The future of meat ?

Author: Alastair Gee

"In the future, how will we define meat?

 

At home one night earlier this month, I prepared a salad with simulated chicken made from pea and soy proteins. Later I had some cheese derived from almond milk, which I came across, in a testament to its verisimilitude, next to the dairy camemberts and bries at Whole Foods, rather than shelved with the vegan products. On offer nearby was a mayonnaise also based on pea protein. Soon, these products could be joined by two others in development: a milk intended to be produced in part by yeast, and chips made of meat grown in a medium. In thinking about these items, it was sometimes difficult for me to determine the extent to which they share in the essential nature of the foods they emulate. What is the quotient of cheeseness in the nut cheese, or of milkness in the yeast milk? And, for that matter, how should that essence be defined in the first place? At one point the foods involved — chicken, pea, milk, almond — struck me as merely variations on some fundamental substrate of nutrients, and the names became a hazy and untethered assortment of signifiers.

At one point the foods involved — chicken, pea, milk, almond — struck me as merely variations on some fundamental substrate of nutrients.

Recently there has been growing interest in Silicon Valley and beyond in creating consumer foods that incorporate protein-rich replacements for farm-animal products like meat, dairy foods and eggs. It is a niche already occupied by tofu and soy, but some of the new companies disavow any similarities to them and are encouraging a semantic shift. They are not simply alternatives to animal foods, they say. They are analogs of them, or even new kinds of them. The website of one company, Beyond Meat, puts it like this: “What if you define meat by what it is — amino acids, fats, carbs, minerals, and water — versus where it is from (i.e cows, chickens, pigs)? What you’d have is meat for the future. Meat from plants.” In blurring categories like this, however, questions about marketing abound.

demand for meat, particularly in Asia’s burgeoning middle-classes, is expected to soar.

With the world’s population expected to climb to approach 10 billion by 2050, demand for meat, particularly in Asia’s burgeoning middle classes, is predicted to soar. Meanwhile, the U.N. has reported that raising cattle contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than does transportation, and that animal products are in general more carbon-intensive than plant-based options. The new food companies often tout their earth-friendly credentials — but they also represent the latest salvo in a lengthy discourse about the human race’s ability to provide for itself as it grows, which Warren Belasco, an American studies professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, ably describes in Meals to Come."

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