Monday, July 29, 2019

Imitation & vat meats the norm by 2040

Many science fiction authors are good at making some guesses about the future, but often restrict their science-fictiony  changes to just one aspect of society.  For example, the SF authors of the 50s and 60s kept the male-dominated conventions of their times, only with spaceships.  Some authors envisioned more powerful computers than were available then, but they still wrote that you had to type things into the computer.  Very few authors thought that Siri would happen, though more recent SF authors like Kim Stanley Robinson, who wrote the Red Mars - Green Mars - Blue Mars trilogy (highly recommended) wrote about AIs, including personal AIs.

One of the assumptions of 95% of SF writers is that we'd still be eating meat, "real" meat.  But there's no space on space stations or in space ships to grow the animals needed to provide us with meat.  There's no land for grazing herbivores.  Nor will there be on Mars or in the asteroid belt.  It would make no sense to produce greens only to feed them to cattle or pigs.  The SF author Lois McMaster Bujold, author of the best-selling Vorkosigan  series, talks in them about "vat beef" and "vat chicken" and even "vat milk", and her assumption that in 500 years it will be the norm is very plausible.  Actually, it may happen sooner than that.

Twenty-five years from now, you're more likely to be throwing a lab-grown steak on the grill than one taken from a living, breathing cow. The meat industry stands poised for serious disruption by plant-based 'novel vegan' alternatives designed to imitate meat (think the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat), as well as meat grown in laboratories, a.k.a. cultured meat.

This is the conclusion of a lengthy report released by global consultancy AT Kearney and based on expert interviews. The report highlights the environmental damage caused by conventional animal agriculture and the many challenges it faces in a changing world. These include reduced access to land, the rise of antibiotic resistance, stricter limits on agrochemical use, and consumers' increasing sensitivity toward conditions in which animals are raised.

Meat production is also highly inefficient. For example, it takes around 3 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of poultry meat. From the report:"Bearing in mind that meat has on average the same calories per kg as a mix of wheat, maize, rice, and soy beans, the conversion of the 46 percent of worldwide feed production into meat adds less than 7 percent to worldwide available food calories... 

We could feed around twice as many humans with today’s global harvest if we did not feed livestock but rather consumed the yield ourselves. Based on the current worldwide population of 7.6 billion humans, we would have food for an additional 7 billion people."  The study authors go on to state that solutions for increasing the efficiency of meat production have largely been exhausted and are not sufficient to cope with the challenges of feeding a burgeoning global population – hence, the inevitable shift.

By 2040, they predict that 35 percent of all meat consumed will be cultured and 25 percent will be plant-based 'novel vegan' replacements. These will be more appealing to consumers because of their similarity to real meat, as opposed to 'classic vegan' meat replacements, such as tofu, mushrooms, seitan, or jackfruit, and insect proteins.

Already we're seeing enormous leaps in interest and investment in companies like Impossible Foods, Beyond Foods, and Just Foods. Their products are easily scalable, more shelf-stable than actual meat, flexible in use, and require fewer inputs to produce. As co-author Carsten Gerhardt said,

"The shift towards flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan lifestyles is undeniable, with many consumers cutting down on their meat consumption as a result of becoming more conscious towards the environment and animal welfare. For passionate meat-eaters, the predicted rise of cultured meat products means that they still get to enjoy the same diet they always have, but without the same environmental and animal cost attached."

That was from Treehugger.  

The piece below is from Arwa Mahdawi of The Guardian:  

Meat is dead. Carnivores are going the way of cigarette smokers and, by 2050, there’s a good chance that it will be socially unacceptable to eat meat. In the same way that we’re now horrified people used to smoke in offices and airplanes, we’ll find it almost unthinkable that people used to consume animals so casually and frequently.

Considering that humans have been meat-eaters for about 2.5m years, the idea that we’re going to radically change our diets in a few decades might seem far-fetched. However, there has already been a significant shift in the way we think about meat consumption. In just the past few years veganism has gone from being a fringe movement associated with hippies to being downright trendy. The likes of Beyoncé and Jay-Z have challenged their fans “to move towards a more plant-based lifestyle” and more people are talking loudly and proudly about cutting down on meat.

If you haven’t tried an Impossible Burger or Beyond Burger yet I’d strongly advise you to give it a go. As a vegetarian I have suffered through various abominations that describe themselves as a “veggie burger”, from large soggy mushrooms to patties that look like reconstituted vomit; in contrast, the new breed of plant-based burgers are a game-changer. I even sent one back at a restaurant recently because I thought they had mistakenly given me real meat – and my girlfriend, a committed carnivore, had a bite and wasn’t entirely sure herself.

Fast-food chains have begun to enthusiastically embrace plant-based meat substitutes, propelling these foods further into the mainstream. In April, Burger King started trialling the Impossible Burger in St Louis. According to a report by inMarket inSights, this led to Burger King locations in St Louis seeing 16.75% higher foot traffic than the chain’s national average. Meanwhile the popularity of Greggs’s vegan sausage roll caused shares of the British fast-food chain to surge, and KFC recently said it is searching for plant-based alternatives to chicken. Meatless meat is suddenly everywhere.

As plant-based meat alternatives continue to proliferate and evolve it will become increasingly difficult for people to justify choosing the animal alternative. If you can easily get a meatless burger that tastes almost like the real thing – and eventually, I imagine, one tasting exactly like the real thing – why would you opt for real meat? Why would you make the crueler choice?

Along with the increase in “meatless meat” we’re seeing the advent of the lab-grown, or cell-based, meat industry. Although there is still a fair way to go before we see lab-grown meat in stores, and important questions about just how environmentally friendly cultured meat actually is, it’s another sign that technology is poised to revolutionize how we eat. Meat that comes from animals will eventually seem old-fashioned and barbaric.

It's hard for us to envision a different future,beacuse we implicitly accept the way things are now.  In the 1950s many, but to be fair not all, SF authors unconsciously  assumed that sexual roles and sexual relations would be unchanged in the future. They were wrong.  But they weren't alone.  The truth is that none of us in the early 1950s would have foreseen the sexual revolution, the internet, the smart phone, widespread jet travel, the rise of China and Japan, and the relative decline of Europe and the USA, gay rights, women's lib, and the rise of Blacks to high office in developed countries.  These things are only obvious in retrospect.  

Modern agriculture produces 20% of our greenhouse gases, it makes animals suffer horribly, it uses too much land, and it's environmentally damaging.   By the time we get to 2040, because other sources of greenhouse gases will have fallen away, agriculture will dominate our emissions.  And as the world warms, that will no longer be allowed.   "Real" meat's days are numbered.   Vat meat, here we come. 

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