Flesh without animals: The future of food?

by Tovar on October 15, 2011 · 60 comments

Imagine meat that not only comes in plastic, but grows there.

For years, scientists have been developing methods to grow “tissue cultures” for human consumption. Last month, an article in Mother Jones reported that these food wizards may be getting closer to bringing lab-grown meat to market, though serious obstacles remain.

Not least among these obstacles is the very idea of the stuff.

Call it what you will: “petri meat,” “lab meat,” “test-tube meat,” “in-vitro meat,” or “shmeat” (sheet of meat). It gives people the willies. For me, it conjures images of gelatinous tissue slowly filling an industrial vat, being “exercised” with electrical impulses so that the texture begins to resemble that of muscle, then being sliced, sautéed, and perhaps served up on a bed of lab-lettuce and in-vitro veggies.

As the Mother Jones article and a piece in The New Yorker earlier this year both noted, lab meat will need a real marketing makeover to get people to eat it. New Harvest, an organization that advocates “cultured meat,” claims that such food is just as natural as “bread, cheese, yogurt, and wine.” That’s some serious spin-doctoring. Last time I checked, wheat berries were not cultured in laboratory vats, nor did milk or grapes grow there.

For a moment, though, I’d like to set aside the knee-jerk yuck factor and consider the case made for the stuff. It has its merits.

  • With the planet’s human population already pushing 7 billion, and with a lot of us eating meat, the environmental impacts of the global livestock industry are apt to increase. If lab meat could be produced in bulk without incurring such ecological costs, that would be a big mark in its favor.
  • With many animals being raised in inhumane factory-farming facilities, the ethical costs of meat production are also high. If lab meat could take over a major share of the market, such facilities might decline or even disappear. (Enticed by the possibility of reducing animal suffering, PETA has offered a $1 million reward to the “first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012.”)
  • With concerns growing over food safety, lab meat could also eliminate the risks posed by mad cow disease, E. coli contamination, and the like.

I grasp the logic. These issues—ecology, ethics, and health—were at the heart of my decisions to become a vegan and, years later, a hunter.

Other thoughts nag at me, though.

What are the implications of making meat in a laboratory? What would it mean for us to take yet another step away from nature? What would it mean to dispel the quandary that human omnivores have faced for millennia, the moral difficulty inherent in taking an animal’s life?

How would it affect our consciousness, and our understanding of what it means to be human here, on Earth? What would it mean for our souls?

Maybe this is the future of food. Maybe, as we continue to outstrip the planet’s capacity to sustain us, we will end up sucking hot dogs out of test tubes.

But I’m glad that day has not yet come. I’m grateful to live in this world, where lettuce and carrots come from garden and farm, where I can hike into the November woods and sit with my back to the trunk of an old hemlock, waiting for hours, listening for hooves crunching the frosty leaves, praying for an animal to appear.

If I am going to eat meat, I want it to come from a creature who, like me, inhabits this world of air, soil, and water, of leafy plants and living, breathing beings. A creature who, like me, is animated by spirit. A creature who, like me, is more than mere flesh.

© 2011 Tovar Cerulli

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William October 15, 2011 at 9:16 pm

I haven’t taken a deer yet this year (going out again tomorrow), but your last paragraph perfectly embodies the reason that I hunt.

Great writing!

Tovar October 16, 2011 at 7:18 am

Thanks, William. Glad you enjoyed the post. And good luck out there.

R. Gabe Davis October 15, 2011 at 10:10 pm

I fear it would be another way to make us dependent on others for our food. I am sure the government won’t let just any body “grow” meat. I hope progress never encroaches on my ability to provide for myself. your pal the Envirocapitalist.

Tovar October 16, 2011 at 7:19 am

I hope the same, Gabe.

Jason October 15, 2011 at 11:17 pm

This is not the kind of legacy we should pass on to our children. They will either mock us or curse us for such asinine “solutions.” We are better than this. At least, I hope we are. Even John Locke might question his faith in humanity were he alive today.

Tovar October 16, 2011 at 7:19 am

Agreed, Jason. I, too, hope we are better than this.

Erik Jensen October 15, 2011 at 11:22 pm

This brings something else to mind. I had heard that selling pre-packed chicken breasts in a certain way were a method of making it look less like meat, but let people still satisfy their craving for it. It seems like the same vein.

It is possible it is some form of techno-fix for our over use of the planet’s resources, but my general reaction is that it is a horrible idea because it will make people even less aware of their connection to nature through their food. Hence, people will be less aware of the limits of nature to provide for us.

And it does sound like really horrible food…

Tovar October 16, 2011 at 10:18 am

That’s something on which a lot of hunters, vegetarians, butchers, and meat farmers can agree, Erik: Pre-packed meat separates people from the idea of the actual animal.

In a sense, this does seem like an extension of it. The odd twist is that this actually does separate the meat from the animal. It’s not just an sleight-of-mind.

“It will make people even less aware of their connection to nature through their food.” I agree.

Neil October 16, 2011 at 7:26 am

Actually, there is a technological solution to the ever growing population. It’s called birth control, with a bit of education thrown in.

Seriously, while I could see a purpose for such as product, I think it’s the opposite of a direction that fosters understanding and balance in our approach to living on our planet. Basically it’s nailing on another plank to extend the tree limb we’re already so far out on.

I have an idea for a great system! Nutrients are grown using solar power (grass) and converted to protein and organic fertilizer using a self replicating bio-dynamic process.

Tovar October 16, 2011 at 10:19 am

Agreed, Neil. But your “great system” idea sounds a bit radical. ;-)

Steven Bissell October 16, 2011 at 11:21 am

I’ll eat my lab grown meat. . .but don’t try to make me eat that lab grown cauliflower!

As to: “If I am going to eat meat, I want it to come from a creature who, like me, inhabits this world of air, soil, and water, of leafy plants and living, breathing beings. A creature who, like me, is animated by spirit. A creature who, like me, is more than mere flesh.”

Kind of like a Communion T? Can’t say I agree on that, eating is what we do to survive not transcend reality. Seeing food as a connection to nature may sound good, but don’t make nature into a deity.

What I see in the resistance to genetic engineering is more perception than substantial. I doubt if I (being closer to the end than you) will live to see this, but it holds no fear for me.

Tovar October 16, 2011 at 11:52 am

Yes, kind of like a communion. The question of whether such an idea constitutes “transcending reality” depends on what you take “reality” to be. Personally, I inhabit a region of agnosticism, somewhere between the lands of atheism and animism.

Motaki October 16, 2011 at 11:40 am

Sounds like it’d taste quite a bit like cardboard, to me. Isn’t it the blood and diet of the animal that gives it the flavor?

-Motaki

Tovar October 16, 2011 at 11:54 am

Good question on cardboard and diet, Motaki. I suspect that petri-meat from a lab in New England would taste pretty much petri-meat from a lab in the Northern Rockies.

Phillip October 16, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I agree with Steven on one point. The resistance may well be more perception that substantial. But I’m perfectly OK with that.

For my part, the very idea of lab-grown meat is more than I’m willing to accept. I get the ramifications as far as feeding a growing, global population and all that… and I say, let them eat it. Me? I already have a big enough problem with what happens to real animals (and plants) on factory farms. This test-tube meat will require a level of trust in corporate science that I will simply never acquire.

Tovar October 16, 2011 at 12:13 pm

“This test-tube meat will require a level of trust in corporate science that I will simply never acquire.” Amen to that.

somsai October 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm

I’ll reserve judgement like I do for most meats, until I see how it tastes.

Tovar October 16, 2011 at 2:05 pm

I’m hoping never to do that particular taste-test.

Steven Bissell October 16, 2011 at 2:16 pm

My Dad, who was a geologist, ate some Mammoth meat at a conference once. He said it was flat nasty. I ate some Whale once; it’s like fatty beef cooked in fish oil. Not something I’d repeat.

But as for taste of GE meat; it can be ‘engineered’ to taste like anything. Witness ‘buttered popcorn’? That ain’t butter on it. I’m thinking Carmel Swirl with Chocolate Chip T-Bone!

Tovar October 16, 2011 at 3:34 pm

“Witnessing” (and the occasional unfortunate whiff) is about as close as I ever get to so-called “buttered” popcorn.

Al Cambronne October 16, 2011 at 5:09 pm

I’ve heard about this sort of thing, but never really thought hard about it until now. So many questions…

How efficient would the process be? Would it really have environmental benefits, and would it really help us feed lots more people? (Probably would; animals waste so much energy with that whole pesky “being alive” thing.)

What would it taste like? Would that depend on the chemicals and slurry we feed it? Could cultured chicken be made to taste like free-range chicken? How about, heaven forbid, cultured venison? Already, real animals and fish taste like the bland stuff we feed them in CAFOs. Most chicken, pork, and beef doesn’t taste like it once did. Unless we go catch our own (and sometimes even then, if they’re put-and-take trout from a hatchery), nearly all of the fish we eat in America are now farmed, fed on various flavors of Purina Fish Chow. They taste like it. So how much worse could this stuff be?

How will it be regulated, and how safe would it REALLY be?

Some of the vegie burgers I’ve bought now and then were more expensive than a similar quantity of the actual meat being imitated. So… What are “competitive prices?”

Not that I want to, but COULD I grow it at home? Could it be a fun new hobby, like brewing beer or making wine? Will there be fancy micromeats, just like microbrews? It sort of is like bread, wine, cheese, and yogurt. But not exactly.

I agree, however, that the metaphysical questions about mock meat are even more troubling. Ethically, morally, and just in terms of certain belief systems… When is meat no longer meat? I’ve known Buddhists, blissfully unaware of what goes on with modern egg production, who felt it was not OK to eat meat, but OK to eat eggs—as long as they’re unfertilized. So what about cultured meat? Especially if the original cells were taken from a living animal that was not harmed during the process. And let’s say we even gave the donor chicken a local anesthetic before its biopsy. So if I became a vegan for ethical rather than nutritional reasons, would it be OK to start eating the stuff? Or not, because, you know…

In the late 21st century will young readers be terribly confused by the title of Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma?”

Enough questions for now. Deer season is coming. I need to get out and do a little scouting before dinner…

Tovar October 16, 2011 at 6:05 pm

“Micromeats”? You crack me up, Al. :-)

Yep, there are definitely open questions about how efficient such a process would be, in terms of energy usage, etc.

Last I heard, you already had fresh venison in the freezer. But good luck next month anyway!

Steven Bissell October 17, 2011 at 10:47 am

http://www.theonion.com/articles/leafhunting-season-begins,26380/

Not sure how this relates, but I liked it.

Tovar October 17, 2011 at 10:54 am

Ha! :-)

sam October 17, 2011 at 3:58 pm

If we could grow muscles to eat, there is no reason we couldn’t put them under the hood of my Ford.

Tovar October 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Then we would have to feed those horsepower-producing muscles with, what? Hay? Full circle, it seems!

Al Cambronne October 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm

You mean, like actual horsepower for your Mustang?

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand October 18, 2011 at 7:25 am

I can’t agree with you, here, Tovar. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

If we can manufacture a nutritious, palatable protein cheaply and without environmental impact, I’m all for it. I don’t think our relationship with nature, or the state of our souls should have anything to do with it. It’s just something to eat — and if we face trouble feeding a burgeoning population with things we grow, there may be lots of hungry people who’d be damn glad to have it.

I don’t think anyone’s trying to take away the right to hunt (or to raise chickens, or go fishing, or grow vegetables), and so long as lab meat doesn’t impinge on those things for those of us who want to do them, I do not see the problem.

Where people’s lives are at stake, it’s hard to give much weight to a spiritual objection.

Tovar October 19, 2011 at 8:48 am

I think you exaggerate the differences in our views, Tamar. I didn’t suggest that spiritual objections should trump people’s lives. I said that the case for the stuff has its merits, and then simply raised other questions and expressed my gratitude for being able to eat non-lab foods. Perhaps the difference in our views revolves around the fact that I, more than you, am interested in particular kinds of questions about our relationships with nature and food. Call them “spiritual” questions if you like.

In the long run (perhaps a rather short run, at this point), I think we will have to confront the serious problem of a burgeoning human population. We can’t keep finding techno-fixes forever.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand October 19, 2011 at 11:40 am

I think you’re right on all counts, Tovar. There’s just enough of appreciation of nature in my world-view to enjoy, engage with, and sometimes disagree with yours. It’s only because I do love a discussion with someone thoughtful and smart who disagrees with me that I focus on where we diverge.

Getting so much of my own food has brought home to me the expense and difficulty of food production. From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to start thinking about how we can feed the planet affordably, when population is growing and (many) resources are dwindling.

Tovar October 20, 2011 at 7:50 pm

I hear you, Tamar. My gardening, like my hunting, is hardly a masterpiece of efficiency.

Evan Pollitt October 18, 2011 at 11:00 am

I saw a small clip about this in the NYtimes about a week ago and my first reaction was similar to yours I think. GROSS! That was a knee jerk, but after thinking about it I still cannot agree with it in any part.
We are and will continue to have problems feeding the world population with our current system. I don’t understand how finding ways to feed more people and allowing the population to continue to grow will help us. We will only have more people who are hungry and more food in the hands of corporations. Instead of providing quality food for everyone we may end up with a system where the poor are given lab grown meat while the rich can afford actual meat.
Rising population does threaten our right to hunt. Even here in Vermont development is taking over some prime hunting locations. In a response to increased motorist the Department of Fish and Wildlife is trying to keep big game populations low to decrease traffic incidents.
The best solution for the food crisis would probably for people to just eat less meat. According to the USDA in 2000 the average American ate 195 lbs of meat. Thats 57 lbs higher that in 1950. These numbers have only gone up. This will take a huge cultural shift and in all likely hood the shift to lab meat will probably be easier to achieve than decreasing American meat consumption.

Tovar October 19, 2011 at 8:49 am

Good points, Evan. Thanks for your thoughts.

sam October 21, 2011 at 3:39 pm

“The best solution for the food crisis would probably for people to just eat less meat”

I think that’s it in a nutshell. I’ve got to wonder if much of the meat eaten is wasted. You have the calories that go to necessary bodily functions, calories that are converted to fat, and calories that pass right through. One can argue about the fat calories as a form of waste. Some might call it a savings account (although I suppose that comes with negative interest). But how many pounds of the 195 lbs/year are only partially digested and the remaining calories just pass through?

Steven Bissell October 18, 2011 at 11:11 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Sp-VFBbjpE

So the ‘solution’ is to get people to eat less meat? I live in Colorado and I’ve witnessed hundreds of thousands of acres of prairie broken out for food production. . .the same prairie that supported cattle operations for over a hundred years. I’m not saying that grazing is environmentally sound, but it can be. Once you’ve broken the ground to grow crops going back is almost impossible. Another example is soy beans used in food and fuel; take the time to read about the loss of forest and wetlands in Brazil to soy production. Here in Colorado farmers raise soy in the Arkansas Valley using water diverted from the Colorado River drainage on the western side of the mountains; it is a disaster!

Tovar October 19, 2011 at 8:56 am

Funny you should put up that link to “Soylent Green,” Steven. A local friend who read this post sent me a link to the wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soylent_Green). Definitely lab food.

I agree with your points about grazing and agriculture. I realized years ago that vegetables are not necessarily ecologically friendlier than meat, nor vice versa. It’s a matter of specifics: how particular foods are produced in particular places. Soy production and beef production can both be ecological bad news, as can excessively high deer populations.

Pete Idstrom October 18, 2011 at 10:48 pm

As disgusting as this petri meat sounds, look at what passes for food now in grocery stores and what some consumers are willing to accept and purchase. If this “tissue culture” becomes commercially viable, I am afraid there would be a market for it.

However, I do like the idea of micro meats! I’ve always referred to it as teal.

Tovar October 19, 2011 at 8:58 am

True enough, Pete.

You’ve always referred to it as teal, eh? I call it snowshoe hare. :-)

Steven Bissell October 19, 2011 at 11:29 am

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111018095126.htm

Interesting this should come up right now.

Tovar October 20, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Somehow that doesn’t exactly whet my appetite, Steven.

David Boggs October 20, 2011 at 11:33 pm

I have read your article and plenty of the replies. My opinion is this not that it matters much to anyone but me. But I believe that your soul Tovar is just fine not to worry as per Genesis 1:26 “And god said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let him have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth”.
Now I am by no means trying to push my religious opinion upon anyone. I also am of the opinion that the net gain of “raising” petri meats would amount to zero. What kind of cost would there be to produce 1 lb. of petri-meat, package, transport, and market this very unnatural “thing”. How many man hours would be involved in this process?
Nature has a very unique way of overcoming adversity…. and lends itself to sustainability as long as “we” are good stewards.
just my 2 cents.

Tovar October 21, 2011 at 5:53 am

Thanks for your thoughts, David.

As to “soul,” I suppose I use the word in a somewhat less literal sense than many do. For me, the word is linked more to a deep sense of meaning and connection than to concerns over the fate of some immortal essence.

From what I’ve read, your comments and questions about the actual costs to produce this stuff (in terms of effort, energy, ecology, etc) are very much on point. As Neil noted above, and as I think you agree, nature sustains animals quite well, as long as we don’t throw things out of balance.

ingrid October 22, 2011 at 4:41 am

Getting away from the anthropocentric, if I ask the the deer and the duck how they feel about a meat protein that could effectively substitute for someone gunning them down — I believe I know what they’d say. The “spiritual” connection provided by hunting is, let’s say, a very one-sided benefit. ;)

Tovar October 22, 2011 at 9:13 am

I imagine you’re right about the likely opinion of the individual deer or duck, Ingrid. Of course, the critters who used to live where the mammoth meat-lab was built might disagree, as might those affected by the hydro dam, nuke plant, or whatever else powers the plant. (I’m thinking a large building, not a lab that produces mammoth meat, though the latter might be attractive to Paleo Diet adherents.)

What if we asked an entire species, like deer? We could ask, “Would you prefer to have predators or not?” Or we could spell out some of the implications: “Would you prefer to live free from predators such as humans, wolves, and cougars, and — since you evolved with predators and are really bad at controlling your own population — end up stripping your habitat to the bone, wiping out all kinds of other plants and animals, and suffering from malnourishment and starvation?” If deer are as shortsighted as humans, I suppose they might opt for such a future. Or they might all say they want to live in the suburbs, where the main predator is the automobile.

I think it’s a good thing that individual species don’t, in general, get to make such choices. If they did, the natural world would break down in a hurry: We’d go very quickly from just a dearth of wolves and cougars in the lower forty-eight (humans, sheep, deer, and elk all voting, and humans implementing the measure) to a dearth of hawks (robins voting), a dearth of robins (worms voting), and so on.

No creature is separate from the system as a whole, which includes everything they eat and everything that eats them. Humans, of course, have made a habit of thinking we are separate and then acting as if that fantasy is true.

Tovar October 22, 2011 at 10:14 am

Speaking of spirit, soul, meaningful connection, or whatever you want to call it, would a deer believe herself to be better off and more true to her nature in a world without predators, be it a serene-if-ecologically-devastated forest or a suburb where she can loll among the rhododendrons and watch the SUVs roll by? I’m not at all sure she would. If, that is, deer thought about such things.

Al Cambronne October 22, 2011 at 10:46 am

An interesting exchange. Igrid, I suspect your comment was made tongue-in-cheek, and not meant seriously. So I’m not including you in the more general statement I’m about to make.

But I think Tovar really hit on something important when he talked about us seeing only the individual rather than the species and the broader ecosystem. And even if we’re not thinking of the species as a whole, we might consider the local population, rather than one individual animal. (With deer, for example, even though they’re technically not herd animals like cattle, bison, or antelope, we speak of “the herd.”)

I’ve been thinking about these issues a lot lately, mostly in the context of overabundant deer. I believe many of the problems we encounter are an unintended consequence of people feeling affection for individual animals and not being able to see more broadly.

Although I don’t usually use this sort of language, it’s a matter of us seeing the one creature rather the whole of creation.

Ingrid October 22, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Al and Tovar, I have a lot to say on those issues, but lucky for you, I’m involved at the moment with a rescue situation — of an individual or individuals, not an entire population, mind you. And I have only my mobile (lucky for you :-) But two things: I think many of our problems stem from precisely the opposite of what you say — from focusing on impersonal population numbers rather than recognizing inherent worth. Second, spiritual connection as a reason for predation is something I believe only humans have the luxury to contemplate. And if a hawk told me it was hunting and killing to feel more connected, not out of abject hunger, which kills many young hawks in their first year, I would also be having that philosophical discussion with the hawk. Third, as a wildlife rehabilitator, I come from a decidedly different perspective. Someone can read me every stat in the book for why it was okay to shoot and cripple that duck, because population numbers are fine, but people like me are the ones there finding a duck with it’s bill shot off, and it’s impossible not to view ecological issues, also from their impact on the individuals. Lastly, I hear so often how a veggie diet is more harmful than a hunted one, for the animals it displaces through agriculture. And yet, the majority of hunters out there not only hunt and thus have an environmental impact that way, they also eat the same foods veggies do, grains and veggies, plus many still eat industrialized meat, even going so far as stopping for fast food and burgers after a hunt. I see that all of the time. So, the average hunter actually has the impact of a vegetarian plus the added meat and hunting. As far as meat labs clearing new swaths of land, I don’t see any reason why existing structures couldn’t be used. But obviously, I have no specifics on how large scale of an operation a lab meat facility would be. There are obviously serious considerations with any frankenfood, across the board, I agree, Monsanto agriculture isn’t my style either. But I object a bit to the reasons given here for dismissing it outright, because so many animals, domestic and wild, suffer so terribly for our appetites.

Tovar October 22, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Lots to respond to there, Ingrid. But I, too, am too busy today to spend a lot of time at it. Lucky you. :-) A few brief points, though.

I agree that we lose sight of individuals when we focus solely on populations. And I think the reverse is often true as well.

I agree, too, that humans are probably the only species for whom “connection” (or “spirituality” or whatever) is part of the motivation to hunt.

I don’t think anyone here is saying that “it was okay to shoot and cripple that duck” or that deer or whatever. The hunters among us, though, are saying that we’re willing to engage first-hand with the possibility of wounding-but-not-killing an animal. For many of us — though not all, to be certain — avoiding such non-fatal injuries is a top priority. Part of why, in my few days afield each fall, I focus on hunting mammals with a rifle is that I feel that choice gives me a much higher chance of killing instantly or nearly so.

My points, above and elsewhere, about the impacts of agriculture or of a meat-lab do not constitute a grand claim to doing far less harm than vegetarians. (In specific cases, yes, I would claim less harm; when I put a bullet through a deer’s heart, the harm done — in terms of ecology or in terms of suffering — to get those 70-100 pounds of venison is infinitesimally small in comparison with most other foods I could get.) My more general point is that things are complicated and interconnected, and that some degree of harm is unavoidable. We can seek to minimize the harm. We can take first-hand responsibility for the harm (or not). We can bury our heads in the sand and pretend the harm isn’t there. But we can’t eliminate it. This is a basic quandary for all people who have moral concerns about nature and animals. We can’t escape it. I don’t think there are any simple answers, and I am deeply suspicious of any claims — by vegetarians, hunters, or advocates of lab-meat — to moral superiority.

Grateful for the brief version? ;-)

Ingrid October 22, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Tovar meant to add in response to this: “I think it’s a good thing that individual species don’t, in general, get to make such choices. If they did, the natural world would break down in a hurry”
—–
But that’s precisely what we’re doing. We are that one species. And it would be one thing, if as a species, we held ourselves to the same population dynamics and standards we do other “herds.” But we don’t. And our myopia here is destroying so much of the natural world. No, I don’t want to see 7 billion people hunting wildlife. I was just out around opening day of duck season and that alone was like a war zone. Frankly, I don’t think most of today’s hunters want to see that. I mean no one even gives up their honey hole, let alone wants to share their private lease or public blind. The numbers of animals will kill and consume each day in no way represents a “natural” and balanced cycle. As such, bringing “what’s natural” into the discussion comes with a lot of caveats because as a population, and as individuals in many instances, we do not hold ourselves accountable to the natural cycles we easily apply to other species. (You weren’t so lucky after all. She can type fast on her mobile.)

Tovar October 22, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Yep, I agree with you there, Ingrid.

Ingrid October 22, 2011 at 1:28 pm

I’ll stop here otherwise I’ll be forcing you off the lab meat topic and on to the usual tangents. I agree with you for the most part, Tovar. And I agree that every one of us has to watch the moral superiority claims. With lab meat, my perspective is that if it were a protein that could be generated with minimal harm and maximum benefit, if its not Soylent Green (because that wouldn’t be lab meat), while reducing the numbers of animal lives wantonly wasted in the fast food trash heap or lost in the wetlands, I would certainly be open to the idea. My mother worked on lab-generated food for astronauts, derived from algae proteins. I would entertain the possibility.

Tovar October 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Yep, as I said in the post, the case for the stuff does have its merits.

Neil H October 22, 2011 at 10:30 pm

A few points:

Animal husbandry is necessary if you like organic farming. I do. I think we need closer integration of animals and plants. Much of the harm of agribusiness comes from the separation of these symbiotic elements.

What is the unintended consequence? I think of fish farms and how they require a huge harvest of lower species and generate a large amount of waste. What is the nutrient solution and where does it come from? Is it like the “cheap and abundant energy” of ethanol? Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing “becomes” without at least an equal mass of something from which it is made. So what is it?

I have to come down on the side the interwoven tapestry of birth, life and death. For us to sustain ourselves within this, we can either choose a huge, natural correction after we’ve degraded the entire planet or we must learn restraint. If people want to eat the stuff, fine. But I don’t think we’ll find salvation in a test tube, or vegetarianism, or any other way of pretending we can continue expanding our species as we are.

Tovar October 23, 2011 at 5:32 am

Very nicely put, Neil.

Pete November 11, 2011 at 11:38 am

We know it will be well-marketed; they’ll hide the production process; and it will be “tasty,” in the same way that, say, the McRib is tasty (this is a great read about the McRib by the way: http://www.theawl.com/2011/11/a-conspiracy-of-hogs-the-mcrib-as-arbitrage).

As long as nobody uncovers any serious, direct, and immediate health concerns about this sort of food, I would expect it to start with a small, satisfied customer base, and grow from there. This could very reasonably be the future of food for many people. Or at least pets.

Vocal minorities notwithstanding, humans have historically embraced the tradeoffs that come with controlled (unnatural) cultivation of their food, and this just seems like a logical advancement of that science, not a dramatic departure from where we are already.

Which, for me, means that finding and eating wild food will just increase in utility as an antidote for modern life.

Tovar November 11, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Good points, Pete.

It’s interesting that you use the phrase “an antidote for modern life.” In doing research for my MA thesis last year (interviewing adult-onset hunters), I found that they talked a great deal about modern living and antidotes to it…if not always in those explicit terms.

Bradley Carleton November 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Tovar,

My greatest fear is that our souls will become disconnected from our spirit brothers, the animals. Without a direct relationship to them we would certainly suffer from the lack of spiritual nourishment that comes form ingesting the qualities and wonderment of our brothers and sisters. I choose to believe that we need this connection to find empathy and compassion. As a society we are already moving further and further away from our relationship to the Earth and its beings. We NEED animals and they NEED us. Love is not defined nor available through a test tube. It is an energy that passes from one being to another by relationships and communication. Thank you for your thoughtful insights and your terrific writing!

Tovar November 18, 2011 at 7:48 am

Thanks for your thoughts, Bradley. I really appreciate them. As an agnostic, I walk a borderline between (A) a spiritual perspective related to the one you articulate and (B) a more skeptical, rationalist view.

I’m glad you enjoy the blog. :-)

Bradley Carleton November 18, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Tovar,

Thank you for your reply. I have no desire to “convert” anyone to my way of thinking.

I was an atheist for awhile and I spoke with a friend who is now deceased who told me that all energy is transferred and never ceases. From that single comment I began to form my own value system that if the energy of an animal (it’s beauty, speed, grace and essence) never ended then if I am ingesting that energy, perhaps I am gaining it’s spiritual essence….perhaps.

Thank you for writing such a thoughtful and insightful blog!

Bradley

Tovar November 18, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Bradley: I, too, was an atheist for a time. And spiritually minded folks who don’t have a proselytizing axe to grind are my favorite kind. ;-)

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