There’s probably at least one “mega carnivore” in your extended family. That person who has at least three strips of bacon for breakfast, a thick hamburger for lunch, and perhaps steak for dinner. If you were concerned about their health, how would you reach a person like that? Show them the increasing number of studies pointing to the detrimental effects of certain meats and excessive meat consumption? You could… but it’s not likely to be an attractive enough argument to effect any real change. What about if you gave them a Powerpoint presentation about sustainability? Show charts on how the planet is warming? How their grandchildren may have to evacuate many low-lying cities due to climate change… which is being exacerbated by cattle rearing and the meat industry? Would that modify their behavior? We wouldn’t bet on it. What about if you went all “guilt trip?” – Animals are cute and fluffy and it is cruel to keep them in cages or pens and ‘murder’ them for food. Yeah. That’s a non-starter. It’s not that your committed carnivore relative is opposed to saving the planet, nor are they looking to die early. They also aren’t cruel, and enjoy the suffering of animals. It’s just that all of the unpleasant facts connected to eating meat can be rationalized.
Here’s the one thing that might actually work: throw a nice juicy piece of “alternative meat” on a plate and get them to – even if at least begrudgingly – admit that it tastes good. This new meat is made from 100% natural ingredients but tastes, looks, feels, smells, and even cooks very much like real meat. Various plant-based meat substitutes currently available are more than decent, but they aren’t awesome enough to sway true carnivores. Printed meat, however, is an exciting new entry that has the potential to change everything. The technology is exactly what it sounds like: ‘meat’ made by using a 3D printer.
Most people don’t want to think or talk much about the way their meat gets to the table. It can be uncomfortable to watch a movie such as Babe or Charlotte’s Web with your kids and then have ham for dinner. Most of us have a twinge of — if not guilt — then a degree of squeamishness about eating animals. And the health concerns are pretty clear by now. Rising cholesterol levels and expanding waistlines aren’t unnoticed. But we rationalize all of these things. Why? Because meat tastes good. We evolved to eat the stuff and (at least for most of us), our taste buds crave it. This is why people will go out of their way to purchase grass-fed “healthier” and “humanely treated” beef or free-range chicken, and pay a premium for it. Many folks might have already reduced their consumption of the unhealthiest processed meats such as pepperoni or bacon on the advice of doctors. But giving it up entirely just isn’t something most of humanity is ready to do.
People are reporting these new meat options taste “90%” the same as the real deal. But even if your super-meat-loving relative only gives it an ‘85,’ that’s still huge. These are the sort of things that we need; breakthroughs that defeat the rationalization barrier stopping many from going veggie. If we can have the “best of both worlds,” it’s a real solution. And the truth that we all know – whether we want to admit it or not – is that we need a solution. Sustainability isn’t possible with the model we’re using now – especially as the demand for meat skyrockets as increasingly wealthy customers in places such as China place their orders.
Almost all of the science fiction films or TV shows that address this issue posit a future where humanity is vegetarian. There are different reasons given for this. One is a dystopian future Earth that can barely feed the survivors of whatever apocalypse; a planet on which you’re lucky to get any sort of vegetable-based gruel. Another is that humans have evolved beyond eating animals. In either case, the idea is often that in the future we will look back and find meat-eating to be archaic, or even repellent. This may indeed be the case. However, any sci-fi veggie world presupposes that humanity is going to survive long enough to make such a change. If you accept the mainstream science on climate change, the way we eat now cannot continue. Not even for a few more decades. Even if one wants to exclude or ignore the idea of global warming, the land and water use for meat production isn’t sustainable. But folks want their meat. Maybe science can give it to them.