Test-tube meat: unnatural, but not wrong


TestTubeMeat_Cartoon-Benbuckley-Oct 28 2013 copyThe science-fiction-esque fantasy of test-tube meat, aka in-vitro meat, produced in a lab from the stem cells of an animal, is soon-to-be a reality in the modern world. In August of this year, the world’s first lab-grown burger was cooked, eaten, and judged by critics in the Netherlands.

It’s a strange concept that many surely see as fundamentally unnatural and therefore wrong. This concept arouses the issue of the naturality of modern diets. While we may want to eat what we consider natural foods, a modern, first-world diet is fundamentally unnatural, and should therefore — arguments for one’s health aside — be chosen based on what will cause the least damage to the earth as a whole. If in-vitro meat is the lesser evil, then I’m on board with it.

Natural is important to me. I feel that eating as closely to the primal way that humans do as animals is how they should eat. I have a hard time accepting supplements, to a lesser extent vitamin pills and protein powder, to a greater one processed foods, pumped with genetically-modified soy and corn products, or snake-oil health supplements promising to solve every health issue (think goji-berry drinks).

Still, I choose an apparently unnatural diet that I feel benefits the earth the most. I eat vegetarian, and temporarily ate vegan (long story), because I believe these diets minimize the destruction caused by modern food production. They reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses, the destruction of land, consumption of water, and amount of plants required for raising animals for meat or dairy products. As it almost goes without saying, animal factory farms also tend to foster an attitude of treating living beings like inanimate objects (I’ll save the grotesque descriptions for PETA pamphlets).

Vegetarianism and veganism aren’t exactly natural. The amounts of beans, grains, soy, and — as I found out — protein powder that I consume do not align with the meat, fruit, and vegetables that our pre-farming ancestors surely ate.

Vegetarian/vegan diets are no less unnatural than meat-inclusive alternatives.

Still, these diets are no less unnatural than meat-inclusive alternatives. Sure, one may logically deduce that, in accordance with how our ancestors ate, our body chemistries do best with meat (there are countless studies/propornents both for and against this issue). But in our culture, we do not have to hunt, and are therefore not brought face-to-face with the killing our eating habits demand.

When our meat is presented by fast-food companies as being happily surrendered by smiling chickens, pigs, etc., it’s neither accurate nor natural. It takes a person further away from what it means to consume something, from what it means to have to destroy to live, something that no living being can ever be free from.

With the choices of diets the modern first-world has to offer, the most ethical one to choose is that which reduces the harm done to the earth. If in-vitro meat provides a solution to the food crisis facing the world, if it reduces the amount of damage from factory farming, then it’s a necessary solution.

I want to say this.

But this conclusion is disappointing! I don’t want to be a pseudo-nihilist that sighs and lets my diet consist of chemicals, growth hormones, and Tang, to support that which separates us further from the truth that eating necessarily involves death!

I really just wish issues like this were more black-and-white.