The Sadism of Eating Real Meat Over Lab Meat

Breaded bite of chicken on a fork
A lab-grown chicken nugget at a presentation in Singapore
The rise of cellular agriculture will force consumers to consider the moral consequences of torturing and killing animals for food.

Consider a steak. When it hits the hot oil in the pan, your mouth can’t help but water at the aroma. That familiar crackle of fat beginning to fry and render is the sound of the maillard reaction: that wondrous molecular dance of the steak’s amino acids and sugars as they caramelize during the searing process. When you pull it from the pan—it’s only a few moments away now—and your teeth sink into the medium-rare flesh, you will experience the textural contrast of the unctuous interior and the crispy crust. But you won’t be thinking about chemistry. With the aroma, the texture, and the savory juices coating your tongue, you will be absorbed. This is what it feels like to eat a perfect steak, and it feels good.

Now imagine that no animal suffered and died to provide you with this pleasure. In early February, the Israeli company Aleph Farms announced that it had 3-D printed a steak from live animal-cell cultures. The approach simulates the vascular system of living animal tissue. This means that as the steak grows, it develops as a dense web of sinew, muscle, and fat that are practically indistinguishable from meat harvested from the body of a dead cow. Its steak is a well-marbled rib eye.

You may soon be confronted at your local restaurant and grocery store with a dilemma that until now was the stuff of science fiction stories and philosophical thought experiments: If you have the choice of two steaks, one cultured in a lab and the other carved from a cow corpse, which are otherwise indistinguishable and similarly priced, which would you choose? As biotechnology scrambles centuries of human assumptions and debate about the relationship between eating, pleasure, and ethics, it also raises the possibility that eating animals may soon boil down to sadism, in its classical definition: deriving pleasure from inflicting suffering when other options exist.

Aleph Farms isn’t alone. Cellular agriculture, or the process of growing animal tissue from stem cells, is fast speeding toward mass-market release. In December, Singapore gave regulatory approval for the sale of cell-based meat to California-based food company Eat Just.* Earlier that month, a tasting restaurant for cell-based chicken opened in Israel, reportedly serving a sandwich that tastes just “like a chicken burger.” Prefer surf to turf? San Diego company Blue Nalu plans to launch cultured seafood products in the near future.

There are many good reasons, aside from the fundamental question of whether it’s ethical to kill animals just because they taste nice, to reduce your meat consumption. Industrial meat agriculture releases huge quantities of methane into the air and is a driver of global climate change. Animal waste turns into runoff, polluting nearby watersheds or causing E. coli outbreaks by contaminating greens such as lettuce and spinach. Even pasture-raised meat, produced at scale, can drive deforestation in vulnerable ecosystems like the Brazilian Amazon.

Read the complete article in The New Republic