WHO NEEDS FAKE MEAT?
Guest Essay by Bill Tara
My Facebook feed was buzzing a couple of weeks ago with words like amazing, awesome and mind-blowing. The reason for this was not that the Democrats had dumped Hillary and embraced Bernie, or that Obama had abandoned the TPP. No, it was bigger than that. There is a new fake meat coming soon to a market near you. No animals would be killed, global warming would disappear and (wait for it) it would be cheap! What’s not to like?
The issue of meat substitutes brings up issues that go deeper than simply the providing of a tasty treat. It speaks to our attitudes about what we eat, some potent mythologies of nutritional science and our place in nature. They are issues that I believe are important for anyone who is vegan or would label themselves an environmentalist. For decades the whole issue to eat animal products or to avoid them has revolved around two issues – nutritional need and pleasure. When the issue of nutritional need is debunked the default setting is, “But I love meat.” It is a sensory, emotional and often sentimental attachment.
Obtaining adequate protein in our diet is certainly not a problem. A diet with a variety of grains, beans, vegetables, nuts and seeds provides more than sufficient protein for health and vitality. Concentrated protein rich foods have been made for centuries in Asia where meat eating has been less common. Foods like miso, soya sauce, tempeh and tofu are commonplace in that part of the world. None of them require extensive processing and none of them taste like meat. They do not fit the bill if you are trying to pretend you still eat meat but don’t want to feel deprived or guilty.
Increasing numbers of people have come to the conclusion that meat is not a good choice. Some of these people have made the choice for ethical reasons regarding the abuse and killing of animals, some for the environmental impact and some due to health concerns. This decision invariably affects social and personal habits. What if you like the taste of meat? What if you like the texture of meat? What if you simply like the idea of meat? Food science is on the way to your door with a wonderful resolution to your concerns – fake meat. Pretend “meaty stuff” is in increasing demand and the profitability of these products is making investors open up their wallets. Caution is required when the super wealthy flock to invest in radical departures from normal consumption.
There is a revolution going on and veganism is part of it. If successful, this revolution can stimulate profound social and economic changes but it is still vulnerable to being trivialized or marginalized. If our concern with food or consumer products stops with simply avoiding animal products the market will be happy to respond, it will simply replicate foods that we are used to without the offending ingredients. Pretend meat, pretend milk, pretend cheese and game over. Niche markets are easy to serve. There is however a larger game to be played.
The vegan message is surely about valuing life – all life. This is a fundamental concern of the highest degree. It addresses the question of our relationship to the planet and the biosphere that embraces all life, sentient and non-sentient. The idea of animals being here to serve human whims and urges are just as much commercial as they are cultural, perhaps more so. Big business loves meat, dairy and leather, the profits are outstanding but they are willing to serve niche markets if needed. Massive sections of the “Natural Foods” industry have been purchased by industry giants such as Unileaver, PepsiCo and Kellogs, the result is always a diminishing quality of product and securing financial power to continue the production of junk food.
Bill Gates is impressed with creating a money machine that solves the meat problem once and for all. A company called Beyond Meat recently caught the eye of the multi-billionaire. The young entrepreneur who started the company is busy cranking out all sorts of fake meat in his factory. He outlined his idea in an interview with Business Insider magazine;
“Meat is well understood in terms of its core parts, as well as its architecture. Meat is basically five things: amino acids, lipids, and water, plus some trace minerals and trace carbohydrates. These are all things that are abundant in non-animal sources and in plants.”
Here we are again in the “food as a chemical delivery system” world. So far they have manufactured artificial chicken (it tastes just like chicken) and beef in his new facilities in Southern California. He has attracted investment from other big shareholders who are piling on this particular cash wagon. In addition to Gates and the co-founder of Twitter and the ex CEO of McDonalds is also in the game as an advisor.
Another option soon coming to market is Super Meat. This is a science fiction product that takes animal stem cells and “grows meat muscle and fat” in the lab. The cells are placed in a “meat growing environment” and the product is said to taste just like the real thing since it is simply artificially grown meat without being attached to any particular animal.
These products are being marketed as a solution to the “meat problem” but we don’t have a meat problem; we have a human problem. It is a problem that goes to the source of our relationship to planet earth. Do we feel we that we need meat at some level or do we really need to alter our thinking and accept the fact that nature provides our needs without superficial improvements? If our love of life is sincere we will wean ourselves away from the products of physical as well as social and economic violence and exploitation.
Claiming a new relationship with nature and all life is revolutionary and transformative; the rejection of consumerism is part of it. It is within our power to occupy the food supply and reduce our reliance on an industry that separates us from the simple pleasures of choosing real food, local food and foods grown in living soil. So, who needs fake meat? Nobody.