Do vegans annoy us so much because they are right?

Another day and another Netflix documentary tells me of the evil that is putrefied cow puss (cheese). I have read countless articles that bemoan the silenced suffering of the corpses we keep in our fridges. Could the next pandemic really come from a factory farm where animals are packed so tightly together they cannot help spluttering, sneezing and bleeding into each others open wounds?

I have become desensitised and have little curiosity about where my food comes from. I often dismiss any article that says anything bad about the food chain with vague arguments like humans have always been meat eaters or we need to feed the growing world population somehow or I really like beef. However…

Are the vegans onto something?

The main the arguments I hear from vegans are that meat is bad for the individual, the environment and the animal it came from.

To be fair I defy anyone to read Should I Eat Meat? by Valclav Smil or Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals without feeling a little bit sick. The way we ‘farm’ our meat is fundamentally broken and having a ‘free range’ joint on Sunday or a line caught fish while eating factory farmed meat the rest of the week is not going to fix it. I agree with the vegans it is horrible, immoral and disgusting.

From a purely environmental standpoint almost all farming is bad news:

Our World in Data

Meat is particularly bad:

Our World in Data

The NHS recommends eating no more than 90g of red or processed meat per day as part of a healthy diet, I have been known to put that much into a sandwich as a snack. In the quantities that I eat meat it is bad for me and other individuals.

There are many parts of the vegan argument that I agree with.

Are bugs, beans and lab grown alternatives viable?

Plant based meat protein alternatives like tofu have been around for centuries and the company Beyond Meats is bringing up to date with the widely available Beyond Burger which I have to say is pretty tasty. I also enjoy jack fruit with chipotle as an alternative to pulled pork much to my surprise. While these taste like meat they aren’t nutritionally equivalent, a kilo of peas doesn’t have the same nutritional value as a kilo of meat. I have difficulty getting a couple of mouthfuls of chicken into my son let a lone a plate full of beans.

Fermentation has also been used for a very long time in foods like tempeh and kimchi. The process can be used to boost the nutritional content in plant based foods. It is used widely in the production of vitamins in nutritional supplements and fortified foods. Impossible Foods with their Heme protein and a wealth of other companies are bringing this technology up to date and it looks like a space full of innovation, I am just not wild about the taste of any of it at the moment.

Growing meat in a lab is believed to be much more efficient than using animals to turn plants into meat. It is wildly expensive and faces significant regulatory challenges at the moment but the logic is sound and both those barriers are surmountable with time. Upside foods, Mosa Meat and Super Meat are front runners in this space. I look forward to giving it a try.

Archer Daniels Midland and InnovaFeed are developing insect protein from black soldier fly lava for animal feed, it is still more expensive than bean protein but they are apparently experimenting with feeding the lava human food waste to try to bring the cost down. Presumably the resulting protein could be used to feed humans too.

So why aren’t I a vegan already?

The health issues can be resolved by eating less meat rather than none. I will pay more for my meat and eat less of it.

The environmental issues can be resolved by eating different proteins that are farmed in a more environmentally sensitive way. There are some exciting new developments in alternative sources of protein but I don’t think any of them viable in a serious way as a replacement for meat, yet.

The moral issues I have can be resolved by building more humane environments for the animals we eat. I don’t think the vegans are right but being curious about where my food comes from is definitely worth thinking about more.

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