Mimicking meat is becoming mainstream: a multi-billion dollar industry invading our kitchens and drive-throughs. These new meatless products are thought of as wholesome, vegan, and are marketed as nearly indistinguishable from real meat. Not so long ago, veggie burgers looked unattractively nutritious, full of beans, seeds, and nuts. Veggie burgers didn’t masquerade as something they weren’t.
Why, then, are consumers so quick today to embrace these hyper-realistic products that resemble the exact thing they’re trying to avoid?
My own allegiance to meat has wavered at times. For nearly my entire adolescence, I abstained from red meat. Consumed by concern about global warming and the then-worsening hole in the ozone layer, 11-year-old me discovered that gassy cows were releasing a worrisome amount of methane into the atmosphere. And, honestly, to be anti-beef because cows farted too much was exactly the sort of ridiculous ecological virtue I was eager to adopt. I naively believed that my decision to forgo eating beef could make a measurable impact on the planet’s health. That’s cute, but I still wore leather.
In my 20s, again motivated by my own eco-consciousness, I was an urban farmer. I grew heirloom varieties of vegetables without pesticides. I raised animals, many of them heritage breeds, without hormones. These included rabbits, an assortment of poultry, a pair of goats, and even one pig. They had names, and they wound up on the dinner table.
Like the other animals, the pig was cared for every day, talked to, doted on. She was a Gloucestershire Old Spot, a breed listed as critically endangered. Eventually, she grew and reached a size so large I started being afraid to feed her alone. I’m not that big, and she nearly outweighed me. It was time to let her go.
Slaughtering the pig turned an otherwise mundane morning in November into a communal gathering. I remember the day was sunny and it was solemn. Friends with previous experience in pig slaughter were solicited for their knowledge and skill, and they were happy to assist. I didn’t own a gun, but thankfully one…