A growing number of North Americans are becoming vegetarian, and for a wide variety of reasons. Whether reducing or ceasing meat consumption entirely, being conscious of meat and its effects on the human body, as well as the environment has become virtually unavoidable.
StatisticBrain.com lays out the top reasons behind vegetarianism, and animal welfare and improvement of overall health weighed in as the most popular reasons to go vegetarian with 54% and 53% of respondents citing these as influences, respectively. Environmental concern weighs in as the third most important factor underlying the decision at 47%.
Missing from most of these lists is “I don’t like the taste of meat.” As a “flexitarian,” I struggle to eliminate meat from my diet entirely despite my desire to lead a healthy, ethical, and sustainable life. And that is because meat is freaking delicious.
There are hundreds of meat substitutes, including the fun-sounding “Tofurkey”, but no plant-based alternatives have truly captured the texture of real meat. Well, coming to save the day is the newest ethical debate: lab-grown meat. Scientists at Maastricht University in Holland and Memphis Meats in the US have separately developed processes whereby real animal tissue is developed from stem cells in a sterile lab environment and grown until it is ready for human consumption — and it is healthier and more environmentally friendly than its traditional counterpart. It doesn’t require antibiotics or growth hormones, and certain unhealthy elements such as saturated fat and heme iron can be “taken out of it”. While growing meat in a lab requires electricity, it doesn’t directly produce any greenhouse gas emissions, nor does the meat consume hectares of feed over the course of its growing period the way a standard pig or cow would. It is estimated to reduce water usage by 90%, and land usage by 99% versus conventional means. And since the “meat” doesn’t have a consciousness, it can’t feel pain.
So, it pretty well checks all the boxes for most vegetarians. It doesn’t hurt animals, it doesn’t hurt the planet, and it’s healthier for humans. But how well will it be received by vegetarians — and especially those who have not eaten meat in years? And how will these benefits be communicated effectively to fickle consumers?
While it is still prohibitively expensive to produce on a large scale, the teams behind these projects believe that prices will drop enough for lab-grown meat to reach grocery store shelves in the next handful of years.