enjoying the foliage

a dilemma of luxury

Posted on: Sunday, April 13, 2008

This caught my eye while browsing the NY Times yesterday. “Can People Have Meat and a Planet, Too?” reads the headline. In a nutshell, Andrew C. Revkin reports on the first international conference on manufacturing meat and considers the implications of our largely carnivorous ways, the growing demand for animal protein in developing parts of the world, and what vat-grown chicken nuggets could do to change all of this.

Now, this sort of talk pulls me in all kinds of directions, but I have a play to get to shortly, so forgive me for being a little binary. To put things blithely: on the one hand, I like the bragging rights that come with being a morally consistent and rational individual. I recognise that whether it’s a humble hamburger or a rib-eye steak it costs the planet more than it can really afford with so many hungry mouths to feed. And then there are the million and one other arguments for vegetarianism as a moral practice, some sound, some not so much. On the other hand, I am an ardent foodie, and so the thought of trading in flank steaks, duck breasts, sausage, and the like for in-vitro meal makes me cringe in an entirely different way. I am not a raging carnivore who demands meat with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In fact, I’d say that about 80% of my meals are quite meat-free. However, I think that my bourgeois whining has a bit of a legitimate timbre to it. Whatever else the case may be, we are parting with a grand tradition of culinary richness and wonder. The circumstances seem to be such that we can’t continue on the way that we have. I would just like to take a moment to mourn the passing of our fine but problematic old ways before deciding on how best to serve a side of vat-grown ground beef.

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2 Responses to "a dilemma of luxury"

My belief is that eating meat is not “human nature” but a cultural habit.

I guess if people want to they can go the Atwoodian route and eat ChickieNubs as in Oryx and Crake along with their cow, pig and fish counterparts, but I can only imagine that the infrastructure required to produce such a thing makes it anything but a long term solution to people’s overconsumptive habits.

I’ve seen no evidence that technology is the route to “sustainability” (whatever that word means anymore), but by all means, prove me wrong.

For now I maintain that there’s nothing about this that doesn’t completely gross me out.

Hm. I’ve surveyed two of my favourite people on this matter so far. The first’s reaction was much like yours. Growing meat is petri dishes is largely unappealing. It would just be better to scale back on meat consumption and get your filet mignon on privileged occasions, etc. The second was all for vat-grown delights, but he dances to the tune of Peter Singer’s animal rights. So, it really is a matter of angles. I will continue to cook for convenience, which means living off of farmers’ market bread and jam and possibly vegetable chowder, at least for the next week and a half.

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