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So about that meat...

21 Feb 2024 | OP ED Watch

The politicians who are promising us an energy transition is accelerating and urging us to let them throw our billions into supposedly exciting new industries might want to pause a moment and explain how things are progressing in another, related big transition they hyped, namely to plant-based meat. A guest essay in the New York Times was quite frank about the matter including its seductive appeal. Joe Fassler writes “Between 2016 and 2022, investors poured almost $3 billion into cultivated meat and seafood companies.” Only to discover consumers didn’t want the stuff.

“It is a gleaming vision of a world just beyond the present:” Fassler writes. “A world in which meat is abundant and affordable with almost no cost to the environment. Animal slaughter is forgotten. Global warming is restrained.” Gosh, it just gets better and better:

“At the heart of the vision is a high-tech factory housing steel tanks as tall as apartment buildings and conveyor belts rolling out fully formed steaks, millions of pounds a day – enough, astonishingly, to feed an entire nation… All we have to do is tie on our bibs.”

Except it didn’t work. He writes that:

“Interviews with almost 60 industry investors and insiders, including many who have been employed by or been part of the leadership teams of these companies, reveal a litany of squandered resources, broken promises and unproven science…. Costs refused to enter the realm of plausible as launch targets came and went. All the while, nobody could achieve anything close to meaningful scale. And yet companies rushed to build expensive facilities and pushed scientists to exceed what was possible, creating the illusion of a thrilling race to market.”

The odd thing is, he’s not sorry. Climate change is for many people a lever to pry their wretched fellows away from their short-sighted, grubby selfish preoccupations into a neo-Puritan heaven where you have nothing and are happy or, at least, don’t complain.

One minute you’re told there will be no sacrifice, or very little. A piece in Euronews in December breezily assures us that:

“Going meat-free for just two days a week in the EU and the UK has outsized environmental benefits. Such a moderate shift toward plant-based eating could result in an impressive reduction of 81 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year. This has a comparable impact to taking a quarter – or about 65 million – of all cars off the roads of the EU and the UK.”

Well, gosh, nothing to it. Didn’t observant Catholics skip meat on Fridays for centuries? What’s one more day? It will build character. And besides, aren’t we going to be healthier and happier for eating more salad anyway?

But then suddenly the entire cattle industry has to go, and when you complain, you get lectures not sympathy. Keep complaining and they’ll not only get rid of the beef, they’ll get rid of the people who want to eat it too.

No really. A Guardian story in January announced that we humans are the problem. But experts can fix us:

“Record heat, record emissions, record fossil fuel consumption. One month out from Cop28, the world is further than ever from reaching its collective climate goals. At the root of all these problems, according to recent research, is the human ‘behavioural crisis’, a term coined by an interdisciplinary team of scientists.”

That crisis being that we’d rather be fed than hungry, warm than cold, and have nice stuff not a few bits of junk. How dare we? The piece explains that we dare because we are already puppets of someone else less attractive and should be theirs instead:

“Merz and colleagues believe that most climate ‘solutions’ proposed so far only tackle symptoms rather than the root cause of the crisis. This, they say, leads to increasing levels of the three “levers” of overshoot: consumption, waste and population.”

Boo consumption! Boo population! Yay social engineering! Thus:

“The paper explores how neuropsychology, social signalling and norms have been exploited to drive human behaviours which grow the economy, from consuming goods to having large families. The authors suggest that ancient drives to belong in a tribe or signal one’s status or attract a mate have been co-opted by marketing strategies to create behaviours incompatible with a sustainable world. ‘People are the victims – we have been exploited to the point we are in crisis. These tools are being used to drive us to extinction,’ says the evolutionary behavioural ecologist and study co-author Phoebe Barnard. ‘Why not use them to build a genuinely sustainable world?’”

Just hand us your brain. We may not be able to grow better meat in a lab, but we can grow a better you. The Guardian quotes this paper that:

“We’re talking about replacing what people are trying to signal, what they’re trying to say about themselves. Right now, our signals have a really high material footprint –our clothes are linked to status and wealth, their materials sourced from all over the world, shipped to south-east Asia most often and then shipped here, only to be replaced by next season’s trends. The things that humans can attach status to are so fluid, we could be replacing all of it with things that essentially have no material footprint – or even better, have an ecologically positive one.”

You will have nothing and be happy. Or not exist and we’ll be happy. Either way.

For decades these authoritarian scolds have been latching onto supposed crisis after supposed crisis, often very different from one another, from resource depletion to overpopulation to air pollution, and then proposing the same solution: we take away your freedom of choice and your nice stuff, dole out your rations and require that you smile before being allowed to leave with them.

Thus Fassler exults that:

“For all its terrifying urgency, climate change is an invitation – to reinvent our economies, to rethink consumption, to redraw our relationships to nature and to one another. Cultivated meat was an excuse to shirk that hard, necessary work.”

There’s that thing about reinventing our economies again. No problem. I’m that great. And so he’s also ready to make you not shirk. Oh yeah. He says:

“cultivated meat always seemed like a story about optimism. It was about the way people came together and solved big problems in the nick of time. It was about the infinite potential of human ingenuity, our ability to make the impossible possible. But the more time I’ve spent around this industry, the more I’ve felt that the whole project is fundamentally rooted in despair, an acknowledgment that real change, political change, was impossible, so we might as well offer people a sparkly new product to buy.”

He has a different plan. But we won’t get there without a lot of sacrifice. As he ends the article, this Brave New World won’t arrive:

“Without new regulations and bold political action. Without difficult cultural conversations. Without actual and sometimes uncomfortable change.”

So there. You will be uncomfortable. And you will like it. Or at least he will.

7 comments on “So about that meat...”

  1. I eat plant based meat all the time; the cows eat the grass and I eat the cows, the deer eat the plants and I eat the deer. It is the way it is supposed to be.

  2. Like I said, tasing these idiots is the way to go! BTW, the lack of self awareness here is stunning, you have a few thousand pointy headed Pseudo-scientists glibly discussing the impoverishment of billions of people. I wonder who would win that war?

  3. Pointy heads will win, it is all going to UN plan, the Corporate Fascist are already in control. just look at the state of the world it is being destroyed on purpose to "build back better"
    And yet there will be plenty of Apparatchiks step forward for that extra ration as they ratchet up the greasy pole, It will be dog eat dog. (but this time you Will be eating the dog) It is unfortunately the human condition coupled with professional well thought out propaganda from the ministry of
    disinformation and everyone with their fingers in their ears shouting la la la cant hear you!

  4. Given that brain matter is around 70% animal fat, one wonders what happens to them when deprived of the same.

  5. I love salad; Chicken salad with cheese. Of course Fassler will not be first in line to drink Jimmy's Kool Aid.

  6. "You tell everybody. Listen to me Hatcher. You've gotta tell em! SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE! We gotta stop em! Somehow!

  7. My beef is already plant-based. Plants go into the cow, and beef comes out. You don't get any more plant-based than that.

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