A year ago, I raved to Evan Marks, director of The Ecology Center in Orange County (CA), about the future of synthetic proteins — meat grown in labs from stem cells. He was sitting with sustainability-minded chef Greg Daniels of the Haven Collective and the two recoiled from my words like Craig and Smokey in Friday. Marks, a big name in the world of food sustainability, seemed particularly bothered.
“Agriculture and animals are synonymous,” he told me then. “Fabricating a reality where an animal is extracted from the system creates an idea that humans are in charge of the planet rather than stewards of it. We know how to farm and manage animals in a really regenerative way — it’s an idea we can return to right now and rally around.”
His point made sense to me. I believe in Marks’s idea of human stewardship and also that there are limits to our dominion over fauna. But I don’t think that stewardship and lab grown proteins are somehow mutually exclusive. In fact, I told Marks that I see this sort of innovation as something that will allow us to care for animals better.
He frowned. “Why? Because we wouldn’t have to kill them? Because they use so much water?”
“Yeah,” I said, shrugging, “basically.”
I added that I’ve personally seen huge swaths of wild land flattened to make room for ranching across North America, South America, Asia, and Africa. As far as stewardship of animals goes, our consumption of red meat has done far more harm than good — habitat destruction is the #1 cause of species extinction and much of that is to make way for our food supply.
If we could make a steak in a lab that tasted as good as steak from a cow, why on earth wouldn’t we embrace that? Why wouldn’t we abandon ranches all together, if production allowed?
As we spoke about the subject, Marks and Daniels seemed to arrive at the same conclusion: Eating lab grown protein feels unnatural. Weird. I get that idea, but also find it to be short sighted: both men have smartphones, websites, and social media accounts helping to power their careers. They support solar energy and — sorry to hammer the point so bluntly — live in houses rather than cliff dwellings or teepees.