What Does In Vitro Meat Mean For Vegetarianism?

What Does In Vitro Meat Mean For Vegetarianism?

in Nutrition by
What Does In Vitro Meat Mean For Vegetarianism?
By: Christopher BulleCC BY 2.0

Meat schmeat. The line between meat-eating and vegetarianism is about to become blurred. Schmeat is ‘meat’ that’s being grown in vitro, or basically in a test-tube, which will be grilled and showcased to the public later this month. Technically, a test-tube-grown steak is still genuine meat, but without the gruesome slaughtering part. This raises a curious debate though – what does this mean for vegetarianism?

The heart of (your) vegetarianism

In vitro meat will inevitably change the way we define vegetarianism. (Or veganism for that matter, because it’s not unthinkable that the same process can’t also be applied to other animal products in the future.) What will be highlighted are the motivations underlying vegetarianism. Everyone vegetarian would need to decide for themselves how they feel because there are many reasons behind this lifestyle choice.

  • If your reasoning was animal-cruelty, then voila – Schmeat is cruelty-free so problem solved. So would you happily eat a hamburger? Or does the thought still make your skin crawl?
  • Did you just not trust the meat industry? With all we’ve heard about Mad Cow disease and growth hormones, that steak just didn’t seem a safe, healthy option. In which case, Schmeat might again be an option for you. That’s assuming Schmeat won’t come with its own set of health concerns that is.
  • If you just didn’t like the taste of meat, well, in vitro meat won’t suit you any better. On the other hand, perhaps your dislike was more psychological, because you were somewhat irked by the thought that steak was once attached to a face. Maybe lab-grown meat will seem less gross. Then again, test-tube meat might seem even more so for some.
  • Some of you might not eat meat because you think it’s inherently unhealthy or unnatural to do so. You probably cite some reasoning that has to do with evolution and us not having the right teeth or digestive tract or something. Meat grown in a lab is going to then be even further away from what you think natural food should be.
  • Then again, maybe you just thought being a vegetarian was cool, or that it suited the image you wanted to go for. The jury’s still out on whether this type of vegetarian will be for or against Schmeat. Frankly, it’ll depend on the success of the marketing done on behalf of Schmeat. Unfortunately, with a name like ‘Schmeat’, it isn’t looking good thus far.

In vitrarians?

As much as we deny ‘labelling’ or being put into boxes, we humans typically like to group ourselves into types and classes. We want to be part of something that can be named and identified. It gives us a sense of order and an identity. For many that might even be the allure of being a vegan, vegetarian, raw foodist or whatever.

The invention of Schmeat, however, is going to upset the stability of some of our boxes. We’ll have the strict vegetarians and vegans who refuse to eat meat of any kind. We’ll have meat-eaters who will simply go on as usual, not too concerned about eliminating entire food groups from their diets no matter the source. But then we’ll have something in the middle – people who choose not to eat conventionally grown meat, but only Schmeat, whether because of health or ethical concerns.

So we won’t have nicely defined categories of vegetarians who don’t eat meat, and meat-eaters who do. And this possibly might upset the vegetarians who strongly saw their lifestyle choice as part of their identity. However in vitro meat changes the way we think about vegetarianism and meat, this is just another layer of complexity to this interesting world we’re creating for ourselves.

Queenie Bates is a writer and researcher based in Cape Town. Having worked in the South African fruit export business, she’s been involved and interested in nutrition for a long time. She is very much looking forward to trying her first Schmeat burger.