Clean meat is going mainstream. At least the term is, especially after Paul Shapiro’s latest book release with the same name.
It’s a controversial topic, no doubt about that. But let’s define clean meat to start with–clean meat is also known as lab-grown meat. So instead of coming from a living animal that had to be butchered, clean meat is grown out of one single animal cell in a lab. It’s muscle tissue, identical to the muscle tissue we eat that comes from living animals–except it was never “alive.”
It’s called clean because it’s environmentally friendly, similar to clean energy, as it’s not contributing to greenhouse gas emissions like conventional animal agriculture does. It’s also called clean because it’s not causing any harm to animals. And it’s probably also cleaner in terms of composition as it doesn’t contain any growth hormones or antibiotics.
Clean meat is still technically animal, however, even if it was never a sentient being. This raises questions among vegans if it would be ethical to eat lab-grown meat, as it’s still made of animal cells and also, because there was an animal at the beginning of it all. Ethically speaking, some might argue that clean meat still doesn’t counter the commoditization of animals and is a continuation of the hubris of mankind. For example, while it might not induce the suffering of farm animals as is the case with conventional meat, it still supports a system in which we agree that animal parts can be “used” by humans for our own ends. In other words, clean meat is a band-aid that does not address the underlying issue of the human belief that we are higher on the food chain and can therefore exploit animals.
In addition to the ethical question, there is also understandable concern about how weird and eerily futuristic it is to eat meat that was grown in a lab. A lot of us struggle with the concept of eating a steak that was grown in a petri dish and not on a farm. But the truth is, most steaks consumed in the United States aren’t produced on farms anyway. They are grown in factories, far removed from the romantic vision of happy cows grazing on lush green grassland. That said, we still don’t like the idea of our food being tied to a laboratory.
Interestingly, most of the processed foods we eat are developed in labs that have nothing in common with a kitchen. Doritos are surely not natural, and neither are lots of the “natural flavors” that you can find in teas, granola, energy bars, protein shakes, yogurt, gum, toothpaste … the list is truly endless. None of these foods are really natural. In addition, if you think about the fact that most animals consumed by humans today are genetically so removed from their ancestors, it adds to the argument that lab-grown meat is not that futuristic after all. For example, today, we consume chickens who lay eggs every day of the year while their ancestors would lay about one egg a month.
So let’s think practically: if we can grow meat in a lab, that means we can considerably reduce the need for large amounts of water, food, and other resources. Meat and dairy products account for roughly 2/3 of the world’s water consumption and they represent almost 1/5 of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Imagine the resources we could save! This fact is especially poignant given South Africa’s current water crisis.
We still don’t know the healthfulness of lab-grown meat. The truth is, however, that most of us on this planet will not go vegan. At least not in the near future. So if we can limit animal suffering by growing meat in a lab, and by consequence also save the planet, then I’m OK with this option. I’ll still be happily chewing on my bean burger but I’d love to see both fast-food and Michelin-starred restaurants alike dishing up in vitro meat if it means saving the animals and the planet.
What are your thoughts on lab-grown clean meat?
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