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The Future of Food

One of the most crucial conversations of our time is how we eat. Recent figures show that six percent of the UK are vegan, and the momentum isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. A diet once reserved for religious groups and punks in protest has become a mainstream choice grounded in a desire to make a positive change in the world. Analysis shows that the single biggest thing an individual can do to help the environment is cut out beef. And there’s the other (more explicit) benefit of not taking life unnecessarily. Surely that’s a good thing?      

But what about the other 94% of the population? Whilst a lot of them fall into the broad category of veggie/flexitarian/pescatarian, many still consume meat every day. What could keep people eating meat despite the obvious ethical issues? Simply, the taste. Despite the moral uncertainty that comes with meat consumption, many people couldn’t imagine life without their animal of choice. And by calling cow “beef”, and pig “pork”, we maintain a tactical distance from the reality of our consumption.

Still, there’s even more hope for removing meat from our diets. Scientists are working on lab-grown meat, which will hopefully satiate those who can’t give up the taste. Lab-grown meat is produced by the in-vitro cultivation of animal cells to grow specific tissues. The technology is only just reaching the point of commercial viability, but the idea has existed for decades. In 1931, Winston Churchill said that “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium”, and by the 1970s, the first experiment to show that muscle could be grown in a lab was published. Since then the technology has developed, aided most notably by the development of reliable ways of culturing stem cells (the undifferentiated cells which can turn into any other type of cell). In 2013, the first lab-grown burger was produced, costing a dizzying $200,000 to produce over two years. In the four years since, that price has dropped to around $10. If this trend continues, lab meat could soon be a commercial product, with a few notable start-ups are working towards that end. Companies are working on fishless fish, cowless beef, and even duckless duck. Not even that, but the benefits of lab grown meat extend beyond ethics – having control over the end product means that we could load our meats with additional nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids.

My personal utopian vision would see all of our farmland currently used to grow animals returned to some kind of wilderness, where forests were left to grow and support reintroduced animals like beavers and lynx. Who knows if that’ll ever happen, but at least we’re making steps in the right direction. Science is paving the way for even the most passionate meat eaters to make dietary changes that could not only save a few animals, but our entire planet.

Robert Brett

Robert Brett is a final year Physics student. He is the chair of the Literature Society for 2018/2019.

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