I would like to came to veganism through an epiphany about the right of animals to a person or recognition of the environmental damage that animal husbandry causes. But I didn’t. What made me a vegan was nighttime vomiting caused by an undercooked ostrich. It was Glastonbury Festival 2019. At 21, hungover and hungry, I thought I’d get a snack from the only vendor at the festival, skip the line. Later, as I sat in the portal, warding off the hallucinations of the ostrich slaughter, I vowed never to eat meat again.
Today, I follow the same diet as many vegans. My diet is driven by a desire to avoid animal suffering and environmental damage, but unlike some vegans, I don’t like meat. I know that if I tried salmon again, my taste buds would explode with pleasure, but I refrain because I don’t think my right to life is superior to that of another animal. Trust me I want eat meat again. But I won’t.
That is, I will not eat the meat of a living animal. When I discovered that lab-grown meat declared safe for human consumption FDA, I was overjoyed. Meat grown like a plant, without any suffering… I immediately imagined future Christmas dinners: a lab-grown turkey with cranberry sauce for a side dish.
But when I communicated my excitement to my vegan friends, they recoiled. Everyone felt empty. Ella Marshall, Associate Trademark Manager for the Vegan Society, the world’s oldest vegan association, told me via email that “We can’t officially support cultured meat as it still uses animals. […] we will not be able to register such Vegan branded products.”
I was naive in thinking that vegans would accept cultured meat. Veganism is a broad church filled with different interpretations. Accordingly, as lab-grown meat becomes available as a cheap, sustainable form of protein that does not require animal suffering, veganism will face an identity crisis. The conflict will be between vegans, whose philosophy is defined by a simple rejection of animal products, and those who believe in a more radical restructuring of our relationship with the animal world.
Ultimately, arguments against meat farming may hinder the progress of animal liberation. Vegans shouldn’t allow this. If we want to end animal exploitation, it is our moral duty to call lab-grown meat vegan, even if it makes us nervous.
If you are reading science fiction, the idea of lab-grown meat might not seem so outlandish. Writers from Philip K. Dick to Douglas Adams have explored this technology. But how does it work in real life?
To grow meat, you need to take animal stem cells for growing in bioreactors. Although these biopsies are invasive, the process is less painful than many procedures an animal may undergo during its life on the farm, and importantly, the process does not require the animal to be killed. In bioreactors, the cells are misled into believing they are still inside the animal’s body. stored in the substrate consists of nutrients such as amino acids, vitamins, carbohydrates and proteins. Once the meat is grown, the product is harvested and processed into whatever form the producers want to sell. WITH first burger for $375,000 was eaten in 2013, production costs have dropped. While still expensive compared to traditionally farmed meat, the cost reduction is drastic and will continue. After all, lab-grown meat can become more accessible than traditionally raised animals.
Vegans should love this new technology. Its potential to reduce everything from animal suffering to greenhouse gas emissions makes this technology, if not revolutionary, then at least a useful tool in the fight against climate change.