four Futures.

In January, SLU Future Food, in collaboration with the Student Union and TABLE, hosted an inclusive workshop to discuss and engage in the often polarised issue of the future of meat.  With a diverse array of perspectives, beliefs, and backgrounds in attendance, participants were encouraged to share their values and engage in self-reflection, with the aim to navigate complex discussions constructively rather than divisively.

The venue for the workshop, Loftet, hosted a balanced mix of staff and students, all equally eager to engage with the complex and often polarizing issue of defining a 'good' future for meat and livestock in Sweden.

What Made This Workshop Different?

The future of meat is a hot topic in many forums, but our approach was far from typical. We welcomed all viewpoints into the conversation – from vegans advocating for fewer animals in our food system to livestock farmers. From those who view meat as tasty and essential nutrition, to those who are deeply concerned about its environmental impacts.

Recognizing the depth of this issue, our aim wasn't to find consensus on the "meat issue" within just three hours. Instead, we focused on fostering constructive conversations. We first took the pulse of the room by understanding people’s reactions to different statements such as "It’s unethical to eat animals when alternatives exist” and “Eating some meat is essential to human health." These varied statements, and varied responses, highlighted the different ways in which individuals weigh the importance of health, ethics, economy, climate change, and biodiversity in their desired futures.

Rather than advocating completely for or against meat consumption, we explored different perspectives: Should meat be more expensive in Sweden? Is meat a natural part of a healthy diet? What are your hopes and fears surrounding lab-grown meat? Despite differing views, participants listened to unfamiliar perspectives. We asked participants to reflect on whether it was values or evidence that shaped their own and others’ beliefs.

What Comes Next?

The "Future of Meat" workshop at SLU not only facilitated a meaningful exchange of ideas but also underscored the importance of ongoing dialogue and inter-disciplinary cooperation in tackling food system challenges. As we navigate the shifting landscapes of diet, culture, and agriculture, such initiatives play a vital role in shaping a more informed, compassionate, and sustainable food future.

Workshop feedback highlighted a strong appetite for these discussions, appreciating the dialogue between staff and students. One participant remarked, "Hearing the counter-argument to my own thoughts was helpful; things aren't simply black or white but rather complex shades of grey." Although views may not have shifted dramatically, many left with the understanding that, as someone shared, "recognizing different perspectives is essential for real change.”

Insights from the project in new report

The SLU Future Food report Exploring the future of meat: Navigating complex topics for better decision making published in January 2024 draws on insights gleaned from putting together the project "The future of meat – storytelling and dialogues for improved decision making" from 2021-2023, integrating lessons from expert interviews, podcast production, and facilitated workshops.

Download the report

Text: Matthew Kessler


This workshop was part of the Formas funded projected The future of meat - storytelling and dialogues for improved decision making, initiated by SLU Future Food in coordination with TABLE. The project delivered a summary report called Navigating complex topics for better decision making, a quiz to reflect on what future scenario for meat your values align you with, and a 9-episode podcast series.

TABLE is a food systems platform that sets out the evidence, assumptions and values that people bring to debates and discussions about resilient and sustainable food futures. We explore the data, the biases and the beliefs behind those debates in order to support better dialogue, decision making and action. Table is a collaboration between the University of Oxford, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Wageningen University and Research, Universidad de los Andes, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Cornell CALS.