While we know there is not one perfect way to eat, the paleolithic diet is becoming more prominent throughout the health and fitness world. While this type of eating is very plant based, we know that its basic outline includes good sources of animal protein. Those that follow this mindset may find the benefits in the B12, zinc, magnesium, iron, and vitamin D (among others) found in such high quantities in meat, but perhaps do not see the ethical or very political side of the meat industry.
Andras Forgacs has proposed a solution. Or, the answer, depending on how you see it.
Image Courtesy of James Duncan Davidson
In his TED talk found here, Forgacs explains the idea of biofabrication, where cells can be used to grow biological products, like tissue. This process started with the desire to 3D print human organs, and has since been successful in culturing and planting skin, ears, windpipes, blood vessels, and bone into the human body. He was then asked, why not meat?
As he explains in his talk, the biofabrication of meat would be a humane and sustainable way of feeding the world. Currently, livestock uses 33 percent of our ice free land, 8 percent of our global water, and 18 percent of our greenhouse gases, not to mention the mindless slaughter of
“complex and sentient animals” that are so much more than just raw materials, Andres continues. Growing the meat would be similar to that of brewing beer. The cells would be sourced from the animals, and grown in meat breweries, in which he presents the idea of “touring this facility, learning about how the leather or meat is cultured, seeing the process from beginning to end, and even trying some”. With studies measuring the net lifecycle impact of the cultured meat show that it requires 99 percent less land, 96 percent less water, and 96 percent less greenhouse gas emissions. Along with a clean conscience, the biofabrication of meat is nothing from perfect.
What if this was grown in a lab?
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Not so fast.
Ever since World War II, we have moved into the industrial side of agriculture. War making industries needed somewhere to sell their products, so they made tanks into tractors and poison gases into pesticides. We began to turn to monocultures and genetic engineering, making wheat, rice, and corn that were resistant to disease and caused the death of any pest that dared a taste. Knowledge of farming, like knowing crop rotation and cover cropping was irrelevant, as the fertilizer NPK became popular, because all our produce needs to be beautiful and lush are the elements nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
But we now see the effect of efficiency; we see that plants need over 21 elements to thrive, providing us with the proper nutrition. Honeybees are disappearing, unable to find pollen from the weeds that no longer grow. As crops are scarcely grown seasonally, mother birds struggle getting past the thick stalks of corn to the soil and finding earthworms for their hungry chicks in the spring. Allergies and food sensitivities are on the rise, and studies have been pointing to the way that the DNA of many common crops today has been manipulated and crossed with countless species that were never supposed to mate. Animals are being injected with antibiotics before they are even sick, given growth hormones to produce more meat. Small towns that used to center around their family farms have turned been abandoned, run out by huge businesses like Monsanto.
With all the efficiency of industry, we have gained quantity, but lost so much quality. While not much is known yet about the culturing of meat, the history that humans have with attempting to manipulate and improve nature is not outstanding. We seem to overestimate the simplicity of the abundance that the earth has to offer. We don’t just need the protein of meat, or the carbs of wheat. Food is so much more than micro and macronutrients, offering vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, polyphenols, antioxidants, and so much more that we cannot even begin to understand. The production of meat (and food in general) does not, and should not, be linear. Look back to your 3rd grade food chain: the sun feeds the grass which feed the cow which feeds the human, the waste of all of these are decomposed and made into nutritious humus that plants are able to absorb and start the cycle all over again. Livestock do not have to be this ticking time bomb of disease, but of course if they are injected with toxins, then they will be toxic.
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While this does not directly correlate with the biofabrication of meat, it is proof that our disconnection from nature is incredibly damaging. Instead of further stressing this relationship, we should move towards engaging with our food and supporting the local farms that can provide us with high quality meat and produce that have based their energy in the sun and soil, and are able to bring eating back full circle.
However, culturing meat could be the future. What do you think?