Yesterday my google feed alerted me to a story from Europe:
A Belgian ban on the Muslim and Jewish ways of ritually slaughtering animals went into effect on New Year’s Day, part of a clash across Europe over the balance between animal welfare and religious freedom.
With both animal welfare advocates and right-wing nationalists pushing to ban ritual slaughter, religious minorities in Belgium and other countries fear that they are the targets of bigotry under the guise of animal protection.
This is tough one – because each side to the debate has good arguments. The case is going to the Belgium Constitutional Court but I suspect we ‘re going to see more and more of this over time.
There is, however, a technological solution to this problem.
According to its developers, plant-based “meat” is not a niche and the current reliance on animal protein is not sustainable.
So says Impossible Foods, whose mission is to eliminate the need for animals in the food system by 2035.
And while those who produce and consume red meat disagree that animal proteins need to be eliminated, Impossible Foods has created the Impossible Burger, a plant-based protein that looks, tastes and smells like meat.
I was introduced to the notion of the Impossible Burger by my good friend Jeff Stier. Unlike Jeff I haven’t had the opportunity to actually eat an Impossible Burger, but he has and he argues that they are really good compared to traditional burgers. Not yet exactly the same, but well on the way.
The story behind the Impossible Burger is very interesting:
In 2009, Brown decided to devote an 18-month sabbatical to eliminating industrial meat production, which he determined at the time to be the world’s largest environmental problem. A staggering one-third of the land on Earth is used to raise livestock and their food. The Midwest is a giant feed trough. Reducing meat consumption, Brown figured, would free up vast amounts of land and water, would greatly mitigate climate change, would alleviate the suffering of billions of animals, would eliminate mountains of chemical fertilizer, and would make people healthier. It seemed like a no-brainer.
Such a no-brainer, in fact, that at first Brown assumed all he had to do was a little education. “I started doing the typical misguided academic approach to the problem,” he told me. He organized an A-list 2010 National Research Council workshop in Washington called “The Role of Animal Agriculture in a Sustainable 21st Century Global Food System,” which caused not a ripple. Not long after, he determined that the only real way to impact meat production would be to beat it in the free market. “All you have to do is make a product that the current consumers of meat and dairy prefer to what they’re getting now,” he said. “It’s easier to change people’s behavior than to change their minds.”
By the end of his sabbatical, Brown, who has been a vegetarian since the 1970s and a vegan since 2004, had distilled his challenge: He would re-create meat, but with plants. All meat production is environmentally ruinous, but beef is by far the worst offender, so for his initial target, Brown chose ground beef, which accounts for 60 percent of all beef consumption.
Easier to change behaviour than change people’s minds? What a revolutionary concept. Provide people with a substitute not a lecture on morality. Wow.
So here is the thing – you don’t have to care about the environmental impact of farming, or animal welfare* to consume the product. So long as you get just as much enjoyment from eating an Impossible Burger as you would a regular burger this product becomes a win-win for everyone. The free market at work.
*Right now the ban on halal and kosher meat is simple anti-religious bigotry some dressed up as concern for animal welfare (others are just bigots). First they came for the religious minorities. Let’s not kid ourselves that this is where it’ll stop. Having said that, the fact of matter is that we kill fellow sentient beings that feel pain and suffering for our own sustenance and enjoyment.