There’s a strange buzz going around the technologically-addicted, affluent West: people are excited about “in vitro meat,” the idea that flesh could be “ethically” eaten if it were grown in a laboratory. The idea has even gotten a publicity group (I won’t call them an animal rights organization) in a flap: PETA has offered $1 million to whoever first perfects the technology.
This is very, very strange stuff. Some are so cut off from material realities that they are willing to look to technology for new solutions, even where there isn’t a problem in the first place. We are being sold the concept of test-tube meat as if it were an ethically-neutral solution to the problem of animal exploitation and death raised by the call to veganism. (There isn’t a problem because it’s easy to not ask for an animal’s exploitation or death, simply by not eating or using products made from them).
But what is forgotten is that test-tube meat is not alchemy. Something can’t be made from nothing. Test-tube meat will still require nutrients to “grow” the tissues. It will also require complicated and expensive set-ups for tissue cultivation: laboratories with sterile equipment, autoclaves, chemical cleaning agents, stainless steel and glass, particulate filters, and all that is involved with such high technology. None of this is cheap. None of this is environmentally friendly. None of this is ethically pure.
Test tube meat won’t be cheap. It’s not a solution to world hunger. It will be another lifestyle choice of the rich and affluent, who would pride themselves on their ‘purity.’ Meanwhile, people still starve in the streets, the ghettos, the villages, and soil keeps eroding under the tractor tires of wasteful industrial farming. We could be joining efforts to plant trees in arid regions, helping them retain groundwater and control desertification. We could be promoting careful farming methods that promote diverse seed stocks, natural resistance to pests and diseases, organic practices and permaculture techniques that will insure that there are plants and seeds for future generations. Instead, we waste our energies on foolish whimsies like laboratory-grown meat.
Apart from no longer being able to stomach fatty, dense animal flesh, and no longer desiring it, I don’t want test tube meat because I don’t think it makes any sense morally or practically to “grow” food in a laboratory. What makes sense is to GROW food in the SOIL. Walnut trees produce two tons or more per acre of protein- and omega-3- rich food; cattle can only be grazed at a rate of one cow per acre. (While test-tube meat is supposed to improve the rate of this inefficiency, it is still inefficient – and wasteful). And trees generously provide shade, erosion control, beauty, wildlife habitat, and fuel and wood for future generations. A quarter-cup of almonds has more protein than an egg, and more calcium than a quarter cup of milk (see chart).
I want my minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, anti-oxidants from a garden, direct from the earth. That’s the only place they come from, anyways. Coming from an animal, or from a laboratory, means those nutrients have been filtered up the food chain, with subsequent loss of efficiency.
And it’s blind faith in the goodness of increased technology that is helping to destroy the one habitat we have, the one habitat all creatures share. What about, for once, exercising restraint. Saying, “Just because we have the technology, doesn’t mean we should use it. Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean we have the right to do it.”
Test-tube meat is no solution. The solution is to stop eating meat and using animal products. The solution is to change the foolish mind-set that would even lead to the concept of laboratory-grown ‘food’: the same mind-set that has led us towards what many predict will shortly be an ecological collapse, and what has already been an utter devastation of species, habitats, and peoples and cultures all over the world.
The solution is stop using fossil fuels and pumping CO2 and pollution into the environment. Stop enslaving the rest of the world, its peoples and its creatures and its habitats, for our wants and needs. Get over ourselves, and start addressing how to live in low-impact relationship with the biosphere, instead of lording over it. Use appropriate technology – enough to satisfy our needs, not more. Eat nutritious food, not animals. Learn how to plant food gardens, especially perennials. Plant trees. Harvest rainwater. Help others. Be modest and careful with the only home we have.