Next on my reading list: ‘Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World’

After you’ve been vegetarian or vegan for a while, it’s hard to imagine eating meat ever again. Whether you stopped consuming it for health reasons, environmental reasons, moral reasons, or all three, there’s something about the texture of meat and knowing where it comes from that’ll make your stomach churn.

But that change can be slow to happen, even for dedicated abstainers–and of course many people never experience it because they’re 100% happy eating meat.

So, what’s a planet to do? How do we shift away from cruelty and unsustainable farming practices and toward alternatives that are friendlier toward animals, people, and the environment?

Obviously, the answer isn’t getting over seven billion humans to go vegan. Nor is it changing the definition of meat. (My father will never be seduced by the charms of a portobello burger.)

According to Paul Shapiro’s new book, Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World, the answer to this pressing question involves using today’s technology to upend the very way that meat is farmed. Instead of killing cows raised on feed lots, Shapiro says that we’re at the point where we can grow legit meat in labs. Fast Company reports:

For Shapiro, writing this book at this time was just common sense. “We’re quickly reaching peak meat,” he says. “And the question really is: How are we going to feed the coming billions of people on our planet in the next few decades?” Certainly not through large-scale animal agriculture, a key driver of climate change and one of the most resource-intensive and wasteful industries on the planet. In a particularly compelling passage of the book, Shapiro encourages readers to imagine, while walking through the grocery store, over 1,000 single-gallon jugs of water stacked up next to each whole chicken for sale: That is how much water is required to bring a single chicken from farm to shelf, and poultry is far less resource-intensive and environmentally damaging than beef.

Moving down the food chain from meat to grains and vegetables allows more food to be produced, and makes it easier to feed people en masse (we would have much more grain to give to people, for instance, if we did not have to allocate so much of it for animal feed). But global trends are pushing people away from plants and toward more meat consumption: As nations like China and India develop, Shapiro notes that people living there previously on a primarily animal-free diet are now beginning to adjust to a more American-style diet, heavy in meat and dairy (and thanks, in no small part, to the proliferation of fast food empires like McDonald’s across the developing world).

“So we’re at the point where we can try to persuade people in the United States to voluntarily eat less meat, which is a good idea, but we can also try to produce meat with fewer resources,” Shapiro says. “It’s kind of like how you can try to get people to turn off their light bulbs more, but you can also invent a light bulb that’s so energy efficient that it wouldn’t even matter if they left it on.” The idea behind clean meat, Shapiro says, is avoiding the potential pitfalls of calling for a sweeping behavior shift, and instead tweaking the root of the thing that fuels that behavior in the first place.


Vegan fast food may be coming to a drive-in near you

I haven’t heard much about Plant Power, a California-based vegan fast-food chain. Then again, I live in Louisiana, which is a little behind the curve when it comes to plant-based diets. If the company ever decides to plant a flag on this side of the Rockies, though, I’ll be among the first in line for a Holy Guacamole burger–with a root beer float, of course. Forbes reports:

Founders Jeffrey Harris, Zach Vouga and Mitch Wallis started Plant Power Fast Food to combat the impact that the consumption of animal products has had on the health of millions of Americans by providing a plant-based fast-food alternative. “The fast-food industry has successfully answered a need by providing a convenient way to get our meals on the go while at the same time delivering a consistent taste experience. The downside is that, by and large, this type of food isn’t very good for you,” says Harris. “Our goal has been to inspire people to begin to ask themselves some important questions about where our food comes from and perhaps to begin to think differently about their choices. But we’re not doing it in a way that’s preachy or confrontational.”

As well as containing no animal ingredients, the comfort food dishes on offer at Plant Power Fast Food are also free from cholesterol, GMO, artificial colorings, flavorings and preservatives, thereby appealing to people who want healthier fast-food options. “We’re really a plant-based, healthier version of McDonald’s, In & Out, Burger King, Wendy’s or Jack in the Box,” says Harris.

Welsh dairy farmers see vegans as an urgent threat

The Welsh may not be concerned about the train wreck that is Brexit, but their dairy farmers sure are worried about vegans. Too bad the farmers don’t understand what they’re doing wrong:

Wales Dairy Show chairman Colin Evans said a rise in vegan celebrities meant farmers needed to “prove” that they “produce food in a healthy manner”….

The dairy show’s Mr Evans said the growth in the vegan movement was worrying for the industry.

“It must be of concern to us. Celebrities are now getting behind promotional drives for veganism or vegetarianism,” he said.

“We must have the answers ready for these people and to prove that we do look after our animals and we do produce food in a healthy manner.” [emphasis mine]

Mr. Evans, vegans aren’t really worried about whether you “produce food in a healthy manner”, whatever that means. They’re worried about the way you treat cows. The difference is significant.

Stella McCartney is making it easier for other fashion brands to be animal-friendly

Designer Stella McCartney is taking what I’ll call a “Tesla approach” to fashion.

Tesla wasn’t happy with today’s batteries and wanted better ones for its electric cars, so the company constructed a massive factory devoted to improving battery technology and building better products. Next, it’ll sell those batteries to other electric car manufacturers, bringing the whole industry along.

McCartney–a lifelong vegetarian–is doing something similar with silk. Fast Company reports:

McCartney’s latest venture is a collaboration with Bolt Threads, an eight-year-old startup that has created a product called Microsilk, which is bioengineered to mimic the chemistry and strength of real silk created by spiders in nature. The resulting material will be a triple win if it can be produced at enough scale to be used in fashion: No insects are killed or harmed, the use of petroleum is limited, and manufacturing it does not require resources like land or water.

But rather than leave other labels in the dust, McCartney wants to bring them along with her. She knows that by developing and using environmentally friendly materials in her own collections, and talking about it, she can apply pressure to luxury fashion and all apparel to follow suit. Ultimately, her goal is to make real cultural change in the world.


The unthinkable has happened: Gucci has stopped using fur (for the right reasons)

Though sadly, Bloomberg’s Robert Williams can’t stop himself from taking a swipe at animal-rights activists in the lede.

Italian fashion house Gucci plans to drop animal fur from its collections, showing how concerns about responsible business practices that originated with the Birkenstock brigade have galvanized an industry known for its celebration of excess.

The Milan-based maker of $1,000 fur-lined slippers, part of French luxury conglomerate Kering, will sell its remaining fur items in a charity auction, the company said in a statement Thursday, citing the “deprivation and cruelty suffered by fur-bearing animals.”

The move, effective next spring, comes as high-end brands join consumer-goods giants like Unilever and Nestle SA in responding to growing ethical, environmental and social awareness among consumers, especially millennials. The luxury industry’s use of animal skins has become a touchstone of these concerns for protesters who have flocked to fashion shows around the world.

Two escaped piglets lead the charge against America’s vicious “ag-gag” laws

The outstanding, controversial, and–let’s be honest–devilishly handsome Glenn Greenwald has written a magnificent piece about animal rights activists and their efforts to undo America’s ag-gag laws. Recently, the activists have gotten some help from two little piglets who escaped from a factory farm in a brazen break-out that’s led to interstate chases, search warrants, and plenty of talk about freedom of speech:

The factory farm industry and its armies of lobbyists wield great influence in the halls of federal and state power, while animal rights activists wield virtually none. This imbalance has produced increasingly oppressive laws, accompanied by massive law enforcement resources devoted to punishing animal activists even for the most inconsequential nonviolent infractions — as the FBI search warrant and raid in search of “Lucy and Ethel” illustrates.

The U.S. government, of course, has always protected and served the interests of industry. Beginning when most of the nation was fed by small farms, federal agencies have been particularly protective of agricultural industry. That loyalty has only intensified as family farms have nearly disappeared, replaced by industrial factory farms where animals are viewed purely as commodities, instruments for profit, and treated with unconstrained cruelty.

Lately, opposition is emerging from unusual places. Utah federal judge Robert J. Shelby, an Obama appointee who is a lifelong Republican, recently struck down the state’s ag-gag law on First Amendment grounds, noting in his ruling:

For as long as farmers have put food on American tables, the government has endeavored to support and protect the agricultural industry. … In short, governmental protection of the American agricultural industry is not new, and has taken a variety of forms over the last two hundred years. What is new, however, is the recent spate of state laws that have assumed an altogether novel approach: restricting speech related to agricultural operations.

It’s not pretty, but it’s an important read.

One small step for man, one giant leap backward for pigs and other lab animals

Lately, I’ve been feeling optimistic about the field of medicine. Animal testing is slowly, surely being phased out, and scientists are working on a host of advances like lab-grown organs and organs on chips that could reduce our reliance on pigs, rats, and other lab animals even further.

So, it’s a little disheartening to read this:

Researchers at Harvard University and the nearby biotech startup eGenesis used CRISPR-Cas9, a new gene-editing method that replaces unwanted segments of DNA with “desirable” ones, to allow pig embryos to develop without harboring pig viruses that are harmful to humans.

The new research is detailed in a study published in the journal Science on Thursday. In it, the scientists show how they were able to generate 37 designer pigs without active porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) that can be transmitted to humans and are potentially deadly.

The study further increases hope that xenotransplantation — the use of animal organs for human transplant — could one day be used to assist with a shortage of crucial human organs like hearts, livers, and lungs.

But wait, it gets worse:

Before these kinds of transplants are allowed, other genetic changes may need to be made to pigs, and regulators will require tests using lab primates prior to using genetically engineered organs in humans. [emphasis mine]

Look, I get that people need medicine and organs. I get that. It just seems that with all the technology at our disposal, we could find a better way of doing it. Didn’t anyone read Never Let Me Go?