Posts Tagged ‘peta’

The Fake Meat Race

It is looking increasingly likely that the first fake meat could be on our plates within the next couple of years. Scientists are being driven to create commercially viable artificial meat by 30th June 2012 due to a cash prize of $1 million being offered by PETA.

The rules for this are simple. The meat must be a chicken substitute, and must be created in vitro (essentially this must literally be chicken meat grown in a test tube). The ‘meat’ must be grown in a quantity that is sufficient to be commercially viable and can be sold at a reasonable price in at least ten US states.

The taste must also be indistinguishable from real chicken, and a panel of PETA judges will be putting it through a taste test. The creation of a competitive in vitro meat will, hopefully, do a huge service to animals which are grown for food.

The meal of the future?

I say ‘hopefully’ because it concerns me that there is already a stigma against vegetarian meats, and I somehow doubt that in vitro meat will tackle this. Sure, I can see why omnivores may not enjoy tofu or Quorn (which has released its first vegan burger in the US), but well made seitan is pretty close to meat – I know I’ve had to double-check sometimes.

I’ve given some of my omnivorous friends seitan before and they’ve loved it. Yet they wouldn’t buy it over meat. Why? Because it’s ‘unnatural and weird.’ As a vegan, I can’t see what’s weirder than preferring animal flesh to a grain-based protein, but the point stands. And I think both vegans and omnivores alike will unfortunately view in vitro meat as weird and gross. I therefore worry that animal suffering will not necessarily be lessened significantly by the creation of in vitro meat.

However, I am possibly just being cynical, there is probably a market out there (perhaps meat-craving vegan coeliacs?), I just think PETA may be optimistic about its size. The other possible benefit lies in the ability to cheaply mass produce meat for the growing population of the world with a potentially far smaller CO2 footprint than factory farming. Sadly, however, this is not mentioned in the remit for obtaining the prize of $1 million, and I believe it should have been one of the key points. There is little point in creating in vitro meat if the environmental damage is equivalent to or even worse than factory farmed meat – we are yet to see the environmental effects of test tube meat.

We shall have to see what can be offered up before we can really assess the benefit of in meatro. Dutch scientist, Mark Post, has already created small pieces of beef, and is looking to develop the first in vitro beef burger by the end of the year. This excludes him from PETA’s prize, as chicken is required, but nevertheless Post is allegedly getting fairly close to creating the first test tube burger.

Mark Post is looking to create the first test tube burger by the end of the year

Post has also been heavily support by both the Dutch government (which is definitely a pleasant surprise) and an anonymous donor of €250,000. The donor said that they were motivated by ‘care for the environment, food for the world, and interest in life-transforming technologies.’

Another team in the Netherlands are experimenting with stem cells from animal embryos. They are making slow progress, with Bernard Roelen, a team member, stating that their results could be ‘a decade away’ and that they ‘need research money.’

This has been echoed by Professor Julie Gold, who is also working on a similar project in Sweden. She stated that ‘there is very little funding – what it needs is a crazy rich person.’

Vladimir Mironov, an ex-employee of NASA, has also managed to create pieces of test-tube animal tissue. His current problem is that the tissue is tasteless, lacking in texture, and is simply not very authentic. However, he is excited by the prospect of being able to grow ‘any animal’s tissue’ using in vitro, and even ‘milk, cheese, and eggs.’

Whilst it is looking unlikely that any of these scientists will manage to obtain PETA’s prize, in vitro meat could potentially be a normality in the future if it is done right (and I believe marketing it correctly will play a big part). PETA’s pot of money could actually be relatively insignificant if the products are successful, considering the market for animal products is vast.

However, you may be reading this with a few concerns about the in meatro race. I know I have a few.

Firstly, these products will rely on meat grown from stem cells. Now, whilst the degree of animal suffering is drastically reduced by using stem cells to grow meat rather than taking meat from a live animal, the stem cells themselves must be taken from an animal in the first place. In this regard, lab grown meat is still meat in its essence – it is still an animal product. As a vegan, someone who, by definition, does not consume or use animal products, I still find the use of animal stem cells to be ethically negative.

Should vegans stick to the tofu?

Secondly, as far as I’m concerned there are three major reasons for going vegan. For me, they are in this order:

  1. Limiting animal suffering.
  2. Protecting the environment.
  3. Benefitting my own health.

So, by eating in vitro meat you…

  1. Will drastically lower animal suffering compared to meat consumption (although, as discussed above, perhaps not avoid it completely).
  2. Will hopefully limit harm done to the environment (although, as discussed earlier, we cannot be sure about this yet).
  3. Will not benefit your health.

Meat in the diet is not a good thing, and with in vitro meat comes all the negatives of animal flesh itself – cholesterol, saturated fat, acidity. In fact, with this breakthrough creating the possibility of feeding meat to parts of the world which currently do not eat much animal protein, we are introducing a potentially negative force. As The China Study observed, we could essentially introduce cultures which lack meat in their diet to a host of problems. Similarly, vegans who choose to eat in vitro meat could also be losing one of the major reasons (and for some the major reason) for actually following the diet.

BUT! And this is a big, or potentially huge but…

It’s a big but and I cannot lie, you other brothers can’t de… wait, wrong kind of but.

Patrick Brown and a team at Stanford University, and another team based in Germany, are currently busy perfecting an artificial meat out of vegetable proteins. This is not entirely dissimilar from seitan, but wheat is not the primary ingredient.

And before you start thinking ‘oh great, another fake meat product…’ this is set to be different. Allegedly, the prototypes created so far have mirrored meat for taste, texture, and nutrition. Whether it will be more successful than seitan at converting omnivores could rely on these factors.

Patrick Brown states ‘we have a class of products that totally rocks, and cannot be distinguished from the animal-based product it replaces, even by hardcore foodies.’

Brown has also been through the process of growing stem-cell meat in a lab, but found the cost barrier to be too high to overcome. Mark Post has even shown support for this work, despite essentially competing against Brown. He has said ‘I think we agree on if there is a vegetable-derived product that can take away the craving of a human being for meat, then that would be preferable.’

Dr Patrick Brown discusses the need for cheap meat alternatives to sway consumers towards a vegan diet:

Meanwhile, Florian Wild of the German team has stated that a factory is now up and running to create 150 pounds an hour of this stuff. She has stated ‘our goal is to develop a vegetable surrogate for meat that is both juicy and fibrous, but that also has a pleasant flavor. The product should have a long shelf life, it should not be more expensive than meat, and be suitable for vegetarians and allergy sufferers.’

The German team will be demoing their product at the end of this month in Cologne, at the Anuga FoodTec trade fair. Needless to say, it should be on the market soon.

Little is known about the method outside of those working on this process, but it involves boiling plant proteins at a high temperature, and then allowing them to cool. During cooling they will bond to create a meat-like substance.

What’s most exciting for me about these products is not just the taste aspect, but the dedication the teams have actually shown to the vegan cause.

Patrick Brown actually decided to dedicate his life to the issue of creating a vegan meat a few years back. He has described animal farming as ‘by far the biggest environmental catastrophe.’

Whilst PETA’s prize is attractive and has caused a number of scientists to work towards creating lab grown meat, Patrick Brown is working on creating a viable meat alternative because it is important to him and his values. To dedicate your scientific career to creating such a product shows a sense of integrity, and whilst it looks like PETA’s prize may not actually go claimed this year, I look forward to sitting down and tucking in to the authentic vegan meat created by the authentic vegan dude, rather than the lab grown piece of cow grown by the new millionaire scientist.

Still, what’s your thoughts? Would you eat lab-grown meat? Or perhaps you’re someone who detests the taste of meat anyway? And will this new vegan faux meat please vegans and omnivores?

‘Vegan’ Celebrities and the vegan diet vs. veganism

I am hugely sceptical of celebrity vegan role models a lot of the time. Not because of the person themselves, but because of the way many vegans react to their diet change. That is exactly what it is for many of them – a diet change.

I’ve mentioned previously about Bill Clinton unwittingly becoming the spokesperson for veganism in America, and when he announced that he was following a vegan diet bar a bit of turkey on Thanksgiving many vegans reacted as though a lost gospel of the New Testament had been discovered proclaiming that Jesus Christ was a member of the Animal Liberation Front. I saw a ridiculous number of comments on the internet and heard a couple from friends in real life relating Clinton’s motives for eating vegan to the causes of animal rights and environmental protection.

I’m sorry, but Clinton is not a vegan. I’m sure he hasn’t ever thought twice about wearing leather, and if it weren’t for the health benefits of eating vegan he sure as hell would be eating meat now. Just because you eat vegan, doesn’t mean that you are vegan.

What Clinton is, however, is a fantastic advocate for the vegan diet. Veganism and a vegan diet are two very separate things. Veganism is a philosophy of minimising (and, if possible, abolishing) the use of animals in your life. The vegan diet is a way of eating that relies purely on plant-based foods.

For many, the vegan diet is a starting point. I’ve known people who have come to veganism for health and stayed for the ethics. Whether or not this will happen with Clinton, I don’t know. For others, it never progresses past the stage of being just a diet.

However, those who turn to the vegan diet for health reasons are still beneficially affecting the world. To them, limiting animal abuse and environmental damage may be side effects to the health benefits that they are obtaining, but they are definitely positive side effects.

Whilst I feel global veganism may never be reached due to a combination of apathy and ignorance, the health benefits of a meat-free diet are becoming more and more tantalising. Anyone who’s seen Breaking Bad may remember this scene from the first episode, stylishly put in a comic book format by Breaking Bad Comics:

Whilst this may just be a comic of a forgettable scene from Breaking Bad (which is totally awesome by the way! If you haven’t seen it then you should watch it after reading this!) it taps into the essence of what may actually have the world turning towards a vegan diet. We have to watch our cholesterol.

There is overwhelming evidence that a plant-based diet will benefit cholesterol levels, despite Atkins, keto and paleo dieters claiming otherwise (there is little evidence to show their benefits, and the only person I’ve ever known to follow a high-protein, low-carb diet for a prolonged period has now sadly died due to bowel cancer – a disease commonly brought on by eating too much meat).

A diet that has proven to do this is an attractive one, as is one that, for most people, provides more energy, and boosts potential weightloss. With celebrities turning to a vegan diet faster than any other diet at the moment, the general public are following suit. I have read numerous times that the vegan diet isthe fastest growing diet at the moment (overtaking even vegetarianism) and it does not surprise me.

With advocates such as Clinton proclaiming the benefits of a vegan diet for health, more and more people are trying it out. For every person who goes vegan to lose weight, the demand for animal protein falls. As demand falls, less animals are utilised for meat and their products. And thus, there is a gain for veganism as a philosophy. If the world followed the vegan diet for health reasons alone, animal suffering would be minimalised.

For Morrissey, veganism is more than a dietary choice

It is, however, important for vegans to keep this in mind instead of seeing every celebrity who wants to shed a few pounds by following a plant-based diet as a hero. At times, the vegan community is at danger of becoming like PETA who seemingly lauds any celebrity as an animal rights activist simply because they said ‘I like my dog’.

There is also a danger of making the terms ‘veganism’ and ‘vegan diet’ interchangeable by describing everyone who follows a plant-based diet as a vegan.

There is a fine line between being glad for someone’s success on a vegan diet with the hope that it’ll persuade some other people to try it, and praising them as a fully blown vegan. In this regard, beliefs are everything.

PETA – The vegan love-hate relationship

As a 15 year old kid, I was into a lot of punk and nu-metal, that whole thing. I listened to a huge number of bands, and followed them on Myspace and their email lists. For anyone who’s into similar music, particularly the punk scene, you will know about the large proportion of vegetarian and vegan musicians out there.

Some of those bands I loved (and still do love) who happened to be vegetarians/vegans included Rise Against, Goldfinger, and Strike Anywhere, to name but a few. Now, these bands had ties with an organisation called ‘PETA‘ and supported ‘animal rights.’

At the time, that meant very little to me. I mean, I thought hunting sucked, and people who wore fur were douchebags. But I ate meat and loved it, and wore leather without even considering that it was an animal’s skin.

I got an email through from one of the bands to sign a petition against Chinese fur farms on PETA’s website. Thinking ‘right, fur does suck, I’ll sign!’ I opened up the link, and watched the accompanying shock video. Two minutes later, cringing back in my seat from what I had just watched, I signed the petition and began browsing PETA’s site and resources. A couple of months later I was a fully-fledged vegetarian, and a few years after that, a vegan.

In the past week, PETA published this video and campaign:

This is yet another of a long string of offensive and obscure campaigns run by that same organisation that set me on the animal rights trail in the first place.

Other highlights from PETA’s past include a large string of misogynistic, sex-sells style adverts with nude female celebrities, holocaust comparison posters displayed in Germany of all places, and (my personal favourite) a number of anti-video game campaigns against the likes of Super Meat Boy, Cooking Mama, and, most bizarrely, Super Mario.

Tactful doesn't seem to be in PETA's dictionary

I want to ignore, if you will, issues with PETA supporting convicted animal rights terrorists as that opens up a huge ethical black hole surrounding animal testing and morality of methods used to stop it. I know where my opinions lie on these issues, but you should decide for yourself. Just so you know though, PETA has supported convicted members of the animal liberation movement in the past.

I want to primarily focus on PETA as a resource and as an associate of the vegan movement. In this regard, PETA is now something of a joke. The organisation is routinely ridiculed and parodied from all sides (including in an infamous South Park episode), and unfortunately this organisation is now the face of veganism and animal rights.

It’s not just embarrassing campaigns though. PETA is hated by vegans for their policies and treatment of animals. One incident which sticks out in my mind was over a device called the Crustastun. This device, which kills lobsters more quickly and humanely than boiling water received approval from PETA. PETA then hosted an event in which they invited a load of seafood fanatics to come and eat humanely killed lobster, but forgot to get the Crustastun devices shipped in time. So…

  1. PETA, a devout animal rights organisation, supports the killing of lobsters for consumption so long as it’s done humanely.
  2. They organised an event in which they’d use the Crustastun device to kill a few hundred lobsters for seafoodists.
  3. The Crustastun devices failed to turn up, so PETA used traditional methods to boil the lobsters alive, rather than cancelling the event altogether. Wouldn’t wanna upset those seafood fans now, would we?!

Face palm to the max

Despite all of this though I still find myself utilising PETA’s resources on a regular basis. Their animal testing database is woefully incorrect and often contains companies which use animal tested ingredients (I recommend Uncaged or BUAV for trustworthy lists), however it can often be a gateway to finding some companies which are worth supporting.

They also offer an excellent free vegetarian/vegan starter kit, which I still recommend to people looking to go veggie. They also have a great recipe database available online to browse.

Perhaps most importantly though, PETA has brought more light to some abhorrent issues in the world than any other organisation that I can think of. These issues include the Chinese fur farms, animal testing in cosmetics, and Canadian seal hunting. They have changed a lot in these areas, and drummed up a massive amount of support.

Their campaigns in these areas have been relatively mature, intelligent, and well-targetted. I’m sure there are actually very few who don’t back them. Yet then they go and piss themselves by claiming that Super Meat Boy is the most evil character in videogame history, and put together a campaign against the game.

Why does this happen? My thoughts are that, whilst some of PETA’s causes are easy to support, a positive thing is not actually that newsworthy. We love controversy, cynicism, and negativity. If someone fucks up, it’s fun to hate on them. They will be the centre of news attention. PETA is playing on this to grab attention for itself, but is damaging the animal rights movement in the process.

In the end, I feel PETA is kinda like that friend I’m sure we all have. The person you invite on a night out who gets obscenely drunk and makes a massive dick out of themselves (leaving you to apologise to all your other friends for his/her behaviour). However, when you’re in private, they’ve actually got a lot to them, and that’s the side of them that you wish everyone else would appreciate.

Anyways, that’s my personal stand on PETA, and I guess I’ll always feel like I owe them a little seeing as they turned me vegetarian in the first place, but I’d love to hear some more views. What do you think of PETA? And, to you, how important are they as an organisation?

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