"Our mission is to completely replace the use of animals as a food technology by 2035," said Patrick O. Brown at the 2020 Web Summit.
- Impossible Foods is a company that makes plant-based meat alternative products.
- At the 2020 Web Summit, CEO Patrick O. Brown spoke about the impacts of meat production on the environment, and his company's long-term goal of phasing out the industry.
- Livestock currently contribute about 14.5 percent of global emissions.
What's the world's most important scientific problem?
To Impossible Foods CEO Patrick O. Brown, it's decoding the chemistry behind what makes meat delicious, and then replicating those flavors in sustainable plant-based food products that outcompete the meat industry.
Solving this problem isn't only about boosting profits for Impossible Foods, which is already valued at an estimated $4 billion. Brown said it's about protecting the world against two of the "biggest environmental threats that humanity has ever faced": rapidly progressing climate change and the catastrophic loss of biodiversity.
"By far, the biggest factor in both [of those problems] is the use of animals as a food technology, globally," Brown said. "It's by far the most destructive technology in human history," Brown said last week at Web Summit 2020, adding that the animal food-product industry is more damaging to the environment than fossil fuels.
So far, international efforts to curb climate change have been only marginally effective. The U.N. Environment Programme reported that even if the signatories of the Paris Agreement meet their stated goals, global temperatures are still projected to rise throughout this century, "bringing even wider-ranging and more destructive climate impacts."
On the national level, getting governments to set and stick to climate policies is obviously difficult. And on the individual level, it might be even harder to get people to change their behavior in the name of environmentalism; think how difficult it'd be to influence people to stop flying, use less electricity or switch to an electric vehicle. Now imagine asking your average American restaurant patron to give up meat forever.
That's why Impossible Foods' strategy is to appeal primarily to consumers' taste buds, not their inner environmentalist. The company is aiming to make its meat alternatives more delicious, healthier, and cheaper than the real thing.
"By next year, I think our mainstream product will actually, if we do a side-by-side comparison with nothing by meat eaters, will be preferred by a majority of them," Brown said.
The ultimate goal is to phase out the meat industry.
"Our mission is to completely replace the use of animals as a food technology by 2035," Brown said. "We're dead serious about it. We totally believe it's doable."
Land deforested to make room for cattle pasture
Credit: Adobe Stock
That may seem like a quixotic goal. After all, meat alternative companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have been around for about a decade. And while both have been undeniably successful, meat consumption in North America hasn't changed much in recent years (although people are eating slightly less beef).
Still, mainstream meat-alternative options—like Burger King's Impossible Whopper, added to menus last year—are a relatively new phenomenon to most consumers. And as people become increasingly familiar with these products, and as meat-alternative companies scale up to make plant-based products cheaper than meat, preferences could start to tilt.
One industry that's betting on that happening: big meat. In 2019, leading meat companies like Tyson, Smithfield, and Perdue all began rolling out their own alternative meat products.
"There is a growing demand out there," John Pauley, the chief commercial officer for Smithfield, told The New York Times. "We'd be foolish not to pay attention."
Brown might advise these companies to invest even more heavily in plant-based foods.
"It's game over for the incumbent industry, they just don't realize it yet," he said.
If Brown's right, phasing out the meat industry could measurably reduce climate change, considering livestock currently contribute about 14.5 percent of global emissions.
Italian meatballs recipe from Impossible Foods
Credit: Impossible Foods
"By replacing animals as our technology for making meat, we can turn back the clock on global warming and restore native ecosystems," Impossible Foods wrote in a blog post. "The recovery of biomass on land currently devoted to livestock would remove enough CO2 from the atmosphere to offset 20 years of emissions at current levels, and once livestock methane emissions stop, rapid decay of atmospheric methane would effectively negate another 10 years of total GHG emissions at current rate."
Still, even if alternative-meat companies destroy the beef industry by 2035, that wouldn't solve the problem of climate change. It's also worth mentioning that some methods of raising livestock and producing meat are worse than others.
A 2020 study published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems notes that the "carbon footprint of meat alternatives is likely lower than the majority of beef consumed" in the U.S., but that the:
"...ecological impacts of human diets are not as simple as plant vs. meat discussions might suggest. The global food system is far too diverse and contingent on unique environmental and socioeconomic circumstances to allow for one-size-fits-all policy recommendations."
The future of meat alternatives
For Impossible Foods, the main goal has always been to keep tweaking their plant-based meat alternatives until they taste better than the real thing. So, assuming the company succeeds and displaces the meat industry, what's next?
We asked Brown whether Impossible Foods would ever consider developing entirely new forms of plant-based foods, instead of products that mimic familiar meat flavors.
"Oh absolutely, and this is something internally, and in our [research and development] team, we love to think about," Brown said. "Once we've completely replaced animals as a food technology, then the gloves come off. There's all sorts of novel meat flavors and textures we could create and we're super eager to do it."
Traci Des Jardins, a chef and restaurateur in the San Francisco area who also participated in the 2020 Web Summit presentation, said creating new types of plant-based "meats" might not be as strange as it sounds.
After all, we already have strange foods that have "become their own thing" simply because we give names to them. Case in point: the hot dog.
"I can imagine products that we could create at Impossible that would be amazing things that could become as iconic as the hot dog," Jardins said. "Because a hot dog really means nothing. It's just a name that's been attributed to this thing that goes in this bun. And so, I think there are many, many possibilities, and that we could create all kinds of delicious things that don't have the environmental impact that animal-produced meats have."
Vegans and vegetarians often have nutrient deficiencies and lower BMI, which can increase the risk of fractures.
- The study found that vegans were 43% more likely to suffer fractures than meat eaters.
- Similar results were observed for vegetarians and fish eaters, though to a lesser extent.
- It's possible to be healthy on a vegan diet, though it takes some strategic planning to compensate for the nutrients that a plant-based diet can't easily provide.
Non-meat diets may help you maintain healthy cholesterol, body weight, and blood-sugar levels. But these diets, particularly veganism, may also boost your risk of suffering broken bones, according to a new study published in BMC Medicine.
While the causes aren't totally clear, the researchers suggested it might stem from vegans not consuming enough calcium and protein, or from having a lower body mass index (BMI), which leaves the body more vulnerable to fractures.
The study is the largest to date on the relationship between fractures and non-meat diets. The researchers examined data from the long-running EPIC-Oxford study, which issued health surveys to nearly 55,000 people in the U.K. between 1993 and 2001, and followed up with them in 2010.
For the recent study, the researchers collected additional follow-up data in 2016 using National Health Service records. To study the relationship between diet and fracture risk, they sorted participants into four groups: meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians, and vegans.
After controlling for variables like physically activity, sex, smoking, dietary supplement intake, and alcohol use, the study found that vegans had a 43 percent increased risk of any kind of fracture compared to meat eaters. The increased risk for vegetarians was 9 percent.
Comparison of fracture cases by diet group
Credit: Tong et al.
The results showed that vegans were especially vulnerable to hip fractures, suffering 2.3 times more cases than meat-eaters. Vegetarians and pescatarians were also more likely to suffer hip fractures, though to a lesser extent.
One explanation may be that non-meat eaters consume less calcium and protein. Calcium helps the body build strong bones, particularly before age 30, after which the body begins to lose bone mineral density (though consuming enough calcium through diet or supplement can help offset losses). Lower bone mineral density means higher risk of fracture.
Protein seems to help the body absorb calcium, when consumed in normal levels. The recent study, along with past research, shows that people who don't eat meat tend to have lower levels of both protein and calcium. When the researchers accounted for non-meat eaters who supplemented their diets with calcium and protein, fracture risk decreased, but still remained significant.
Another explanation is body mass index (BMI). Non-meat eaters tend to have a lower BMI, which is associated with higher fracture risk, particularly hip fractures. In the new study, vegans with a low BMI were especially likely to suffer hip fractures. That might be because having more body mass provides a cushioning effect when people fall.
Still, the study has some limitations. For one, White European women were overrepresented in the sample. The researchers also didn't collect precise data on the type of calcium or protein supplementation, diet quality or causes of fractures.
Another complicating factor: Producers of vegan products, such as plant-based milk, are increasingly fortifying foods with nutrients like calcium and protein, so modern vegans are potentially at lower risk of deficiency.
The researchers wrote that their findings "suggest that bone health in vegans requires further research."
Staying healthy on a vegan diet
So, does a vegan diet necessarily lead to worse bone health? Not necessarily. But it's safe to say that people who don't consume meat, dairy and eggs should be extra vigilant about consuming enough essential nutrients. That can be harder than it seems.
One major reason is that the body generally has an easier time absorbing nutrients from animal foods than plant-based products. So, while a salad could contain the same amount of calcium as a glass of milk, the body absorbs more calcium when you drink milk. What's more, there are some molecules and nutrients you simply can't get from plants.
As such, many vegans round out their diets with supplements, including zinc, iron, iodine, long-chain omega-3s, and vitamins D, K-2, and B-12, to name a few. If you're on a vegan diet or considering making the switch, it's probably best to consult a dietician, and to make sure you maintain a healthy BMI.
New research suggests some men identify with a new form of masculinity that values authenticity, domesticity, and holistic self-awareness.
- Media and societal norms have been feeding us the same "meat is manly" ideology for decades, maybe without many of us realizing it.
- A new study questions the stereotypical narrative that real men eat meat by taking a look at the variation in how men identify themselves and their values.
- The psychological link between meat and masculinity will likely remain alive and well, however, this study (and others that follow suit) can continue to challenge the narrative.
The idea that "meat is manly" has been peddled for years - in commercials, on advertisements, in stories passed down the patriarchal line for generations. In 1999, Carol J. Adams released what would be the most well-known stab at this ideology with her book "The Sexual Politics of Meat", which is an in-depth assessment of the relationship between masculinity and meat, often pointing to American media as a primary source of meat pandering towards "masculine" society.
Society’s psychological link between meat and masculinity
One 2018 study found that men routinely incorporate more red meat in their diet to preempt the negative emotions that are caused by threats to their masculinity.
Photo by bbernard un Shutterstock
With the release of her book in 1999, Adams was able to highlight the idea that meat has become something of a symbol of masculinity, mainly by companies attempting to promote meat sales. Putting that theory to the test in today's society, one simple search for "making salad" on a stock image site will give you countless photos of women making salads in their kitchens. Another search for "barbeque" will show dozens of men grilling meat outdoors.
This association between meat and masculinity is something that has been deemed a societal norm for decades, perhaps without many of us even realizing it. One 2018 study found that men routinely incorporate more red meat in their diet to preempt the negative emotions that are caused by threats to their masculinity.
A 2013 study argued Adams' original theory on the sexual politics of meat with results that suggested men associate eating meat with animals being lower in a hierarchy system than humans, whereas the majority of women who eat meat try to disassociate animals from food and avoid thinking about the treatment of animals.
Alongside the narrative that meat is masculine comes the stigma around vegetarianism or veganism. These are both things that society deems "soft", "sensitive" or "whiny".
According to this Vegan Society survey, while the number of vegans is rapidly increasing (there were three and a half times more vegans in 2016 as there were in 2006), there is still a massive gender gap, with 63 percent of participants identifying as female and 37 percent identifying as male.
Researchers on this survey theorize that the main cause of this gap is the psychological link between meat and masculinity that is seemingly everywhere in today's society.
Some men identify with a new form of holistic, self-aware masculinity
The results of a new 2020 study reveal that there are new forms of masculinity that are linked with less meat consumption and a more positive attitude towards vegetarianism.
Photo by Stock-Asso on Shutterstock
A new study questions the stereotypical narrative of carnivores by taking a look at the variation in how men identify themselves and their values.
In the study, 309 male meat-eating participants were asked about their self-identification with new forms of masculinity, their attachment to eating meat, their willingness to reduce their meat intake, and their general attitudes towards vegetarians.
The results of this study suggest that men who identify more strongly with new forms of masculinity tend to consume less meat, have a weaker attachment to eating meat, and have a greater tendency to reduce their meat intake when possible. These men also showed more positive attitudes towards people who choose to be vegetarians.
This study is the first of it's kind to underscore the idea that not all men think alike and that biological sex differences shouldn't be taken into account when studying the consumption (or lack of consumption) of meat products.
Changing the way researchers conduct studies like this can help turn the tide.
Modern studies such as this are leaning more towards different tools that place less of a stigma on various types of masculinity. This study, for example, used the New Masculinity Inventory (NMI), where high scores can suggest holistic attentiveness, questioning of male norms, authenticity to self, and sensitivity to male privilege.
Studies like this, where not only the results but the tools used to conduct the study take into account the varying types of masculinity in the participants, can only offer more accurate results due to being more inclusive and less stereotypical.
Does vegetarianism stand a chance against meat-eating masculinity?
The sheer amount of information surrounding vegetarianism and all the attached benefits is astounding - so why is society having such a hard time keeping up? Why are men still less likely to decrease their meat consumption?
The "meat is manly" ideology will likely remain alive and well in today's society due to advertisements and societal norms, however this study (and others that follow suit) can continue to challenge the narrative. We can continue to promote the idea that vegetarianism isn't feminine and eating meat isn't masculine - they are simply choices that we make based on our unique views and how we feel about the information that is presented to us.
We all know somebody who avoids meat. These schools of thought suggest those people are onto something.
- The moral arguments behind vegetarianism are ancient, numerous, and well reasoned.
- They tend to focus on the actions behind meat production.
- While the question of what an ethical diet is remains unanswered, these thinkers and schools provide a good place to start.
Vegetarianism is having a moment in the sun. Record numbers of people are giving it a try, the number of places offering vegetarian food is ever-increasing, and the variety and quality of vegetarian alternatives to meat products are rising with it.
But, is this all just misplaced environmental concern, sentimentality, and hippie mumbo jumbo? After all, the stereotype of a vegetarian remains less than flattering. Or is there a method to the bacon-denying madness? Today, we'll look at three philosophies that endorse vegetarianism, outline their arguments, and consider if you should put that piece of steak down.
Peter Singer’s Utilitarianism: The life you can save might be a pig’s
Peter Singer is an Australian philosopher well known for his work in Utilitarian ethics. His 1975 book Animal Liberation is a groundbreaking work in the field of animal rights and presents a bold program for treating animals much better than we currently do.
He begins with a simple idea: animals have interests that should be considered equal to the similar interests of human beings. If it is wrong to inflict unnecessary pain on human beings, then it is also wrong to do it to animals.
While it is true that many arguments have been made to separate humans and animals because of the differences between them, Singer points out that we never apply them to other members of the human race. If we can't hurt and eat people with very low intelligence or who cannot use language, then why do we justify eating animals because they don't use syntax? Since animals clearly can feel, why should we not consider them as equal when calculating the net pleasure and pain caused by an action?
He argues that any attempt to morally separate humans from other animals when it comes to whose pain matters is based primarily on speciesism, prejudice against other animals, rather than a consistent logic and should be rejected. He then concludes, given the nature of industrial farming and the suffering many animals endure because of it, that we should switch to vegetarian and vegan diets to maximize the total happiness.
There are two subtleties to his arguments that must be remembered. The first is that he is not talking about "animal rights" in the pure sense. He certainly isn't arguing that an elephant be given the right to vote. He is arguing only that the difference between pain in humans and elephants is morally irrelevant and that the elephant's interests should be considered as equal to a humans' when deciding what to do.
Secondly, he is a utilitarian, and some apparent contradictions come with that. Most notably, he argues that some medical experimentation on animals is morally justifiable, as the benefits of the research will significantly outweigh the pain caused to the animal in the laboratory. Similarly, while he likes free-range farming as an idea, he doesn't encourage it in all cases as it can be worse for the environment than factory farming. The cost to benefit ratio doesn't quite work out for him.
His work has been widely influential, and most of the modern animal liberation movement cites him as a major influence. However, some philosophers, such as Richard Sorabji, have argued that his moral theory is simplistic and gives rise to strange moral instructions in some situations.
Religious Objections: Thou Shalt Not Kill Anything
Many religions have lines of scripture that are commonly interpreted as encouraging or even mandating vegetarianism.
The Dharmic Religions of India are well known for their tendency towards vegetarianism. In Jainism, vegetarianism is mandatory, as harming animals is considered bad karma. Hinduism and Buddhism also have scripture forbidding violence against animals, but how much that applies to the killing of animals for food is still debated. For those who do eat meat, ritualized methods of minimizing the suffering of the animal before death exist.
A third of Hindus are vegetarians. The number of vegetarian Buddhists is not known with certainty. The Dali Lama tried the diet for a while himself but was forced back to omnivorism again for health reasons. He continues to encourage vegetarianism in the name of reducing the suffering of animals.Similar ideas exist in the Abrahamic traditions, though they are notably less hardline. Some Rabbis have argued that Judaism encourages vegetarianism, and many Christian monastic orders have been vegetarian though history. Leo Tolstoy, the author of War and Peace, incorporated vegetarianism into his Christian pacifism later in life, as eating meat required "an act which is contrary to the moral feeling- killing."
Environmentalism: The hippies are taking over!
Lastly, many recent thinkers, including Steve Best and Peter Singer, have put forward arguments based on the environmental costs of industrial animal farming as a reason to cut back on our animal consumption. They point to studies like one in Nature, which reminds us of how much of the carbon footprint of meat production we'll have to cut back on if we want to reach our goals in the fight against climate change.
You might have noticed that most of these schools and thinkers share a common theme; they tend to object to the production of meat, the killing and suffering of the animal, rather than the actual act of eating it. Some people make arguments along these lines, but they are in the minority.
Most, if not all, of the thinkers mentioned above would undoubtedly be fine with lab-grown meat if the energy costs of producing it could be lowered. Similarly, many debates over if it is alright to eat oysters, which probably can't feel pain and are rather plant-like, have taken place as part of the broader discussion of moral vegetarianism.
There you have it; philosophers are often behind vegetarianism, and they make very good arguments as to why you should eat less meat, if any at all. While they won't convince everybody to switch to tofu, they do provide an excellent starting point for any discussion of what an ethical diet is.
You cannot live on steak and avocados alone, says Jillian Michaels, in this divisive video.
- Big Think's most controversial video of 2019 stirs the pot of the keto diet debate with fitness and nutrition expert Jillian Michaels, who asks: Are keto diet advocates selling people a false—or at least a selective—message?
- The keto diet increases fat and protein intake while dramatically reducing carbohydrate intake to about 20 grams a day or about 80 calories worth of carbs out of what could be anywhere from a 1600 to 2500 calorie diet per day. That throws your body into a state of emergency called ketosis, which burns fat fast.
- Michaels' main critique of the keto diet is that there is zero calorie restriction, it cuts out nutrients and digestive enzymes from fruits, and that it's high in animal fats and animal proteins, which negatively impacts telomeres, oxidative stress, and may increase inflammation. Michaels stands by the effects of regular exercise and what she calls a "commonsense diet": don't eat too much, eat real food and get a range of macronutrients.