Isherwood: Fake meat, well not exactly
By Justin Isherwood
The evolving technology of fake meat is far more than a food curiosity; it poses a planetary sea change of vast importance, and the potential to occur in a time span we haven’t planned for. Look-alike meats are made from vegetable ingredients, the same as a cow is made, except they skip the cow.
The most immediate problem with fake meat is what happens to the cowboy? The problem isn’t just that fake meat will skip the lore and land ethic of the cow business; it will skip the inputs of that cow. The comparable protein of a cow is eight times less efficient than the same protein from plants.
What does this mean down on the farm? To admit carnivores are a luxuriant life form, uniquely based on a surplus of vegetable-eating kindred. As pretty much sums up wildlife ecology as we know it, from the perspective of the dinner plate. The classic food/herd pyramid with the totem creatures on top dining on the surplus guys down below – the young, the diseased, the aged – that, at least, is the theory.
The system works everywhere in nature, except where human beings got involved. Human ethics has worked hard to eliminate the carnivore from our social construct. Except perhaps in economics, where carnivore and grazer conditions still exist. Family farms are a class of grazers in more ways than one.
The current interest in fake meat is more than for its protein efficiency. That eight-fold protein efficiency matters to the carbon equation, but included is a little business about cow methane being a major component of climate impact.
One of the motives for fake meat development is the “ick factor” of CAFO raised meat, be it beef/chicken/turkey/pork. Farm practices have steadily deprived these protein creatures a modicum of fairness by intense confinement, a birth-to-death surrender of anything natural, including life’s little dignities, for want of a better expression, the chance to pasture. This moral element has become more solvent as CAFO-ized agriculture steadily makes the obvious the more oppressive.
The UN’s recent statement on the red meat threat mentioned two critical impacts of meat consumption: the methane factor and health. Red meat consumed in current proportions by western societies is a health risk, namely heart disease, colorectal cancers.
A standing theory exists, that elite societies don’t fail because of its enemies, they fail rather because of fat and fashion, and the collective indulgencies of wealth.
Henry Thoreau’s comment on meat-eaters, meat eating for the 21st century has become a cautionary tale. As work-out gyms and health spas attest, we run for our lives because we don’t have real work to do. Someday perhaps to envy the blue collar life that comes with an exercise gym.
A recent discussion in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Assoc) asked whether insect protein might in the near future replace big animal protein. Crickets are pound for pound equal of cow protein. Immediately to follow is another “ick factor,” despite some two billion of our planetary kin eat, dine or snack on insects, not including lobster, crab or shrimp.
Powdered cricket used as an ingredient is indistinguishable in taste or texture. Zero fat plus vitamin B12. Insects have 10 times the B12 found in red meat. There is evidence that insect skeleton chitin, as part of a daily diet, reduces hypertension. Another study demonstrated improved gut health. To no surprise, insect chitin is already available in powdered form as a probiotic.
As for fake meat, make space on your shelf.