Can meat eaters also be environmentalists?
For years, the arguments against eating animal meat have mostly focused on reducing choice in our diets. But a modern cultural revolution designed around the elimination of pleasurable options and the restriction of individual human choice is a hard sell in most countries, particularly the U.S. Perhaps the road to a post-meat diet leads through a new agricultural revolution, where technology expands the modern menu with new foods that don’t require the mass-scale suffering of animals.
In the latest episode of Crazy/Genius, produced by Kasia Mychajlowycz and Patricia Yacob, we investigate the possibilities for moving into this post-meat world.
First, we visited the R&D lab of a cricket-rearing company called Tiny Farms, near San Francisco. Two billion people in the world eat insects as a part of their normal diet, approximately the number that owned a smartphone last year. It’s probably ludicrous to assume that Americans are prepared to switch en masse from brisket and burgers to bugs. One solution? Feed them to the cat. Pet food accounts for more than 25 percent of meat consumption in the U.S. That’s why Tiny Farms is working to replace meat with cricket in pet food. “The biology of insects is very efficient,” said Tiny Farms co-founder Andrew Brentano. “They're essentially cold-blooded, so they're not constantly burning calories to keep themselves warm. They very efficiently convert what they eat into their body mass.” Porterhouse aficionados can still slash their animal-meat footprint by cutting meat from their pets’ diet.
But what about replacing meat for humans? Today, there are a number of promising plant-based food companies, like Impossible Foods, that have made promising strides toward excellent meat-like alternatives. But to satisfy people's lust for actual meat, scientists may have to achieve the paradoxical: produce animal meat that didn’t technically come from an animal.
The future may be lab-grown meat. We speak to Mark Post, a Dutch scientist who designed and tasted the first ever lab-grown burger from stem cells. ("It wasn't even that good," he said, invoking the first pancake rule that governs all human experience.) Post says that scientists’ ability to control the fat and protein density of lab-grown meat could lead to a future where millions of people prefer the consistency and taste of meat that didn't come from a messy, bloody, imperfect mammal. “If you buy a steak in the Netherlands, it could be juicy, [or] it could also be a piece of leather,” Post said. “You have actually no idea what you're buying. This is one of the benefits of cultured meat: consistent quality.”
Is lab-grown meat good for us?
Could a bourgeois gastronomic culture, erected on the pillars of localism and all-natural diets, ever embrace a steak grown in the extremely un-local and quite unnatural confines of a Dutch laboratory? Maybe not. But taste is a fashion. Kale is gross, until it’s not. Diet Coke is great, until it isn’t. In the depths of World War II, with some in the government fearing that the country would run out of food, a panel of academics and marketers convened to discuss the idea of foisting animal organs onto American families. Organ-meat propaganda filled the pages of women’s magazines, beautifying the concept of serving children the offal of dead animals. Before long, liver and onions became a thing, for better or worse.