Features

Why soon we’ll all be vegetarian

Sooner than you think, all our burgers may be grown in a lab

3 August 2013

9:00 AM

3 August 2013

9:00 AM

I know some lovely vegetarians but could never imagine joining their ranks. Something about a life fuelled entirely by plants fills me with dread. The veggie’s world is a pale planet, an insipid facsimile of the real thing. Think of the fear all true carnivores have of finding out at a dinner party that veggies are present or, worse, in charge; the wondering if at least there will be cheese, the troubling knowledge that those who deny the flesh often go the whole hog (mustn’t think of hogs… can always have a bacon sarnie when we get home) and so there possibly won’t be wine either.

Vegetarians have often been on the wrong side of history. Muggeridge, Hitler, Paltrow. It is interesting how veggie activists like to co-opt the great and the dead to their cause. Einstein, Darwin and Shakespeare are often included in the veggie listings despite there being little or no evidence that they eschewed meat at all.

The trouble is, they are right, those etiolated salad-munchers. They may be missing one of the great pleasures of human existence, the sheer, feral joy of ingesting a lump of charred amino acids, myoglobin and pure animal fat, the sating of human meat-hunger, a hunger that probably led to our ruling the world (the primatologist Richard Wrangham thinks that when our ancestors learnt to cook meat rather than eating it raw, the flood of extra nutrients enabled our brains to double in size) but no matter, they are right.


They are right because of the cruelty, the terrible waste, the planet-blighting dreadfulness of the meat industry. You may think you know what goes on in abattoirs, you may get free-range this and organic that, but you don’t really; don’t know, that is, about the torture, the suffering, the agonised screams of calves and fowl, the broken legs, slit tendons; the despoiling of forest and diverse savannah to make way for the dull, uniform thud of hooves. Fifty billion sentient lives cut short a year (and that’s not counting the fish). Yes, meat is wonderful and made us who we are, but surely we can do without it these days.

The trouble is, I won’t. I’ve thought about it, but no. I might, if someone could come up with something that looks, smells and tastes just like the real thing, but up to now no one has. Have you ever tasted soya mince? And how long did you spend glued to the toilet the next day? Tried Quorn, twice? No, didn’t think so. Is there a more depressing phrase in the English language than ‘veggie burger’? But things may be changing.

On Monday the Dutch scientist Mark Post is coming to London to cook, or have celeb-chef cooked for him (the details are all top secret) a burger made from meat grown in a vat. Derived from bovine stem cells and cultured in a broth containing foetal serum (stop gagging at the back), Post’s non-meat meat will, he told me last year, taste exactly like the real thing. Because it is the real thing, minus the torture. Small snag — Post’s sci-fi burger costs around £200k, but that will come down if it all takes off. Possibly.

Several teams are working hard on creating animal flesh in the lab without the costs and inconveniences, not to mention the cruelties, of keeping the animals themselves. One way is to culture flesh, the Dutch solution. There are other ways. In California, Pat Brown, a brilliant cancer geneticist at Stanford, is trying to turn plants into meat – not in a Quorn, veggie-burger way, but by using the cleverest molecular biology in the business. When I first met Brown I was convinced he was mad. Vegan, unsmiling, intense. Then I went to see him in his lab, chatted over a Californian café lunch of spinach and beetroot salad (there was bacon on the menu, but it seemed rude) and came away rooting for the guy. Brown knows that people like me will not give up meat. I know what goes on in abattoirs, I know about the rainforests and savannahs, I have had to know about mad cow disease, foot-and-mouth, horseburgers and the rest, and I still carry on eating the stuff. And if people who at least pretend to care about animal welfare will not give up, what hope to convert the great army of meat addicts, the millions who will happily buy something called an ‘everyday value’ burger and affect surprise when they discover it is not made of pure Wagyu fillet?

We could be on the verge of a true revolution, one, like the whole internet business, that we didn’t really see coming. Up to now veggie ‘meats’ have been designed for veggies, not meat-eaters. Pat Brown admits he has no idea what meat should taste like, so he has hired a team of top chefs, all carnivores, to help him.

Imagine a world with no livestock industry; it’s like imagining a world without cars. Sounds appalling, until you imagine it again, then think about it some more. Up to now, vegetarianism has, like the Roundheads, been right but repulsive. Now, thanks to technology, it could be right and tasty as well. And if not, well, there is always cheese.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


Show comments
  • #BiggestFastest

    Hitler was not a vegetarian before WW2. He only became a vegetarian in the late 1930s, early 1940s. Therefore all his ideas came while munching on the flesh of an animal. Enough said.

    • Beaumont7

      Ah that’s ok, he calmed down significantly in the late 30s and 40s.

      • Torvus

        O dear, some journalists can never seem to get it into their heads. Hitler was not, ever, a vegetarian, no matter with how much glee or otherwise you report it. I
        think it was the Daily Telegraph’s glee that got this myth going
        stronger than ever (in 1998, pro blood sports article?) in an article saying that Nazism and vegetarianism
        were linked. In fact the Nazis banned vegetarian societies and
        magazines. Hitler suffered from some sort of stomach problem that
        caused unpleasant reactions/pongs after he ate meat, so sometimes he had
        to go without it, to steady himself for the next round of Bavarian
        sausages or stuffed squab.

        • Alan Maher

          Re Wolfschanze : “Meals were Wehrmacht catering and consisted of soup, meat and a dessert. Hitler had his own vegetarian menu which he drew up at breakfast time”. N von Below, “At Hitler’s Side” The Memoirs of Hitler’s Luftwaffe Adjutant 1937 – 1945″, Greenhill Books, 2001 at p. 106. See also, for e.g., Traudl Junge, “Hitler’s Last Secretary, a First-Hand Account of Life with Hitler, edited by Melissa Muller: “I knew that Hitler was vegetarian, and wondered whether everyone else had to go without meat too”. (Kindle edition, location 908) and “During meals Hitler himself often mentioned his difficulty in getting decent vegetarian dishes’. (Kindle edition, location 1145). I think you owe journalists an apology.

          • Torvus

            Certainly not. See The Hitler Book (Eberle & Uhl) pp 54, 55,120 (sausages). Natural News: ” . . . In fact, Hitler suffered from severe flatulence . . . and was advised by doctors to follow a vegetarian diet from time to time in order to calm the gas attacks. This is probably where the myth about Hitler being a vegetarian first originated. No doubt his lieutenants wanted Hitler to be a vegetarian; especially the ones seated closest to him at the dinner table. . . ”
            Rynn Perry:
            ” . . . Richard Schwartz, (author of Judaism and Vegetarianism ) pointed out that Hitler would occasionally go on vegetarian binges to cure himself of excessive sweatiness and flatulence, but that his main diet was meat-centered. He also cited Robert Payne, Albert Speer, and other well-known Hitler biographers, who mentioned Hitler’s predilection for such non-vegetarian foods as Bavarian sausages, ham, liver, and game. Furthermore, it was argued, if Hitler had been a vegetarian, he would not have banned vegetarian organizations in Germany and the occupied countries; nor would he have failed to urge a meatless diet on the German people as a way of coping with Germany’s World War II food shortage. . . ” New York Times correspondence page 1991: A correspondent cited a passage from a cookbook that had been written by a European chef, Dione Lucas, who was an eyewitness to Hitler’s meat-eating. In her Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook (1964), Lucas, drawing on her experiences as a hotel chef in Hamburg during the 1930s, remembered being called upon quite often to prepare Hitler’s favorite dish, (“He Loved His Squab”) which was not a vegetarian one. “I do not mean to spoil your appetite for stuffed squab,” she writes, “but you might be interested to know that it was a great favorite with Mr. Hitler, who dined at the hotel often. Let us not hold that against a fine recipe though.”

            Robert Payne, whose biography of Hitler, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, has been called definitive, scotches the rumor that Hitler might have been a vegetarian. According to Payne, Hitler’s vegetarianism was a fiction made up by his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels to give him the aura of a revolutionary ascetic, a Fascistic Gandhi, if you will. (Although Hitler’s supposed saintliness on this issue might be a little ‘dented’ when you discover that the gold used in his dental fillings was taken from prisoners’ teeth.)

        • toumanbeg

          Nutter alert! Youtube has an old film of Hitler promoting the veggie lifestyle. ALL Hitlers biographers say he was. ALL known history says he was.

          But he actually wasn’t because Torvs the nutter says he wasn’t.

          • Torvus

            The evidence that Hitler wasn’t vegetarian has been adequately dealt with for those who can read and understand.
            The self-image of leaders is highly important and this was a ploy to improve his image, apparently, though why being vegetarian would do that is a mystery. Hitler lied, yet again: as he broke the Nazi-Soviet pact, as he broke the Munich Agreement, as he broke his promise the Nazi Party would govern lawfully, as he violated the Treaty of Versailles . . .

        • Anonymous

          I view the “Hitler was a vegetarian” hoax as some anti-semitic hoax cooked up by the same bozos who created the anti-semitic hoax “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”

  • Bagel

    And nor is Paltrow. A little fact checking wouldn’t go amiss.

  • The Vegetarian Site

    If your experience with vegan meat analogs has been limited to generic veggie burgers and Quorn (almost all of which contains eggs, by the way), it is no wonder that you have a negative viewpoint of vegan foods. Explore a little, why don’t you?

  • Jim Corcoran

    This is why we will all be vegan:

    “A 1% reduction in world-wide meat intake has the same benefit as a three trillion-dollar investment in solar energy.” ~ Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy

    “As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.” Worldwatch Institute, “Is Meat Sustainable?”

    “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency.” UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”

    “If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains… the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund

    “It’s not a requirement to eat animals, we just choose to do it, so it becomes a moral choice and one that is having a huge impact on the planet, using up resources and destroying the biosphere.” ~ James Cameron, movie director, environmentalist and new vegan

    21-Day Vegan Kickstart
    http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/kickstart/kickstart-programs

    • DrCrackles

      There is as much choice in what foods we are oriented towards as which species/gender we choose to copulate with.

    • Baron

      But Jim, a 1% reduction in farts would also have the same benefits as a three trillion dollar investment in solar energy.

      • James

        So if the veggies stopped eating beans we would be ok!

    • Yashmak

      So human nature and desires don’t weigh into it at all, Jim? That’s where ideas like this fall down, after all. See the inability of communism to stop human greed and ambition, etc. etc.

      You can say “why we SHOULD all be vegan”, and have an arguable position. . .but “WILL”?

      • Jim Corcoran

        Like all social justice issues, if a small critical mass is achieved then change occurs. Only with an educated base can that occur.

    • bwims

      The real answer is to give the breeders this choice. Control your population growth or starve. If the world went veggie the buggers would still breed themselves into famine.

  • Simon Bushi

    Hi, vegetairan and not know how bulk of India lives, with strict vegetarianism ? As a group of people no one in my family have ever touched meat for time immemorial. It is easy to live that way, less over head for the planet earth, just one little change to the food habits.

    • bwims

      You don’t know what you are missing. Do you also breed by artificial insemination? The real thing is much more pleasurable.

  • mhsutton

    I love how posts like these encourage comments that become vegetarian vs non vegetarian when the key point here is about growing meat in a vat. MEAT IN A VAT!!!

    • Torvus

      No logical discussion can progress without correct facts. Yep, meat artificially grown is to me a revolting idea. But for those who wish to continue eating fresh meat when world population has unsustainably increased and land and water decreased, what would you? Cannibalism a possibility for die-hard carnivores?

      • bwims

        You stop feeding people who outbreed their local resources. Let them starve. That’s nature’s way. They don’t have an innate right to breed and expect to be fed by the rest of the world. Harsh but true.

  • george

    Mmm. But with no livestock industry there will be no livestock (some cows, goats, and sheep for milk, possibly, and that’s it). We’ll wander the countryside wondering where all the animals have gone. But I suppose it’s worth it.

    • Torvus

      “Wander the countryside and wonder where all the animals have gone”?? Wonder and wander no longer. Go see them in their thousands in factory farms.

      • bwims

        He’s talking about if the world goes veggie, you idiot.

        • Torvus

          ‘Idiot’ replies: it goes for today.

    • bwims

      No milk. You don’t get milk without offspring. What do you do with the males?

      • george

        Well, we know what they do with the males. I can’t stand milk by itself but I’m very fond of cheese….

    • bobbie

      How strange, don’t you have any birds in your countryside? No owls, herons, blackbirds, wood pigeons, crows, sparrows or blue-tits? Squirrels? Foxes? Small rodents? No ants, butterflies, spiders, moths or bees? No fish in the streams?

  • Timothy Shaw

    Take meat away from all the starving children in world and tell them from now on they have to seven pounds of vegetables for every pound of meat they were eating or they will die from malnutrition.
    True vegetarians have three stomachs and you would not be reading this if your ancestors refused to eat meat. Frivolous stupidity.

    • Timothy Shaw

      Send them all starbucks gift certificate while your at it.

  • Peter Krajcik

    Ask any climate scientist: Man-made carbon pollution is the cause of the global warming we’re seeing now. http://clmtr.lt/cb/vOu08c

    • Tom M

      For every link to a site like that I can give you one with the opposite view. For every “climate scientist who claims…..” there are just as many who don’t. When told a “climate scientist says…..” I would check out their credentials and verify whether they have any connections to any activist group like Greenpeace of WWF. If they have (and a lot do) then their pronouncements are biased.

      It might be a surprise to you but apparently the globe has, within a tenth or two of a degree, stayed at the same temperature since 1995 (NOAA data). However, the much proclaimed, incontrovertible, science is settled connection between atmospheric CO2 and temperature has been conclusively disproved. CO2 is still rising and temperature isn’t. Their argument (and science) was wrong. Start again, this time without the politicians and pressure groups.

      • FenlandBuddha

        “For every “climate scientist who claims…..” there are just as many who don’t.”

        Really? I doubt that. The vast majority of climate scientists I have read all agree that man-made climate change is a fact. When a scientist disputes this they are usually from a non-climate background.

        CO2 is a greenhouse gas. More of it is going into the atmosphere. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. These three things are facts and therefore the Earth will warm up – unless it doesn’t obey the same physical laws as the rest of the universe.

        http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/Media/Commentary/2012/February/anthropogenic-global-warming-1997.aspx

        • Rtd Colonel

          Most people, let alone ‘climate scientists’ can accept that it is highly likely that man has some impact on the climate – alongside many other factors – The earth has been significantly hotter and cooler in the past – It is the rate and degree of change and how we can harness it that it is up for debate. Sadly due to the manipulation of financially interested ‘climate scientists’/Met Office/Greenpeace/self righteous right on anti liberal guys and more creepily the type of know all bully boys who just like to impose their will on the little people (If it wasn’t climate then smoking, alcohol, car usage, correct filling of bins etc etc – new ways to control/fine people being devised all the time; no one can have a serious discussion without being labelled a denier/fascist/paedophile … I thought by hockey stick terms we should be able to notice the increase and be starting to fry. Global warming then climate change, global weirding – new increasingly vague messages to ramp up the alarm level and keep the old funding gravy train going

        • Tom M

          You still don’t get it. CO2 is rising (made made or otherwise) temperature is not. The rates of rise and rate of fall can be disputed but that they are diverging is not in dispute. The science that predicted temperature rise being the caused by CO2 is wrong.
          “The vast majority of climate scientisits….”. Just who are these vast majority? That is a meaningless statement.
          Most of this propaganda comes from the IPCC which itself has been severly critised by more than one body for the way it handles data.

          You have heard of the “Hockey Stick” graph for example. Don’t forget that this was a climate scientist who was proved to have manipulated the data to give the desired result.
          My “brass-neck” favourite was Dr Rosanne D’Arrigo (a climate scientist), who was accused of presenting “cherry-picked” data to present to a USA senate committee. “Well if you want to make a cherry pie you pick cherries” she said.

          I could fill this page with items such as that. This is not science anymore it is international politics.

        • Fergus Pickering

          But why isn’t it, then? Warming up, I mean.

  • NotYouNotSure

    I can already see the debates in 20 years: are governments right in banning all meat produced from animals, with only artificial meat being allowed.

  • toumanbeg

    Nonsense! Maybe if you are a blue-stater and live in a concrete jungle.
    A little under half of America doesn’t.

    If my freezer is getting low, I head out to the side pasture, pick out a steer and take it down to be slaughtered. Then i stock my freezer again. I can’t eat a whole cow in a year so I end up giving most of it to the church. They see that it gets to where it is needed.

    If you have to eat veggie burgers, it serves you right for living in the city.

    Your computer doesn’t care where it is. The ‘net doesn’t care. You can write junk articles for the internet from anywhere in the world. You live in Asphalt Hell, eating veggie burgers because you want to.

    So suck it up or shut up.

  • Ann Couper-Johnston

    I would never go veggie, but I might eat less meat – for the sake of my own health and possibly to live lighter on the planet. I would like that meat to be responsibly produced (good animal husbandry rather than stuffed with antibiotics, for instance) but no way would I touch meat made in a test tube!

  • Augustus

    Laboratory meat. Schmeat. Ugh!
    “The pioneering lab-grown burger received a cautious welcome from professional food tasters.” -FT

    I’m not surprised. Cultured meat will never be an alternative to a prime piece of fillet steak. Or the taste of heather pastured lamb. I could go on, but who knows? It may play a future role in frozen meals and such-like in which flavour is apparently less important. after all, no one seemed to realise that horse meat had been thrown into the mix. No doubt there will be a market for it – eventually.

  • William Summers

    Tony Blair was a meat eater.

  • bwims

    What a load of tosh. All your descriptions of cruelty apply equally well to the deaths on the savannah of the wildebeest and zebra calves, and what about the wild African dogs that eat their prey alive from the groin upward? Should we exterminate all carnivores to end the cruelty? Is it a matter of numbers? If we stopped eating meat, the domestic animals would become extinct. Why is that better? Less cruel? Then surely the human race should become extinct, because living with the knowledge that you are going to die is the cruellest condition of all.

    Go peddle your fantasies elsewhere.

    • Trooper

      Wild dogs do not have the rationality to think like we do. Neither they can grow their food. Go peddle your fantasies elsewhere.

  • Torvus

    Michael Hanlon’s article is interesting; his openness, clarity and humility in admitting his faults refreshing. He and other vested interests can rest easy. Roughly 95% of the UK population is probably on his side. Americans are eating less meat, but the UK will probably be the last in the Western hemisphere to do so, if ever. In Europe the ever-practical and go-ahead Germans may lead by cutting back on meat-eating, but the UK will always be slaves to meat.
    Because of the rudeness my comments have called up I no longer consider this issue worth pursuing, so let rip. However, I know that one other journalist on the Spectator has a more reasoned view than that of Hanlon’s, though it may not create as much excitement.

  • Joe P

    If meat didn’t taste nice, would we be having this debate? People eat meat out of selfishness. A vegetarian diet is proven to be healthier and better for the planet – animal suffering aside.

    As eating meat is a choice it does indeed become a moral question. If you’re one of the vast majority of people on this planet who doesn’t have to eat meat but chooses to then it is only right to question your lifestyle/diet.

    As a former meat eater turned vegan I can tell you this – if you just put your ego to one side and take the time to understand the vegetarian point of view as well as sampling ‘real’ vegetarian food then you will go through a transformation. That’s not hippy talk. It’s simply about realising that eating meat causes huge damage and suffering – and your appetite can be easily satisfied whether you be vegetarian or vegan.

    Imagine you visited a vegetarian planet where no one had ever eaten an animal. Then you suggest to one of the beings there that the furry creature cuddled up with its mother should be fattened up, stuck in a cage or enclosure, have its neck slit and its body cut up, cooked and eaten. What would they think of you? What a ghastly suggestion.

    There is no sound argument against vegetarianism. The ‘meat eaters’, after losing the debate on facts, end up using ‘tradition’ or even religion as justification. Those with no shame simply stand by the ‘we’re powerful’ argument. Isn’t the great thing about being human the ability to better ourselves? Advance civilisation?

    We don’t need to eat animals. Eating animals is destroying the planet. It’s killing us. And it is time we moved on.

  • Networking Eye

    When the news broke out… I thought… After all something good and economical is one the way… Same I shared with a friend, who is big time animal lover…

    He was too happy about the development but then, he said what about Muslims. And I asked him what?

    He said, they eat Halal food, where they first slit animal’s throat and wait till each drop of blood had dripped from the neck, so this new way of creating meat won’t be of much help to them.

    And I was like…Yaaa…

    But never the less… we need this…

Close