Whether you are an out-and-proud carnivore, worried about the climate impact of your backyard BBQs or have planted your flag as a vegan, the future of meat matters to you, just as it does to the planet. In today’s Daily Dose, we look at what makes us love meat, how it might soon be a thing of the past and what lies ahead.
Pallabi Munsi, OZY Reporter, and Josefina Salomon, OZY Correspondent
the science of meat
1. Will Insects Be the New Cows?
Watch where you step; you might be spoiling your dinner. In the quest to deliver high-quality protein without ruining the globe, scientists increasingly are turning to bugs. Crickets, worms, ants and more of our creepy-crawly friends are cheaper, rich in nutrients and more sustainable to farm than livestock. Mexico is at the trend’s cutting edge, and chef Mario Ismael Piñón Melgarejo tells OZY he loves the challenge of using traditional recipes to get people to try some of Mexico’s 549 edible insects, including scorpions and grasshoppers. “When they try them, people tend to remember the meals their mothers or grandmothers used to cook for them and then they stop being scared,” Melgarejo says.
2. A New Superfood?
Quinoa is so last year. After some 60 years of trying, scientists have found a way to turn protein-rich marine microalgae into a new superfood. While researchers at Flinders University in Australia are on a mission to make a thriving food industry out of single-celled organisms scooped from the ocean, Canada-based Smallfood is developing a “more perfect protein” from a new strain of microalgae that emits 30 times fewer greenhouse gases compared to beef and needs 160-fold less water than farmed fish.
3. Cultured Meat
How do you eat meat that bleeds but isn’t slaughtered? Visit Singapore. In December, the 5.7-million-strong city-state allowed the restaurant 1880 to serve up GOOD Meat, cultured meat made by harvesting stem cells for muscle tissue. The result: unslaughtered chickens that could be the next big thing. The U.S. government announced plans in 2019 to regulate cell-cultured food products of livestock and poultry. The European Union has plans to govern cultured meat through existing regulations on new foods, and in China, a “new ingredient” petition is making the rounds. So keep an eye on alternative meats coming to a plate near you.
Adding plants to hamburgers used to only conjure images of crispy lettuce. But in recent years, plant-based meat has taken off, and the pandemic saw U.S. sales of it grow by 264 percent. This has enabled firms like Beyond Meat to go public with a nearly $1.5 billion valuation and for experimentation with ingredients like soy, lupine and other plant-based sources. It’s also making markets cheer: Valued as a $4.3 billion U.S. industry in 2020, plant-based meat is expected to hit $8.3 billion by 2025, according to Markets and Markets. Outside the U.S., meat alternatives are finding love in surprising places: While long known as a steak-loving nation, new health trends and the environmental impact of cattle ranching are seeing Brazilian companies cater to a growing market of vegans and vegetarians.
There’s a good reason all these meat alternatives are blossoming: Livestock creates nearly two-thirds of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and 78 percent of agricultural methane emissions, according to the United Nations. As The New Yorker put it, drawing on research from Princeton’s Tim Searchinger, every four pounds of beef the world consumes has as much climate impact as flying from New York to London. Livestock also draw down precious resources: It takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef, as cattle consume seven pounds of feed for every pound of body mass they add. Crops such as corn and soybeans take up a small fraction of the resources of meat, yet often are converted into livestock feed anyway.
2. Viral Diet
Could the pandemic put an end to Latin America’s love affair with meat? Ravaged by COVID-19, it is quickly sinking into one of its deepest economic recessions in decades with the International Monetary Fund projecting, in October, an 8.1 percent contraction of the economy across the region. With key industries such as tourism ground to a near halt, the eye-watering wealth divide in the most unequal region in the world continues to grow, making products such as meat unaffordable for increasingnumbers of people and forcing many to turn to more starch- and plant-based diets.
3. The Pushback
Eating meat, like most everything else in the U.S. these days, is becoming a political act — whether you’re an environmental crusader or rebelling against the nanny state. From vegan Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat, to Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican, who once made bacon on a machine gun nozzle, politicians are stepping in. Because liberal Democrats’ Green New Deal proposal discussed the climate impact of cows, the plan’s foes claimed Democrats were coming to take your burger away, a politically potent assertion in a meat-loving country. Notably, Democrat Joe Biden won the presidency with a climate plan that did not embrace the Green New Deal. In France, the Green mayor of Lyon, Gregory Doucet, is drawing criticism from the national government for launching meat-free school lunches, with top ministers saying Doucet was harming children’s nutrition and French butchers for the sake of ideology.
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How did we first get introduced to eating meat, helping set us on the path to climate disaster? The climate itself. About 2.6 million years ago, forests withered as the climate started heating up. So, early humans found new sources of energy in meat. That might have been for the best. A 2013 study revealed that without meat we wouldn’t be the intelligent beings we now are — it taught us intentional specialization as we started butchering animals and making stone tools. “Some scientists argue meat is what made us humans,” Marta Zaraska, author of Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Years Obsession With Meat, told the History Channel.
2. What the World Wants
Between the mid-1960s and 2018, meat production grew fourfold across the globe, as more people climbed out of poverty and were able to afford meat. And the demand is not decreasing — in fact, global meat consumption is projected to reach as high as 570 million tons by 2050, which would double the amount from 2008. Poultry remains king globally, making up 38 percent of the market, according to Statista, while red meat, including pork and beef, has a 33 percent share. So while vegetarianism and Meatless Monday may seem trendy, they are not the norm.
3. Psychology of Meat-Eating
Pat Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods, says that meat enthusiasts love meat not because it “is made from the cadaver of an animal” but in spite of it. And as the world looks for alternatives for meat, the most important question the scientific world is grappling with is “What makes meat meaty?” If environmentalists, policymakers and business leaders want to force people off of flesh, they’re going to need a good substitute. And while research conducted by Jack Link’s, which makes beef jerky, found that half of 2,000 adult participants felt obligated and shamed into cutting down or ending their meat consumption, food scientists are experimenting with new ways to synthesize the heme iron that gives beef its meaty flavor.
4. Don’t Knock It Till You Try It
Beef is a favorite in the Western world. But what about other kinds of meat? India, for instance, is big on goat meat and Vietnam on dog meat. And while horse meat — with omega-3 fatty acids comparable to that of farmed salmon and double the iron of steak — has huge markets in Canada and Mexico, it has been frowned upon as un-American. Former President Donald Trump, however, wanted to lift curbs preventing the sale of American mustangs to horse meat dealers.
5. The Love Grows
It’s still what’s for dinner. Last year, Americans’ positive perceptions of beef hit 70 percent for the first time, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which also found that the number of people claiming to eat beef weekly rose from from 67 percent to 72 percent between January and September of last year — amid a pandemic and economic disruption. Meanwhile, Tyson Foods, which is responsible for around 20 percent of all beef, pork and chicken produced in the U.S., saw its sales jump by nearly $1 billion.
This Israeli startup pledges to provide customers with a meat-eating experience sans environmental and health concerns — offering the world’s first lab-grown steak. How does Aleph Farms do it? By growing four types of animal cells in three dimensions — in the absence of fetal bovine serum, which comes from the blood of a cow fetus and is used by most labs. And while the steak resulting from the company’s breakthrough research seems a little thin, the innovation is gaining Aleph Farms fans. In fact, Cargill recently joined a $12 million investment round in the company. And just days ago, Aleph Farms announced it had created the world’s first slaughter-free rib-eye steak — thanks to 3D bioprinting and cow cells.
Meet Promyc, the meat substitute created by fermentation, with fungi feeding on nutrients from agricultural industry runoff. The result? Cleaning up agriculture waste while creating a neutral-tasting protein that consumes far fewer resources than meat. Mycorena, the company behind the innovative protein, dreams of making Sweden the Silicon Valley of food tech. In 2020, Mycorena raised nearly $1.5 million.
Yuki Hanyu, CEO of this Japanese company, loved science fiction as a child. By the time he was 8 years old, he knew he wanted to work on cultured meat, thereby lending a hand in ensuring an end to food insecurity and environmental problems. First he created Shojinmeat Project, an initiative that urged people to grow their own meat. And now, IntegriCulture — which recently raised $7.4 million — is developing several cell-ag products for consumers in an attempt to democratize the cellular meat market. One reason this company is one to watch? In 2021, it plans to bring to market the first-ever slaughter-free foie gras.