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Foodies Fake the Future

By Dave Armstrong - 13 Mar 2012 11:5:44 GMT
Foodies Fake the Future

Meaty, huh. In fact the ingredients in this cutlet are 100 percent vegetable; Credit: © Fraunhofer IVV

Industrial revolutions work slowly. This one is quietly working on the cruel factory-like conditions that some animals, large and small, suffer. We eat animals. We always have, to some extent, and tribal people will insist on traditional diet, just as we would want them to carry on their other traditional ways.

However we are rarely tribal, except in our sporting team support. The loss of chicken or beef from our kitchens would be tragic. While chicken can be excused as a relatively non-carbon-intensive source, beef can be hugely carbon-intensive, depending on origin. The need is for a meat that can be justified from an ethical viewpoint, be cheaply produced and, here's the crunch, how about animal free.

Keeping rare breeds has become a hobby for farmers who research flavours. But organic chemistry has easily advanced to fungal and plant replacements for the protein, so how far do we have to travel before artificial meat flavours advance beyond the various abysmal contents of crisp packets? Living conditions for animals would no longer concern us. True farmers could maintain their animals in the manner to which they became accustomed before factory farming.

Cost is probably the issue here. We pay a lot for traditional Quorn or tofu, but the question is how much did it cost to produce? Perhaps not that much. Certainly not £8 ($12) per pound. We have researchers producing real meat from tissue culture who could charge $100,000 for a steak. That cost will come down, so why can't other veggy foods? No antibiotics (80% of the antibiotics used in the US are given to animals!) or other unhealthy additives are needed, no chicken lives for just six weeks, no violence is committed against another species and the synthetic product can be nutritionally vastly superior.

There is nothing wrong with sensibly managed farming but the solution is likely to be a beef or pork machine that replaces the animal machine we have now. The animals are simply replaced by much cheaper alternatives while farms produce the more expensive product in the traditional way. The simplicity of the argument is undeniable. So why hasn't this already happened.

Only 3% of the population are vegetarian. But 30% eat meatless meals for part of their lives. If an environmental campaign backed up the obvious cost saving and convenience, surely those figures would grow rapidly. I love making my own zingy yogurt. Why couldn't we all make some bacterial or other protein as leisure, whether for good reasons or bad, increases with the time we have available? As a large European project called "LikeMeat" puts it, we should aim at the development of meat analogues with excellent, well-accepted texture, juiciness, appearance and aroma based on plant proteins and combinations with appropriate hydrocolloids. The chemistry might be beyond some SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises), on whom this is based, but the EU means to make it very easy for them to bring their produce to market.

Looking at the veterinary record, most of the billions of chickens we eat are grown so fast that they develop bone disease and live in pain (as well as let's say, reduced circumstances). The waste production record is equally worrying: the same amount of urine and faeces are produced by animals as the vast amount of food they are force-fed. Equally bad are the obvious increases in all of the major resistant food-poisoning bacteria (Listeria, Salmonella and MRSA) in supermarket chickens. Just like hospital bacteria, we are going to have more and more epidemics of these organisms "breaking-out." With a non-live source, there would be no continuous link for the bacteria to follow to us.

The last word can be from a US Department of Agriculture pronouncement. Its Dietary Guidelines say, "Vegetarian-style eating patterns have been associated with improved health outcomes."

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