There are definitely some vegan recipes carnivores say they like or even love. Roasted cauliflower and lentil tacos, spinach artichoke lasagna, Thai mango cabbage wraps with crispy tofu and peanut sauce, black bean avocado kale burrito bowls, spiced vegan lentil soup, Thai pineapple fried rice, etc., etc. But for many if not most meat-eaters, the main meal just isn’t complete without that central dish, which for so many traditionally includes some type of animal protein.
Until not long ago, vegan hosts were better off offering one of the recipes listed above rather than buying some so-called meat substitute for a main course. Carnivores and flexitarians – people trying to reduce their meat intake – for the most part haven’t gotten behind substitutes or ‘meat alternatives,’ as they…well, didn’t really taste like meat. “Breakthroughs” were announced with the arrival of various fancy vegan burgers, but while nice, they proved not to be anything a sincere carnivore would write home about.
All this has all changed. The arrival of a new breed of 100% natural ingredient-based alternative – often called ‘new meat’ – is causing people from the food experts we see on television to barbecue fans (people who might have never imagined that they would one day say they like vegan meat) a moment of pause as they realize that taste and texture can be replicated by science.
Take a kebab for example. A staple food for millions, it’s a stick of usually tasty chunks of lamb. But startups using high-tech new ideas that combine the computer brainpower of AI algorithms and the technology of 3D printing have been able to crack the code, and can now create a kebab that’s close enough to the real thing to finally be a viable replacement option.
Old-school veggie meat did its best to add the sensation of texture. But 3D printing and its ability to lay down a layer in one part of the recreation that’s a bit fattier (called ‘alt-fat’) and another layer that’s a bit tougher (‘alt-muscle’) equals a new stage in evolution where meat, like so many other commonplace food items from sugar to salt, can be synthesized.
Some readers are rolling their eyes, and saying, “I’ve read this before.” And they’re right. Previous inventions have over-promised and under-delivered. But how do you respond to a blind taste test where folks give ‘new meat’ a 90% plus rating for meatiness? How do you respond to a vegan steak that looks, smells, tastes, and even cooks and sizzles on the stove like the real deal? Those who have tried it say we’ve entered a new era.
It’s getting a lot harder to be a climate change denier, and alongside this acceptance of a warming planet is a growing understanding that the animals we raise for food cause significant pollution. There’s the problematic issue of factory farming and pollution runoff that’s emitted from mega animal processing sites. And even if your cows are wandering free in New Zealand or on a cleared patch of the Brazilian rainforest, the methane they release is still a massive problem.
Some estimates of the contributions to greenhouse gas house emissions from the cattle industry are shocking. These sorts of stats show that while replacing petrol-powered combustion engines with battery-powered vehicles is a good idea for a variety of reasons, it isn’t going to single-handedly bring global temperatures back down to where they should be. Climate change is bigger than vehicles, factories, or even coal-fired power plants…the way we produce our food has got to change.
Even without climate change considerations, there are other very good reasons for the planet to start weaning itself off what can fairly be called an addiction to meat. In the not-so-distant past, meat was a treat. Meat and its huge amounts of unlocked protein when cooked, help spur the human animal towards modernity. But it’s only been in recent decades that people in rich countries have been able to eat it pretty much as many times as they would like per day.
As the global population rises to what could be 10 billion not that far from now, and many more billions join the middle and higher classes of affluence, demand for meat is rising – but ideas on how to find enough space water, and other resources to raise and process those animals into food are unrealistic and too expensive to be taken seriously.
Sure, theoretically you could build a 30-story building and vertically farm animals in some version of a factory farm tower. Such a structure isn’t inconceivable, but it doesn’t solve problems such as where the food for these animals is going to come from. And in a world with shrinking sources of drinkable water, is it justifiable to divert so much of such a precious resource to creating animal protein?
Something like 3D-printed vegan meat, however. holds the potential to be a genuine replacement. It can start as baby steps. That ground beef you eat when you get a beef taco? Well, it’s probably not a surprise to hear that such ground beef is not the creme de la creme of cow-based animal protein. If a plant-based version that tastes more than 90% similar is available and is even cheaper, why not use it instead of the animal version? Especially when many people won’t even be able to tell the difference.
Finally, there are vegan options for people who like meat. And that’s really been one of the biggest reasons why so-called ‘new meat’ has succeeded where others have floundered. The philosophy behind the startup companies making it isn’t anti-meat. These folks understand people enjoy the flavors and textures of meat, and they want to provide those flavors and textures, without the complications that come from acquiring it from an animal.
We live in a world now where you can go into some fast-food restaurants and order of vegan version of a popular burger, for example. This has arguably been a good development but may have also paradoxically stifled the acceptance of vegan meat for some, as after tasting it the reaction has been too often, “Um…good but not great.”
Very soon, however, people will be able to sit down at a fancy steak restaurant and order a slice of 3D printed sirloin, for example, that promises to deliver every sensation of steak to a degree so close to the original that it’s almost unbelievable.
In short, no matter what side of the fence you’re on when it comes to veganism, you should welcome the arrival of high-tech meat substitutes such as 3D-printed kebabs or steak. Meat eaters will finally have options that satisfy evolutionary cravings, others can use the products as a bridge toward lifestyle changes, and even mild reductions in the amount of meat the average North American eats will be good for the planet and human health. A pretty extreme example of a win-win