Food Elite Proclaim Only Lab-Grown Meat Ethical to Eat

Last week in my discussion of the Food Elite’s war on meat, I mentioned that the New York Times issued a challenge to its readers to write 700 words or less explaining why it is ethical to eat meat. The contest has ended; the approximately 3,000 responses have been whittled down to 29 by Gwynne Taraska, the research director for the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University' and those 29 semi-finalists have been whittled down to six finalists by five esteemed members of the Food Elite: Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Andrew Light, Michael Pollan, and Peter Singer. The six final responses were then voted on by the readers.

It should come as no surprise that the six final essays have an overall disdain for meat and an assumption that eating meat, given the means of production we use today, is a wrong that must be justified, is harmful to the environment, and is harmful to human health. There was not a single response in the final six essays that took the position that eating meat is ethical without all the caveats about “sustainability,” impacts on the environment, or impacts on human health.

What is quite shocking, however, given that a research director at George Mason whittled down the original approximately 3,000 responses, is that the response that ended up winning entirely avoided the prompt. For the sake of our future, I would hope to God that any student at George Mason--or any other educational institution from high school through doctoral studies, for that matter--would be failed for writing an essay that flat-out ignored the prompt. Also, the one titled “For What Shall We Be Blamed – and Why?” should have been failed for reading like an example right out of Orwell’s "Politics and the English Language." Do yourself a huge favor and just skip reading it. If you insist on reading it, I warned you.

In the initial challenge to its readers, the NYT asserted there were plenty of arguments explaining why eating meat is unethical but, in their minds, not a single good argument about why eating meat is ethical. The winning response, then, posited that eating meat is, in fact, not ethical, except if produced in a certain way:

Is it ethical to eat meat? Some 40 years ago, I took a long break from eating any animals, but soon I will be able to eat meat again without any qualms, without worrying about my health, cruelty to animals, or environmental degradation. That’s because this autumn, 14 years after it was just a gleam in the eye of the Dutch scientist Willem van Eelen, the very first laboratory-grown hamburger is to make its debut.

That’s right, folks: the only ethical way to consume meat, according to the NYT and its readers, is if the meat is produced in a lab. And y’all thought “pink slime” was gross. 

These are the same people who oppose genetically modified foods and meat separated from fat in a centrifuge, then treated with a naturally occurring compound. They’re lauding meat grown in a laboratory. These are the same people who deride huge corporate farming; they’re excited about meat grown using expensive equipment and advanced knowledge of science. 

Think about that for a second: do you think test tube meat will come from some ma-and-pa-shop down the street? Or do you think test tube meat will come from massive, corporate-owned entities (e.g. Beef Products, Inc.) such that the substantial fixed costs of building manufacturing plants to produce test tube meat will be recouped from millions of units sold?

Given the Food Elite’s recent barrage of studies and arguments that meat consumption is bad for human health and destroying the environment, let’s examine the laughable statements in the winning essay that apparently speak to these issues:  

  1. Test tube meat can be eaten “without worrying about [our] heath”: So, all the ills of meat that the Food Elite have been harping on with their dubious studies are eliminated with test tube meat? That’s really interesting. Apparently, eating any meat (even “sustainable” meat) is bad for your health, unless it’s test tube meat. That makes complete sense.
  2. Test tube meat can be produced “without…environmental degradation”: I have no clue how exactly test tube meat is produced, but something tells me it takes a fair amount of energy. If nothing else, I’d be willing to bet that the sample must be kept at or near body temperature. How will that energy be produced without an impact on the environment?

Of course, the ethical elephant in the room is not even addressed. It’s taken for granted that ending an animal’s life poses an ethical dilemma, but what about the ethics of creating life, even if just creating the muscles of the animal without the other parts that make it a complete living being? Is there no ethical dilemma in creating life or components of living beings?

These are the extremes to which the Food Elite are willing to go in their war on meat. They so oppose the consumption of meat that they praise test tube meat as the panacea to the vast array of problems they’ve decided come from eating meat. According to the Food Elite, test tube meat is ethical, it’s healthy, and it doesn’t impact the environment. Problem solved; case closed.

If you can’t see the blatant editorial bias at the New York Times on this issue or the broader war on meat being waged by the Food Elite, you’re either not paying attention or you’re being deliberately obtuse. The New York Times set the rules for this contest, then completely ignored those rules by accepting responses that simply ignored the prompt but affirmed the editorial staff’s presuppositions.

The editorial staff even laud their readers as people who “routinely distinguish themselves for their erudition and the intensity of their engagement.” These readers who intensely engaged in this case were so erudite that they were able to write arguments that cleverly avoided the given prompt, instead explaining why eating meat isn’t really ethical unless it’s done according to standards so strict as to make the production of meat so prohibitively expensive that it will naturally curtail meat consumption – the ultimate goal of the Food Elite.

The Times editorial staff must have breathed a sigh of relief when they realized they had enough circuitous responses to their disingenuous prompt that they wouldn’t have to actually print a well-articulated argument for why eating meat is ethical. Feigning a scholarly and dispassionate quest for an academic discussion on the ethics of eating meat, they only presented articles that at least partially support the underlying values of the New York Times editorial staff and the Food Elite. This faux debate is just another tactic in the war on meat.