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The Vegan Diet's Final Days
Vegan or not, there may be a time you consume animal flesh once again.
And not just flesh from mammals, but from fish and bivalves as well. And not just these products either, but the whole gamut: honey, eggs, milk, and cheese with an S instead of a Z! All with the same textures, the same flavors, and the same tastes.
What if I told you that these products would be produced without suffering, and even without the animal at all? What if I also told you that doing so would make Vegan diets obsolete, but still be aligned with the core principles of Veganism?
I promise that this isn’t a semantic sleight of hand or even a philosophical loophole. Rather, this is an impossible reality currently being made possible by some of the world’s brightest food scientists and engineers. And no, I’m not talking about Impossible Foods’ plant-based products either.
On that note, I want you to ask yourself, do you truly believe these plant-based alternatives taste nearly identical to the real thing? If you do, you’ve either deluded yourself, or forgotten what animal products taste like. I know I’ve somewhat forgotten, and that may be a good thing. But “forgetting” what these products taste like isn’t a particularly great selling point for people to become Vegan, so why am I saying this?
In this post and the next, I aim to show you how the entire world will become Vegan, while still consuming products like the fibrous and fatty flesh we are biologically wired to love. Plant-based alternatives are merely a stepping stone to this final solution:
By the way, this post was awesomely featured on the Substack newsletter, My Vegan Reach, go check them out!
What is cellular agriculture?
You may have heard of the term “lab-grown meat” before, but that doesn’t really sound enticing, nor does it paint an accurate picture about how this meat is actually produced, so it got a rebrand to “cultured, cultivated, or cell-based foods” for flesh and egg products and “precision fermentation” for dairy and egg products.
Cellular agriculture encompasses these fields. In the next post, I’ll cover precision fermentation. In this post, I’ll tell you exactly how cell-based foods are produced, the current pros and cons, which companies are pioneering this space, and a bold estimate as to when you’ll see these products at your local supermarket, ending the current Vegan diet paradigm as we know it.
How is cell-based food produced?
To understand this, we needn’t look further than the humble cake. Confession, I’m not a baker, but I think making a cake goes something like this: first, you acquire the ingredients, then you mix them all together and throw it in the oven, then you top the newly baked cake with icing, fruit, and whatever tickles your fancy to assemble it in a way that makes it look gorgeous and taste delicious.
While I am grossly oversimplifying the culmination of decades of knowledge in cell culturing, stem cell biology, tissue engineering, fermentation, bioprocess engineering, and probably baking too, just as a cake is made from these three simple steps, cell-based foods follow a similar process.
If you want to make a vanilla cake, you need vanilla, so if you want to make chicken breast, you need chicken cells. Ultimately, you need isolated cells from the animal whose flesh you desire to replicate. This may be from the root of a feather, a fertilized egg, or a painless sample of the animal’s muscle tissue. These operations are usually always minimally invasive: no harm done, no lives lost, and in most cases, no rights violated either. The “ingredients” (cells) are then thoroughly examined so the best ones can be chosen to ensure that the best “cake” (meat) is made.
Mix and “bake.”
This is the hardest part to get right, because depending on your ingredients, you’d mix, “bake” (cultivate), and store them in different ways. Cells from a feather may require vastly different nutrients (growth media) than cells from a fertilized egg, and they’ll only grow if these conditions are just right. In the past, these growth media were also sourced from animals in the form of Fetal Bovine Serum, making it wholly non-Vegan, but this is no longer the case for leading companies like GOOD Meat. What’s even more amazing about this step though, is that once they do get it right, the cells can be immortalized, meaning that they can continue to divide indefinitely. Even better, if they are stem cells, they can be transformed into almost any other type of cell of a given animal. One harmless sample can potentially turn into millions of pounds of food. One recipe, millions of cakes!
“Assemble” and serve!
If you want transform your vanilla cake into a strawberry shortcake, you’re going to need to drastically alter the texture, and of course, add a few strawberries. The same is true for cell-based meats. To do so, one can either add different fats or play with temperature and pressure gradients (different “oven” settings) to achieve richer and chewier textures.
No one expects all meat to be ground meat either, so by growing the cells on a “scaffold,” scientists can develop the cells to grow into their desired shapes. Think of this like the same as using a square vs. a circular pan for your cake. There are plenty of other cool methods of assembling too, like molding or even 3D printing!
Pros of cell-based foods.
No more pandemics.
While it’s becoming increasingly clear that the COVID-19 virus did in fact come from a lab rather than a dead bat in a wet-market, it cannot be understated that animal agriculture is still responsible for dozens of preventable infectious outbreaks each year. By moving away from slaughter-based to both plant-based AND cell-based agriculture, we drastically reduce the risk of cross-contamination coming from dead animals covered in literal poop. In cell-based meat production, every single step of the process is tightly controlled and highly sterile, because it needs to be! So sure, 3D printed meat doesn’t sound appealing, but neither does a trip to the hospital with “E. Coli infection” stamped at the top of your enormous medical bill.
Healthier and customizable.
While there are currently zero prospective studies published on the nutritional composition and effects of cell-based meats, it’s safe to say that they likely come with all the same downsides to health that slaughter-based meat has: unnecessary cholesterol, excessive saturated fats, etc. However, by leveraging technology, the cultivation of these products can be executed in ways that mitigate or eliminate these components, and maximize the good ones (monounsaturated fats, zinc, B12, Choline, etc.). The same can be said for various textures, flavors, and aromas!
Sustainable and scalable.
I don’t need data to tell you that having less animals to feed, and less animals that fart, burp, and poop, is better for our home on planet Earth, but I’ll give it to you anyways. Cell-based food production simply requires a handful of animals at best, less land, less water, and less energy overall. As renewable energy grows alongside cell-based food production, we could easily see carbon-negative, real animal meat on our plates, very soon. Not only that, but cell-based meat processing facilities can - in theory - be propped up anywhere. The same cannot be said for animal “farms.” We could potentially make meat where we couldn’t once before, and grow plants for humans where we used to grow plants for animals. With scale, people even in food deserts can have access to clean meat. A win-win-win for everyone.
We could finally have our cake and eat it too! By practically removing the animal from the equation while still consuming animal products, current “standard practices” of animal agriculture would look even more barbaric than they already do. The law is already starting to see rescuing animals from slaughter as a heroic and virtuous act, so as the pieces continue to fall, cell-based food production may be the final push Humanity needs to criminalize raising animals to be exploited and killed for food once and for all. Just like we already have for our fellow companion animals in the west.
Cons of cell-based food.
As many of these companies are still in the R&D phase and aren’t publicly traded, there’s little incentive to be transparent to anyone but potential private investors. Eventually, however, we are going to need a bit more transparency about the specifications of each step in their processes. I understand not showing all your cards for the sake of maintaining a competitive edge, but at least before I myself purchase any of these products, I need to explicitly know how the cells were taken from the animal, and if the cell growth medium itself is Vegan-friendly… While companies claim that the cell harvesting is painless, and that the growth medium is “plant-based,” I’ve seen no videos of the cell harvesting process nor a detailed ingredient list of their growth mediums. Nonetheless, I’ve decided to put trust and good-faith into these companies because they seem to at least acknowledge and understand the moral and environmental problems current animal agriculture systems perpetuate.
I’m sure we all agree that the only way we will believe any company’s claim is if we can taste it ourselves. Nonetheless, there was a recent study funded by a relatively unbiased party (the Korean Ministry of Agriculture), which showed that according to the amino-acid composition (the building blocks of proteins and flavors) of an undisclosed cell-based chicken product, taste may be comparable, but not identical.
Availability and cost.
The only currently available cell-based meat product is cell-based chicken, for sale in none other than Singapore. The company that sells it is the previously mentioned GOOD Meat (a subsidiary of Eat Just, the company behind Just Egg) and it costs around $23 for a “standard plate.” While it may sound pricey, the first cell-based burger costed $330,000 to make in 2013, and apparently, it didn’t even taste that good. 10 years later, that same burger now costs $11 to make, and apparently tastes a lot better, so we’ve come a long way! As investment continues to pour in and the means of production are further figured out, costs will inevitably continue to drop.
With so many cons, how (and when) will this end the Vegan diet?
As you’ve probably gathered from my stance on AI touched on in my previous post, I do not underestimate the power of exponential growth in technology, even food technology. I am optimistic that over the next decade, companies will become more transparent and that their products will continue to make strides in nutrition, taste, availability, and cost.
On the historic date of November 16th 2022, UPSIDE Foods became the first company to gain FDA approval for their cell-based chicken. And just a few days ago, on March 21st 2023, GOOD Meat became the second, for their cell-based chicken. It’s a good thing that competition to get to market is ramping up!
Reports estimate that >35% of all meat consumed, globally, will be cell-based by 2040. My conjectural report? You’ll see cell-based meats at local “health food” stores by 2030. While I don’t think plant-based alternatives will ever completely disappear, In 7 years or less, Vegans like myself may be eating cell-based chicken, and while it won’t necessarily fall in line with a Vegan diet, due to how little involvement animals have in how the meat is produced, it may very well still fall in line with the philosophy of Veganism. I think it does.
To all my fellow Vegans out there, if you are struggling to conveniently maintain adequate health on a Vegan diet, cell-based food products will be coming soon, so be patient and continue working hard for yourself and the animals for just a little while longer. If you have the cash or the network, consider consulting a plant-based dietitian. At the very least, Dr. Greger from nutritionfacts.org always has your back.
To all my fellow [Vegan] animal rights activists out there, please do not share this information with non-Vegans until cell-based meats truly hit the shelves. Otherwise, we risk implicitly telling people that continuing to pay for the unnecessary exploitation and murdering of innocent animals is okay because “it’ll end eventually anyways.” We all know that if we have the privilege of reading this newsletter, there isn’t a single good excuse to justify continuing to support these atrocities. If we don’t individually all pass The Compassion Test, how will we ever expect to live in harmony? With cell-based meat or without, there will never be a product that automatically makes humans compassionate. We still have work to do.
Nonetheless, since one of the biggest perceived barriers to people becoming Vegan is the lack of convenience, cell-based agriculture is primed to remove this barrier entirely. If you can buy meat that is animal-free, contains all the nutrients and flavors one would get from slaughter-based animal meat, cook it in exactly the same ways without risk of disease, and even get it at a restaurant, what would be your excuse?