The future of meat

Really interesting piece from Farhad Manjoo last week about the latest meat substitute, Beyond Meat.  Apparently, we’re really approaching the point where fake meat can almost fool people, and that is a great thing with potentially huge environmental consequences.  Meat takes so much more resources in terms of water, land, fossil fuel, etc., than plants that replacing that meat in diets  with plant-based meat substitutes with a similar (but healthier) nutrition profile would be a huge, huge boon:

Real meat is delicious, but it’s terrible in nearly every other way. Meat is environmentally toxic and colossally inefficient, ethically dubious (even if you’re OK with killing animals, raising and slaughtering animals in factory farms is hard to defend), and it’s unhealthy (that’s even true if you don’t eat it—there’s good evidence that the rampant use of antibiotics in livestock production has given rise to drug-resistant infections). I’d rate Beyond Meat as being 90 to 95 percent as realistic as chicken, but in every other way, it’s superior. It requires far less energy to produce, it’s got no saturated fats, no antibiotics, and no animals are harmed in the process.

Here’s how Beyond Meat’s founder sees the future:

“Our goal is to see that category redefined—instead of having it be called ‘meat,’ it would just be called ‘protein,’ whether it’s protein coming from a cow or chicken or from soy, pea, quinoa, or other plant-based sources,” says Ethan Brown, Beyond Meat’s founder. As the firm ramps up production, Brown expects to sell Beyond Meat for less than the price of real meat, too…

Over time, Brown believes, the firm will get all these little details just right. He’s also confident that society will accept his innovations just as it has adapted to tech revolutions of the past. “Once, we had the horse-drawn carriage, and then we had the horse-less carriage, and then we had the automobile,” he says. “I’m firmly convinced we’re going to go from beef and chicken products that are animal in origin to those that are made with plants—and at some point in the future you’ll walk down the aisle of the supermarket and ask for beef and chicken, and like the automobile has no relationship to the horse, what you get will have nothing to do with animals.”

That may sound crazy right now, but I do think he’s onto something.  There’s every reason to believe that as technology improves we should be able to create a plant-based product that is healthier, and cheaper, than meat that can fool most of our palates.   That would be a very, very good thing for our health and our planet.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

4 Responses to The future of meat

  1. Derek says:

    I wonder how well this will be accepted by society in spite of its benefits. “Pink slime” anyone? GMO are generally frowned upon as “frakenfoods” yet they potentially have significant environmental benefits. Irradiation of food is clearly a great step forward in food safety, but no one wants to buy irradiated food for fear that it is more dangerous. In the food industries, there seems to be a push from the public to have less science and technological advancement rather than more.

    • mike from Canada says:

      “GMO are generally frowned upon as “frakenfoods” yet they potentially have significant environmental benefits.”

      GMO’s also have significant potential downsides, such as creating insect and herbicide resistant weeds as one real and current example. The real frightening examples (for me) is the potential problems that we simply have no idea of. No idea because we don’t fully understand how ecosystems work, nor do we understand entirely how genes function along with so called junk DNA. What we don’t know about DNA is truly enormous, yet we are transplanting DNA from animals into plants and plants into animals, or bacteria, viruses and fungi. And some of the results are being released into the wild.

      Will plant viruses eventually be able to cross to animals because of animal genes transplanted into plants? We can’t possibly test all viruses because there are simply so many of them. And they mutate every day.

      The original BT corn GMO has proven the corporation wrong in almost every way when they started tests outdoors. Pollen drifted miles past where they said it would. BT genes were found in weeds and bacteria nearby, transferred by an unknown method, possibly virus or bacterial from BT corn pollen.

      Corporations that have captured the regulatory system are rushing products to testing that can have non time limited effects. If you drop radioactive waste into an ecosystem sooner or later, even if it is a long time, the radiation will lessen. You drop a species capable of reproducing into an ecosystem and the change is theoretically forever. We have seen major changes in many ecosystems from natural incursions of alien species.

      I agree that GMO hold great promise, but so far they have not delivered anything but cosmetic changes and fruits and vegetables that ripen all at once, rather then the promise of feeding the world, or growing crops in brackish areas.

      I think Europe has gone too far in one direction on GMO foods and the US and Canada have gone too far in the other. I personally would like to have the choice to know if the food I eat contains GMO products simply so I can practice the capitalism and free choice our governments say we have. But don’t.

  2. Mika says:

    “Eat a cow, eat a cow ’cause it’s good for you
    Eat a cow, eat a cow it’s the thing that goes “Mooooo””

  3. mike from Canada says:

    That reminds me, I have two T bones in the freezer. I’ll have to pick up some corn on the cob too…

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