Authors: Samuel Hodgman, Brian Murphy, Ryan Willett, Matthieu Lange, John Chapman, Pranav Swaminathan (not pictured).
We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium… The new foods will from the outset be practically indistinguishable from the natural products, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation.
It may seem like we live on a planet, but we really live on a gigantic farm. This farm, throughout the centuries, has been broken up by cities, forests, and the oceans. More than 40% of the world’s landmass is used to keep its people fed—even though some people get fed a little more and a little better than others. The overriding majority of the land, more than 30%, is used to house and feed the variety of animals that we eat in our everyday lives. The top three animals being pigs, chicken, and cattle (Facts on Animal Farming and the Environment). There may be no other single human activity that has had a bigger impact on our planet than the raising of livestock. Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions on the planet—5% more than all forms of transportation combined. If the entire population chose not to eat meat, then there would surely be an immediate and measurable positive impact on our lives and on the Earth.
Then how is that when it comes to vegan meat—meat created from plants instead of animals—there is a never ending stigma attached to it? As the graph shows, in the past few years, chicken has become the most consumed meat in the United States (Current Worldwide Annual Meat Consumption per Capita); however, with a greater spotlight starting to be shown on vegan meat and the great leaps in quality of the products, this may not always be the case. In order for this to be true, consumers need to overcome the stigma, but from where exactly does this stigma originate?
The general belief is that vegan chicken is just a tasteless, unappealing version of ‘real’ chicken. It’s easy to see where these ideas come from. In this increasingly health conscious time, vegan chicken seems to be lacking in vital nutrients that we take for granted in regular chicken. The biggest reason by far, however, is that the general public believes that vegan chicken is just a fear mongering technique use to propagate the lie that vegan food is better than animal products. In 2005, a book called The China Study was published. It discussed the connection between animal products and numerous diseases, including respiratory disease and cancer. Even though it has sold over a million copies and is one of the best selling books on nutrition ever, it was immediately attacked and considered a blatant falsification by many. However, those more conscious of the health (and environmental) concerns relating to the consumption of animal products lauded the study: “It’s no surprise “The China Study” has been so widely embraced within the vegan and vegetarian community: It says point-blank what any vegan wants to hear—that there’s scientific rationale for avoiding all animal foods. That even small amounts of animal protein are harmful.” (The China Study: Fact or Fallacy)
There are a number of reasons why people may be resistant to veganism (and vegetarianism). One being that there is a somewhat prevalent belief that vegans are riding a high horse and that they use their veganism to show that they are better than everybody else (The China Study: Fact or Fallacy). This is the stigma that most people find the most difficult to overcome. In addition to this social barrier, humans have developed to become suited to eating meat over the years. Therefore, eating meat has become an aspect of our culture and our biology, People have become obsessed with eating meat, and there is a very important reason why.
Eating meat has become a part of our genealogy, part of our very own DNA. Our ancestors certainly ate meat, and it is very easy to see why. Meat tastes good, has calories, and it seemed like a pretty enticing package back when food sources were precarious at best. This can be traced back to the human species’ genetic make up. The human gene, apoE, is a mutation of a gene that originated in chimpanzee DNA, and scientists attribute it to the human desire to eat meat. (Why We Love Meat: On The Origin of Homo Grillicus). It is the strongest candidate for a human meat eating gene. The first mutation of the gene, which occurred more than 500,000 years ago seemed to have boosted the amount of killer blood cells that attack microbes in our bodies. This made it significantly easier for our bodies to process and break down meat products. However, this mutation didn’t include our arteries, so even though we could eat more meat, our arteries simply couldn’t handle more meat. The second mutation of the gene took care of that. It helped us break down fats and remove cholesterol from our blood. With this gene, becoming fully adapted, we became able to process huge quantities of meat highly efficiently (Why We Love Meat: On The Origin of Homo Grillicus).
With human history, evolution, and culture all working in support of meat consumption, it seems to make sense that there is a stigma around vegan chicken. However, this stigma should be removed. To many Americans the idea of giving up chicken can be likened to giving up a part of their heritage. This feeling is compounded with the sentiment that they would be simultaneously rejecting their human inclinations. These factors have caused us to consider chicken alternatives as unhealthy, tasteless, and impractical alternatives to chicken.
Chicken is not a renewable resource. The excessive demand, the environmental impact, and the cruelty inflicted on these animals cannot stand the test of time. This is something some don’t understand and most aren’t even aware of. Chicken has been tied to American culture since its origins, and Americans aren’t ready to give it up just yet. However, those who understand the dangers and negative impacts of chicken “farming” have endeavored to seek an alternative for chicken—a trend that has been explored for over one hundred years.
The first appearance of imitation meat was in 1896 when John Harvey Kellogg created a peanut based meatless-meat (Mother Jones).This opened eyes and stirred the creativity of many, and slowly but surely, faux-meat found its way into the American culture. Environmental organizations fully support the idea of meat alternatives and have made their point clear (What is their message). PETA, one of the leading anti-animal agriculture institutions is active in promoting veganism and meat replacements. It has offered a reward of one million dollars to the company that succeeds in making a “commercially viable in vitro” chicken (MotherJones).
Fast foods have also adjusted to the trend after realizing the general population’s interest in the concept. Burger King started including vegetarian options in their menu starting 2002 and McDonald’s soon followed with their own. Fake chicken has been projected on the main stage.
In the last decade, meatless-meat has gone through a total revolution. Although it was already a part of our culture for a hundred years or so, imitation meat has seen a boom over the past fifteen years. The creation of big faux-meat corporations is responsible for this change. Beyond Meat, founded in 2009 by Ethan Brown with the help of two University of Missouri scientists, is one of the most prominent examples. Brown created the company in hopes of “improving human health, positively impacting climate change, conserving natural resources and respecting animal welfare.” As explained in Nicholas Krystof’s NY Times article, with the help of Whole Foods, it has become the biggest meat alternative producer and distributor in the world, with sales doubling every year, according to the founder (NY Times). The products are available in nearly 8000 stores nationwide and their presence has increased all across the country. The only problems as of now are the minor taste differences and the slightly higher prices. These obstacles, however, are currently being tackled by these big companies (Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods), and the race to find the most effective and best tasting product to sell continues. This competition drives innovation, and it’s possible that in our lifetime, we could see fake meat as a preferred option by most Americans.
With the invention of meatless chicken and the rise in the awareness regarding the dangers linked to animal agriculture, the world of food as we know it may undergo a big transformation. The concept of chicken is here to stay, but perhaps its composition may not be around for that much longer (at least in such quantities). a good thing for both our bodies and our planet.
One of the most destructive pandemics in known human history came in the form of the Spanish Flu of 1918 killing an estimated 50-100 million people worldwide (Foer). Not until 87 years later in 2005 was it discovered that the cause of this devastating pandemic was avian influenza, or bird flu (Foer 126). To most people, sickness that plagued the world over 95 years ago has nothing to do with our lives today, but it only takes one look inside a factory farm to see otherwise. Factory farms are essentially laying the groundwork for the next global pandemic as destructive or possibly more destructive than the one that was unleashed in 1918. Both domestic and wild birds are carriers of many different stands of diseases that if caught by certain mammalian species have the potential to be lethal. Although the birds themselves are immune, these viruses can easily be transferred through feces and waste. In the book Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer is the author and a fresh perspective who has spent many months researching animal agriculture within the united states. In his book he describes that on average American factory farms, “Upwards to 50,000 birds can be packed into small sheds” (Foer 131). Foer then goes on to say how it does not take much thought to realize that, “Jamming deformed, drugged, overstressed birds together in a filthy, waste-coated room is not very healthy” (Foer 131). In addition to this, “Scientific studies and government records suggest that virtually all chickens become infected with E. coli and 75 percent of chickens in retail stores are still infected. 8 percent of birds become infected with salmonella… [and] 70 to 90 percent are infected with another potentially deadly pathogen, campylobacter” (Foer 131) Everyday that these farms continue to run, we are increasing the likelihood of another plague running rampant throughout the world. The Director-General of the World Health Organization has said simply “We know another pandemic is inevitable…it is coming” (For 125).
The consumption of imitation chicken has growing positive associations that go along with it. First of all, the increased popularity and availability of faux-chicken makes the consumer feel a bit more normal about his/her vegan decision. Aside from the simple pleasure of making a personal decision to not eat chicken, eating mock chicken has many health related benefits as well. According to Purdue University, Americans consume over 8 billion chickens per year. This enormous number lends itself to a large fraction of the factory farming occurring in the US. Chickens make up the majority of factory farmed animals; “more than 95 percent of the land animals killed for food in the country” (Murray 1).
Factory farming is a known cause of environmental degradation. From water contamination, to the burning of fossil fuels for fertilizer, to methane emissions from animals, to land clearing in the Amazon rainforest, the mass production of animals is hurting the environment.
There are many good reasons to make the jump from real chicken to faux chicken. The market for imitation chicken is still limited, but growing, which adds a bit of elusiveness to its consumption. The CEO of Beyond Meat said, “We are doubling the business annually”(Koba 1). This can be shown by another fact from this article: “The latest sales numbers of plant-based meat alternatives reached $553 million in 2012, representing a growth spurt of 8% from 2010” (Koba 1). Those who choose to eat imitation meat products benefit simply because they know that no animals were killed. By eating processed plant products rather than animals, one can internalize that and feel much better about their food choices and its positive effect on the environment that they live in, free from the killing of animals. This creates a guilt-free lifestyle.
What is this imitation chicken product actually made of? A majority of these products are made from concentrated soy protein. While some sources argue that the process of farming this soy protein includes a massive amount of land and the use of chemicals during the isolation process to harvest the right protein, this is no comparison to the impacts of factory farming chickens on our environment (Chowhound 1). Another argument against the consumption of non-meat products is that the processing of the plant based materials makes the end product unhealthy for the customer. This is an unclear statement, and it is not applicable to all products on the market.. Additionally, those engaged in revolutionizing the faux meat industry are, as previously stated, aiming to “positively impacting climate change.”
The simple answer to those who don’t believe in these imitation chicken products is that it is the lesser of the two evils. It is better for you to eat vegan chicken than eating real meat all the time. The production process involved requires far less contamination and harm to the surrounding environment. Also, with the food recalls due to Salmonella and E. Coli, you know for sure that you’re not eating anything that may be harmful or contains diseases in imitation chicken. The World Health Organization says that “if the avian flu virus spreads to the United States, it could be caught simply by eating undercooked chicken flesh or eggs” (Peta 1). Imitation chicken is not the ultimate solution to sustaining our environment. However, eating non-chicken products eliminates any support one may have for the factory farming industry. It reduces demand for chicken, which should, in turn, reduce supply. American opinion may not be very much in support of imitation chicken now, but, as it grows in popularity and prevalence, people will likely come around to the new chicken, especially considering the health and environmental benefits that come along with it.
There is an inherent human cost of eating meat, one that could be ameliorated if and only if we switch to vegan foods, and more specifically to vegan chicken. If everyone on the planet converted to a vegan diet, we could not only easily feed the world but it would be incredibly difficult to die from starvation in most countries. Thinking economically and logistically, it’s true. Many workers in meat processing plants are paid low wages to keep the price of meat down and a pound of meat requires between 2,500 to 6,000 gallons of water. In August the Department of Agriculture bought $40 million of chicken products, whereas that money could be going to more cost effective resources. Meat consumption also can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and colon and other cancers, causing over 1,600,000 deaths in the U.S. every year (Human Cost of Meat).
If people do think that real chicken is bad for humans and the environment, will people find vegan meat substitutes unappealing? In the past that answer has been a resounding yes, but times are changing as we enter into a new era of increased awareness accompanied by a diverse range of vegan products on supermarket shelves.
For many people, though, that won’t be enough, but like anything, once imitation meat companies become established and have gained the trust of their customers, everything will fall in line for them. In order to accomplish this, meat substitute companies are focusing more on the quality of their products and the options of their products are increasing (Delish). Another important question is if artificial meat can save the world. This big question is answered with a actually a resounding yes, as about 80 percent of the world’s farmland is used to support the meat and poultry industries, and much of that goes to growing animal feed.
If most of agricultural seed and land is going straight to not directly feeding humans but to chickens for the slaughter, then we know we have an issue. Bearing in mind our ever-growing population and future food shortages, this is not an efficient use of resources, “For example, a single pound of cooked beef, a family meal’s worth of hamburgers, requires 298 square feet of land, 27 pounds of feed, and 211 gallons of water” (Popular Science). We need to change our attitudes and our preferences to favor imitation chicken or we risk the chance of not saving animals the pain of death and the very possible extinction of our species through starvation because of the inefficient use of our resources. We are essentially wasting our food through the inefficiencies of farming and feeding livestock.
We have a choice, but neither one allows for the current rate of meat consumption to which we currently uphold. Both will result in the increased desire for satiating vegan products. We can choose to severely limit our intake of chicken, stopping the depravation of the world in which we currently reside, or we can bask in our overindulgence for a few more years before the unsustainable nature of our plight razes the forests and land, ruining a planet that once supported us so well.
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