… but we don’t have to eat it.
This month Eat Just (formerly Hampton Creek) announced their cultured ‘chicken bites’ have passed a safety review by the Singapore Food Agency – the first meat grown from chicken cells which has achieved government approval and been deemed ready to sell to the public.
And once again, vegans (including myself) are asking the same questions we hear every time a new faux or lab-grown meat hits the media: is it suitable for vegans? Is it ethical? Would you eat it? Do we need it?
If animals are used it’s not vegan
Some vegans argue that cultured meat isn’t vegan as it currently relies on a biopsy from an animal. (Eat Just’s chicken also relies on foetal bovine serum but not for long as they’re phasing it out and replacing it with a plant source.) Here, the main concern amongst vegans is whether the animals are being exploited for their cells. The biopsy doesn’t kill the animal but is it still exploitative? If you or I had to have a biopsy taken in order to spare the suffering of billions of sentient beings, I’m sure we’d do it in the blink of an eye. The difference is that the animals can’t consent.
But should that really be an issue? After all, the biopsy is for the good of the animal and billions more. We make children and our companion animals do things they don’t want to do all the time for their own wellbeing – things that sometimes even hurt, such as vaccinations (which don’t just serve the individual but society at large). Eat Just also claim that they’ll be able to collect cells from a discarded feather, which would certainly limit any infringement of the chicken’s rights.
The reason vegans exist in the first place is because nonhuman animals are unable to liberate themselves from their human oppressors. Of course, we shouldn’t have to rely on the animals and it shouldn’t be their responsibility to free themselves from exploitation – that is akin to victim-blaming. But nonetheless, we have to make decisions for them while simultaneously doing all we can to dismantle speciesism.
It’s not for vegans
Vegans need to remember that it doesn’t even matter if cultured meat is suitable for vegans.
If you’re already vegan, you don’t need to eat it. But currently around 95 per cent of the human population eats meat and 80 billion animals are slaughtered for their flesh every year: that’s a heck of a lot of people enjoying their steak, sausages and burgers. Wouldn’t it be great if staunch meat-eaters who aren’t going veggie or vegan any time soon could enjoy the same foods without killing animals?
If that’s not motivation enough to support lab-grown meat, then maybe this will be: no more “Bacon tho!” comments from carnists.
But it’s still meat…
Others will claim that cultured meat does nothing to shift carnist ideology.
I’d argue, however, that even though people will still be eating meat, its new origin is bound to affect the way we think about where food comes from and what it is. Perhaps eventually people won’t even equate meat with animals and linguistically we’ll travel back to before the 14th century when ‘mete’ referred to any sustenance-giving substance, not specifically the flesh of an animal.
The biggest battle of lab grown meat is convincing its audience that it isn’t ‘Frankenstein food.’ But dare anyone to take a look inside a factory farm and blood-spattered slaughterhouse followed by a hygienic food laboratory and I bet we’d know where they’d rather get their food.