By Paul Shapiro
“We meat-eaters need to stand up against these sci-fi vegan tyrants.”
It would be difficult to compose a more click-baity title than the Telegraph’s recent commentary about clean meat by its deputy editor Tom Welsh, though I’ve at least given it a shot in this piece.
Of course, few people think highly of tyrants, but Welsh’s title does beg the question of what’s wrong with sci-fi, let alone sci-fi that involves not eating animals. After all, clean meat (real meat grown from animal cells rather than animal slaughter) is a common element of futuristic fiction. For example, as Commander Riker explains to an alien in this short Star Trek clip, “We no longer enslave animals for food purposes. You’ve seen something as fresh and tasty as meat, but it’s been inorganically materialized out of patterns used by our transporters.”
But while Welsh’s title is more provocative than his actual commentary, it doesn’t really appear that the editor has any real objection to the idea of growing meat outside of animals. In fact, what he calls “sci-fi” in the title he admits may actually be fairly close to commercialization. And, Welsh admirable concedes, clean meat could bring many benefits, from preventing deforestation to a “more ethical” (his words) of producing meat compared to the way most of it is produced today.
Welsh’s real problem, it appears, isn’t so much with the idea of producing clean meat, but rather rests with the fact that some of its proponents don’t eat meat themselves and don’t think you should either. Put aside the fact for a moment that many heroes of the cellular agriculture movement are meat-eaters themselves: Mark Post of Mosa Meat and Andras Forgacs of Modern Meadow are two of the first people ever to produce real meat outside of animals’ bodies, and both continue to eat conventional meat today. Welsh’s beef, so to speak, is with people who demonize small family farmers and equate their animal husbandry to those of the factory farms that raise the vast majority of farm animals today.
I’m with him that there’s a difference, and I’d suggest that clean meat isn’t being planned as a big competitor to meat from animals raised on pasture. Consumers seeking those kinds of meats may not be likely to salivate over meat that was brewed from cells. But as Welsh correctly notes, a lot of consumers will want clean meat. He aptly asks, “We rarely think of abattoirs when we’re tucking into a Sunday roast. Why should we dwell on cell cultivation in a lab?”
In the end, clean meat isn’t intended to be a food for vegans, as it’s actual meat. But many vegans are quite enthusiastic about the potential clean meat has to prevent cruelty to animals and protect the planet. Given Welsh’s free market, libertarian philosophy, he of all people ought to be standing side-by-side with those vegans — and meat-eaters — who are hopeful clean meat will be transformed from a sci-fi fantasy into a commercial reality.
Paul Shapiro is the author of the Washington Post bestseller, Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World. More at www.paul-shapiro.com.