Eating Flesh: How Do We Frame The Question?

A much-discussed report from AT Kearney suggests "it is only a matter of time before meat replacements capture a substantial market share." 

Already the frame is a problem. The category "meat replacements" conflates meaty plants with lab-grown animal-cell flesh. One is...plants. The other is...animals.

In any case, conventional meat will purportedly be "falling from 90% of the market to just 40 percent over 15 years."  

This is largely due to growth in a human population that aspires to an animal-heavy diet, observant advocates are noting, so the slaughter rate is unlikely to change much.

Still, if flesh eating stands to double, yet alternatives keep the slaughtered number the same as today that is a pretty big deal, numerically. 

The question is what is the best "replacement" to promote. Of course it would be jackfruit and the like – not cells taken from living animals. 

This Is an Emergency.

Research published in Nature looked at population growth combined with the rate of consumption among the financially affluent of flesh and processed foods.

Lead author Marco Springmann, of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food at Oxford, predicts the environmental stress involved could increase 90% over the coming three decades, "exceeding key planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity beyond which Earth's vital ecosystems could become unstable."

Could Lab Meat Have a Mitigating Effect? 

Not much of one, probably, given all the fluids, light, heat, it will need to grow etc.  

Still, it's hard to believe, for example, that lab meat wouldn't beat out cattle farming in the deforestation crisis. 

For lowering animal ag energy inputs, the UN recommends intensive farming. Lab farming would be the ultimate intensification.

Big sigh.

So, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that lab-grown flesh could have some climate change mitigation value. In such a case, let's grant that the promoters have an environmentally correct point. 

OK. But hold the phone.

Springmann says: "If the whole world, which continues to grow, eats more like us, the impacts are staggering, and the planet simply can't withstand it."

OK, so the argument for lab meat (and dairy? And sea life? What else, foie gras? You know, this is still going to add up to a lot of animals being “grown” for cells and they are frikking vivisecting Chinese hamsters to create prototypes so there is no way vegans can be for this) comes down to this:

Hey, look! We have to do this tech startup food disruption thing. It's a solution to our big pain point: global warming!

Because now there are 7+ billion of us, all aspiring to the Western diet, and we are at the boundaries but hey we've got a fix here! 

That’s not a very inspirational argument, and it isn’t going to work out, ultimately. We don't need laboratory solutions for this. We need a collective mindset shift.

We Need to Put the Energy Behind Vegan Organics.

Because, you know, processed, plastic-packaged faux flesh and dairy products? We vegans, too, have to get down to questions of population and containers and shipping and consumption volumes. And back to why the vegan-organic movement has better concepts, or at least forces us to pause and slow down.

And most important of all, vegan organic does seek a human role in, not on top of, a biological community. I believe that is the true paradigm shift and nothing less.

The idea that we can keep mitigating our impact and not change it at the roots is surely ill-fated. We’ll just keep chasing after “solutions” without ever realizing that what’s generating the stream of problems hasn’t budged. And we’ll still be pushing as far as we think we can at those boundaries and beyond them, consuming as much as we can. This month, just seven months into 2019, we’ll have nearly used up the level of resources that the Earth needs a whole year to produce.

I think we need to have the moral fortitude to call this as we see it. Just as we have the moral fortitude to call ourselves vegans.

I think we have to say that as long as our self-bestowed right to dominate other animal life is unchallenged, we are fated to run our bio-community past the point at which “Earth's vital ecosystems could become unstable." In contrast, if we acknowledge ourselves as a part of that community, not entitled to it, we could unravel whatever damage is possible to undo.

Lab Meat Perpetuates an Immature Worldview. 

A respectful humanity would have the bravery to ditch the dominator identity, forget waiting for food authorities’ fixes, and support direct food crops for people.

If purveyors of lab meat are winning arguments, it's because, well, the human population growth is outrunning the growth of veganism—which is exactly why this has to be a true paradigm shift, not a race. 

And I think we need for people to consider that assuming the lab proponents right and lab meat can stop us from running Earth into the ground in the next 30 years, still, in a profound, enduring sense, we are not addressing climate meltdown or mass extinctions unless we are prepared to shed the dominator paradigm.

After all, no one who promotes lab meat seems to be doing it to save the bio-community, let alone to respect it. So this is a matter of question framing. And I think we need to lay out what the questions are.

We are called on, in my opinion, to promote unequivocal veganism. It is not acceptable to have the slaughterhouses working at the same rate in 30 years as today – or at all. The real issue, I think, is: Have we shifted our mindset? 

Jackfruit can do it. Beans, lentils, and peas can do it. Continued domestication and cell-snatching cannot.  


Photos by Mika Baumeister and Matt Palmer via Unsplash.

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