Sunday, April 13, 2008

Growing meat in vats

I came across an article in the New York Times recently about growing
meat in vats.

It raises a lot of interesting questions about what is natural and
what is environmental. Raising animals for human consumption creates
a whole host of issues, both environmentally and, even if you're not a
vegetarian, ethically as well. The carbon, pollution, and water use
footprint of consuming 100 beef calories versus 100 wheat calories is
pretty outrageous; from's carbon footprint calculator,
eating meat at almost every meal versus never eating meat adds around
5 tons of CO2 to your carbon footprint annually. US livestock produce
3 tons of manure for every American alive per year. We've been
consuming more and more meat over the last century, and when you
factor in increasing demand for meat and quality protein by developing
countries in Asia and elsewhere, we're facing a pretty serious problem
for the future. Based on this, eating meat grown independently seems
like a pretty good solution for the environmental side of the problem.

Despite this, there's just something that seems wrong about eating
"meat" grown in a vat, and I'm sure I'm not alone on this. I'm sure
that once they figure out the kinks in the technology and make it
solvent, that it'll become a viable alternative to the real thing, if
not in the immediate future than at least in the next 10 or 20 years
or so. It just seemed wrong to me on a visceral level when I first
read the article. But then I got thinking about our current system
for producing meat. What makes genetically engineering animals cooped
up in sickeningly huge feedlots, slaughtered oftentimes inhumanely,
then frozen and shipped out absurd distances wrapped in plastic that
much more "natural" than something grown in a vat? I eat chicken
mcnuggets already, and those things are pretty unnatural. We're
already at a pretty unnatural place with our meat consumption; the
least we can do is make it a little better for the world to eat meat.

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