The Meat of the Matter
By Farah Theodore
Ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus once stated, "The only thing that is constant is change". Yet change is one of the hardest things that can be asked of someone. Much has been presented about the detrimental effects of animal agriculture on the planet and the urging of adapting a plant based diet. Many strongly resist such advice and being 21st century humans, we are exploring alternatives to animal protein in unconventional ways.
At present, an estimated one-quarter of the world's children suffer stunted growth due to protein related deficiencies and 70% of agricultural land worldwide is being used for livestock, approximately more than half of it growing livestock feed. That's the general information we have. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts a doubling in global meat consumption by 2050.
Whatever shall we do?
We are faced with a global growing middle class that will consume more meat, dairy and eggs. It's estimated that worldwide, a change to a healthy diet based on less meat and more fruit and vegetables would prevent 5.1 million deaths caused by chronic diseases by 2050.
Emerly de Vet, professor of Consumption and Healthy Lifestyles at the University of Wageningen, stated that "our preferences are the product of our habits, culture and upbringing. At the same time, your eating habits show who you are, and what group you belong to. And what is available in the supermarket and catering outlets also determines the choices you have. Because so many factors influence eating behavior, only a limited effect can be achieved by informing and persuading consumers".
These lifestyle choices are reflected in the noticeable growing demand for animal protein and its inevitable contribution to the destruction of forests, wildlife, natural grasslands and the strain on energy and water resources. A growth in population of at least 2 billion more people by 2050, and it is obvious that the planet is too small for a mainly animal protein diet (Wageningen World, quarterly magazine). Interestingly, according to Stacy Pyett, Proteins for Life program manager at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research stated, "70% of our food is based on just 5 animal and 15 plant species – that's an odd situation, given how much variation there is in biodiversity and geography around the world" and further that "there is no reason to plant protein-rich soya everywhere. We can grow a much wider variety of food crops".
Dr. Melanie Joy coined the term 'carnism' in considering the question of why do we eat certain types of meat and not others. Carnism is the invisible belief system that conditions us to eat certain types of animals. Truth is people are creatures of habit even if it's not beneficial or necessary for them.
Where do we go from here? It's undeniable that solutions have to be explored and are being considered that are both low tech and hi tech. In a recent Ellen MacArthur Foundation report, a circular economy for food will be defined by three main ambitions: to source food grown regeneratively and locally where appropriate, to make the most of food (use by-products more effectively, prevent waste), and to design and market healthier food.
There's a rapidly evolving science called Synthetic biology that applies principles of genetic engineering to create life forms from scratch (that do not exist in the natural world). Many herald it as offering great promise for helping society address urgent sustainability challenges. "It stands to revolutionize agriculture, energy production, water filtration and a variety of resource-intensive industrial processes", as GreenBiz chairman and Executive Editor Joel Makower wrote last year.
Fake meat is here and Impossible Burger has made it a reality. Impossible Foods plant based burger made possible by synthetic biology claims to use 87% less water, 96% less land and produces 89% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than an equivalent beef burger, according to a life cycle analysis conducted by metrics firm Quantis. Headlines such as "Burger King's nationwide rollout of the Impossible whopper starts next week" was available on The Verge website on August 1st, 2019. Additionally, "The FDA has finally approved the Impossible Burger to be sold at grocery stores" is another headline of an article dated August 1, 2019 on gizmos.com written by Andrew Liszewski – "the FDA has finally given its approval for a key blood-simulating ingredient that makes the Impossible Burger look, feel, and taste beef-like and starting on September 4 the company can finally sell it directly to consumers."
The idea of fake meat may seem like an edible version of Frankenstein. According to the German classicist Karl Martin Dietz, in Hesiod's scriptures, Prometheus represent the "descent of mankind from the communion with the gods into present troublesome life."
It's up to you to determine your dietary choices. If you don't take your health and environmental responsibility seriously then who will?