There’s no shortage of talk about meat alternatives, from plant-based and cultured proteins to those derived from kelp or mycelium. But in an effort to rethink protein, we’ve ignored the most elegant solution — committing ourselves to better ways of raising animals for meat.
We’ve forgotten that “care” — for people, land, or anything other than profit — is something large companies have yet to figure out how to do. And so we’ve ended up with an exceptionally efficient system that produces cheap food on the backs of sick and abused animals, polluted waterways, and repeated and escalating public health crises. The fact that the same multinational companies responsible for factory farming atrocities are investing in alternative meat technologies should not be interpreted as a sign of changing tides; it is more of the same. These companies have long degraded the value of life, as evidenced by the conditions in which animals are kept, the environmental violations committed daily, and the poor nutritional quality of the food they sell. Meat alternatives remove the “problem” of respectfully caring for living creatures and the planet in favor of a cheap substitute with unknown consequences for human health.
I’ve come to this conclusion through both logic and soul-searching, sparked by a personal crisis of meat-eating, kindled by conversations at Cambridge farmers markets, and fanned by Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals.” In an effort to opt out of the industrial system, I tried eliminating meat from my diet entirely, but it didn’t feel right for my body, and I missed the sense of connection that comes from sharing meals with friends and family. So, I cut myself a deal — I could eat meat, as long as I knew where and how it was raised.
This decision led me down a rabbit hole that ultimately involved quitting my job as a software product manager and apprenticing myself at a whole animal butcher shop. In the early days, the thing that struck me the most — after I learned to withstand 12 hours on my feet, frigid walk-in temperatures, and sharp objects literally everywhere — was how real it was compared to software. Meat…