The adverse effects of eating meat on the environment is largely because of the amount of resources that are needed to feed and grow the amount of livestock or poultry to serve such a large population of meat eating humans. Grazing cows and goats require large areas of open land which can otherwise be used for farming. Grass eating animals also emit methane and nitrous oxide as they digest food which is harmful for the environment as they are GHGs. They also consume large amounts of water.
In the year 2009, a stanford university professor Dr. Patrick O. Brown, set out to change the state of the environment and food system, he started with something very unusual– a burger. He gathered a team of scientists to answer one fundamental question-”What makes meat taste like meat?”. The answer was– Heme or Heam; it’s a fundamental component of hemoglobin and another protein called myoglobin which gives the meat it’s meaty flavor; it is synthesized in mitochondria in a cell which means it exists in plants as well, so the team of scientists took out haem form the root nodules of soybean plants and injected it into a genetically modified yeast,and fermenting it. That’s how ‘Impossible’ food was born, an attempt at reducing the environmental impact of processing and eating meat.
There are other companies similar to Impossible Food like Beyond Meat which had the biggest IPO in the USA in 2019. These companies are making progress towards making plant based meat and trying to sell it, the selling part is proving to be more difficult because of the oxymoronic nature of the name. Currently, Impossible foods sells at around 17,000 outlets across 4 countries, and Beyond Meat sells at nearly 15,000 outlets in 50 countries. These companies also have solid financial backing, with investors like Bill Gates, Leonardo Di Caprio, Tamasek, UBS and Google.
Despite the billions of dollars being pumped into it, the meatless meat is still a niche culinary item that’ll probably not go mainstream anytime soon. First problem is the price. like with everything innovative that’s not entered the mass production assembly line yet the plant based meat too comes with a price tag that’s not easily digestible. Another problem is people’s aversion to putting anything so wildly innovative in their mouth, only a tiny percentage of early adopters want to eat lab grown, genetically modified yeast that’s designed to trick their senses into believing that they are eating something that they are very obviously not.
People are very peculiar and choosy about the food they eat and also the food people around them eat, because eating is more than just the utilitarian act that it is often presented as in the popular culture. It has always been a community building exercise,if someone doesn't eat what I eat or their choice of food is drastically different from my choice of food it'll be hard for us to get along, same goes with communities.
That’s why the meat vs vegan debate is so divisive and polarizing, because there are clear benefits of eating meat and people have been eating meat since the time human beings have existed and the same is true for plant based foods. But every debate gets political and aggressive because it’s seen as a very binary situation - if you’re not on our side, you’re wrong- which leads to people becoming more resistant to change.
There are clear environmental benefits of non-animal meat, at least now that it’s on a very small scale but it is also clear that there are more aspects of food than just environmental and even after the technological success in growing lab meat, we are still left with many questions that we don’t have a definite answer to –Should we force people to eat vegan diet just because it is good for the planet? Is it really that good for the planet that it’ll justify the encroachment on people’s freedom of eating whatever they want? How will it affect the human population if all of us or most of us suddenly stopped eating meat? In the longer run will human beings become less resilient and adaptive to different climate conditions and calamities, will they become weaker? And if it is really good, should we offer people a choice or should we make it mandatory? Who decides what is best in the times when there seems to be less and less consensus about what is actually good for the environment in the long run, in today's world where banning and censorship are the norm it is becoming harder and harder to decide who to trust on matters like these.
This debate is not going to go away anytime soon but the plant based meat idea is certainly something that produces less carbon footprint and if you’re looking for a culinary adventure go ahead and try it.