By Sadie F.
Meat has come under increased scrutiny due to the environmental impacts of meat farming - particularly cattle farming. These processes are taxing on our natural resources and also emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane, all potent greenhouse gases. An estimate by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN says that the livestock sector is accountable for 14.5% of all climate-change-inducing emissions. But to those among us who are invested in lowering their climate footprint, this is not news. What is news, however, is the approach being taken by multiple food companies of trying to persuade consumers to buy meatless meat.
One such company is Impossible Foods, which has worked for the past 8 years to develop products such as their meatless burger - the Impossible Burger. Looking at a raw Impossible burger, one might think they were looking at ground beef. The “burger” meat is sold in a ground beef state perfect for the restaurants to which the burgers are being sold. It cooks, looks and acts as a burger should. What differentiates this vegetarian burger from other vegetarian burgers is the compound heme, which gives the burger its meaty flavor and properties. Heme is the molecule in the human body that carries oxygen through the bloodstream and is also abundant in red meat. Researchers at Impossible Foods discovered that heme is also very present in the roots of soybean plants. However, in practice, the process of harvesting the roots of soybean plants is not economically feasible or practical. They now use the more scalable process of fermenting the protein to reproduce the cells. Impossible burgers could be in the fridges of Americans this year.
There is also the possibility that lab-grown meat will become commercial in the near future. Lab-grown meat is achieved through a process that takes the stem cells of the animal and puts it in an environment that allows the cells to reproduce and thrive, similar to the process of brewing beer. Although some environmental advocates argue that this process is unethical, it would greatly limit the impact of the meat farming industry on the environment and on the well being of farmed animals. What differentiates lab-grown beef from faux beef, like the Impossible burger, is that it is actually beef. This is, perhaps, an even more appealing concept to those who are skeptical of vegetarianism or unwilling to give up meat due to the illusion that meat is necessary to their diet.
Vegan meat has the ability to change the conversation around meat and the environment. It is not feasible for the government to ban all meat, nor is it probable that a tax on beef will be levied. So the future around the meat industry lies in the hands of the consumer. In a capitalist society business and innovation has the ability to drive social change. The role that these companies have to shape the meat market is an important one. If these companies can make a cheap and meaty product, then there will be a real change in the way that we even approach the word "meat." Although we may like to think that we are driven by our moral compass when we buy a product at the supermarket, we are primarily driven by economic factors. What will really drive social change is the ability for vegan meat to become cheaper and tastier than animal meat.
Inspired by Freakonomics Radio Episode The Future of Meat http://freakonomics.com/podcast/meat/