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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.

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  • vegan truth seeker

    I’m very sorry but I completely disagree with you and I really don’t understand why you at Ecorazzi continue to have this utopian idea that everyone will go vegan just by explaining to them that it’s the right thing to do.

    So, let’s see, you’re against single-issue campaigns, against animal welfare, fake meat and now also against the so called super meat?
    I’m sorry but I have to say, and this is just my opinion, that I think you’re absolutely wrong…

    Those who make the transition to veganism because of ethical, health and environmental reasons will probably continue to be vegan, which is my case.
    However, the majority of humans could care less about animals or the environment if that means giving up meat or any other animal products!

    Therefore, I’m all for ‘super meat’ and I hope they manage to massively produce it so it becomes cheaper than meat from live animals; and if they manage to produce ‘super fish’ from stem cells of fish even better; this would mean the end of the animal industry as we know it, pollution and the destruction of the environment would be dramatically reduced and probably world hunger would cease to exist (that is if those at the top allow it).

    Would it be healthy? I don’t give an eff!
    I’ll continue to be vegan because honestly I don’t miss animal products whatsoever, but if those who wish to continue eating animals get sick, as long as animals wouldn’t get hurt I could care less…

    So, hurray for super meat and super fish! 🙂

    Please don’t be offended but all I want is the death of animals and the destruction of the planet to stop no matter what!

    • Cruelty-free

      Damn straight!

  • Ellen

    This essay counters everything that veganism is trying to promote. Products that keep people away from animal exploitation. Yes some of those products may look like the “real” thing, but SO WHAT? The more pleather the better. The more resources using pineapple and mushrooms, the better. And the more “fake” meat, egg, and dairy products, the BETTER.

  • End Animal Use

    I think Tara has raised some interesting questions, but his argument was not helped by
    conflating mock animal products and tissue-cultured techno-meat. In
    the first category belong a range of products like tofurky, Frys
    products like their schnitzels, Linda McCartney products like her
    vegan sausages, tofutti and all the vegan cheeses. There are quite a
    range of mock animal products already. And if we really get picky,
    what is seitan but something that somewhat imitates the texture and
    density of meat? Home made ice cream is an imitation animal product.
    Soy milk is a “non-dairy creamer”, a replacement for milk. Are
    all of these equally bad in his eyes? Is golden syrup a “mock
    honey” and therefore should be avoided, or is it something that has
    always been considered a plant product.

    Personally, I don’t think I’d ever get tofurkey. I don’t need an imitation turkey
    product. On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed Fry’s schnitzels. If I
    rarely eat them, it has more to do with calories than ethics. They
    don’t really resemble any meat I know of. But they are crispy and
    chewy, and pick up tastes in a certain way. Certainly I think things
    like soy milk are something I would rather not give up. I like it in
    some teas, and in my coffee. If I don’t make vegan ice cream, it’s
    because I treat it like a lot of desserts, including ones that are
    nothing like animal products. I can make it, and it’s extremely nice,
    but at my age, eating a lot of desserts is a bad idea, and when they
    are “moreish”, they are definitely to be avoided. But I get it. I
    would rather go to a non-vegan Indonesian or Indian restaurant that
    serves some vegan dishes, than go to a vegan restaurant where all the
    dishes are mock meat. I really don’t even think of meat or cheese,
    and the idea of it puts me off, so I’m not likely to want an
    imitation version.

    And of course, as veganism takes hold, there will be people who see an economic
    opportunity. That’s fine. While I like making food from scratch, I
    don’t want to have to make my
    own tofu, or jam. I like tea. I don’t want to have to grow my own.
    I’d rather grow vegetables in my garden, and buy things like grains
    and pulses. I have a noodle-making machine, but we often buy pasta.

    Of course, capitalism is a problem, with mega-corporations buying things
    up. But when I buy rice, my grocery store only stocks a very limited
    number of brands (two, I think). I’m sure they are marketed by big
    business. On the other hand, I avoid most processed food, vegan or
    non-vegan. I don’t buy “packaged meals”. I don’t buy “laksa”
    packages, regardless of the ingredients. I generally stay away from
    “vegan” products. They are usually expensive, often contain
    ingredients to give texture, preservatives, and so on. They’re often
    fatty or sweet. I’ll stick to things I make, mostly. I rarely use
    tofu, except in certain dishes. There are many kinds of pulses, many
    ways to prepare them, and a huge range of tastes and dishes are based
    on them. Vegetables are hugely diverse.

    Even so, these are my choices. If people like desserts, and have the
    metabolism for them, what’s the problem? If someone wants vegan Beef
    Redang, let them eat it. If people are in a hurry, and want
    a package meal, that’s their decision. On the other hand, I find it a
    bit iccky when someone goes to a lot of trouble, and usually expense,
    to make something like “mock trout” or “muck duck”. If it
    tides someone over a transition into veganism, fine, but hopefully
    people won’t consider these things necessities.

    While the issue of imitation animal products is one that should probably be
    discussed, the issue of tissue cultured meat is not. This product
    aims to provide meat. It is sold (by Mark Post and others) as
    satisfying instinctive and cultural cravings for meat, either without
    harming animals, or while harming fewer animals. What is not
    mentioned is the huge ecological cost of these products. There is a
    good discussion of that on a couple of Vegan Trove podcasts, the
    best, most technical discussions I’ve heard. They point out that
    cells eat. They need more food than they produce. The food must be in
    a certain form, as sucrose, as animo acids. To survive, the cells
    need hormones and regulatory chemicals. They need insulin. They need
    growth hormones. They need vitamins and minerals, and oxygen
    transporters. If the traditional medium for cell culture, foetal
    calves blood, taken from foetuses ripped from the belly of pregnant
    cows in slaughterhouses, is not going to be use, all the factors and
    nutrients will have to be provided. It will require huge amounts of
    energy, huge amounts of agricultural inputs, and a lot of very
    sophisticated technology. It will require a company like Monsanto,
    Bayer, or Roche to provide the inputs economically, and to run the
    bioreactors. It will require more food than is currently fed to
    animals. It will need high levels of antibiotics and antimycotics
    to stop growth of bacteria and fungus in an ideal environment for
    such growth. And the outcome is animal sludge. The best you will get
    is something approximating mince (ground meat to you Americans).
    Anything else will require further treatment.

    Creating a demand for meat with tissue culture will perpetuate the demand for
    meat from dead animals. People will want “natural” products.
    People will want “culturally familiar” products. All creating
    tissue-culture meat will do is perpetuate meat use.

    I think a discussion of initation animal products is a good idea. Please don’t confuse that issue by including tissue culture horrors.

  • Matt Harvey

    Some interesting points raised here. “We don’t have a meat problem; we have a human problem”. Exactly. If the problem of animal exploitation is framed as “we need a way of making meat without hurting animals”, then it’s reduced to a technological problem, and it’s seen as something for scientists and food engineers (not me, the ordinary individual) to solve.

    The reality is of course that animal exploitation is a symptom not of technological shortcomings, but of human attitudes and behaviour; and the solution to animal exploitation is not a technical one, but a human one. We need to create a vegan world. Each individual has it in their power to go vegan. It’s easy to do. There’s no need to wait around for scientists and food engineers to come up with this or that simulacrum of an animal product. And everyone who is vegan can then educate others about veganism, in a respectful and intelligent way, to help bring about that vegan world.

    I see veganism as much more than just a matter of what I physically put in my mouth. It’s about our relationship to other animals and to the natural world; it’s about rejecting violence and exploitation of other sentient beings, both human and nonhuman. It’s as much about what’s in our head and in our heart, as it is about what’s on our plate.

  • John F Mensi

    Let me get this straight… you actually want to exclude some of the alternatives to animal products that have helped people to refrain from consuming the real thing?

    I’m sorry, Bill, but this article’s message is nothing but counterproductive to the vegan movement.

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