A meaty affair!
With Singapore approving the selling of lab-grown meat, the hope of sustainable, environmentally conscious meat-eating is kindled
The other day on one of the Facebook food groups, a question was posed to the members – which is your favourite meat? Along with the various kinds of proteins that were offered as favourites, out came also the love and enthusiasm that people bear for non-vegetarian fare. Incidentally, a day earlier, a news report was doing the rounds. In a first-of-its-kind study of absorbed lipid residues found in Indus Valley vessels, the remnants of pigs, cattle, sheep, and buffalo meat were predominantly found. The study on meat-eating dietary habits of people living in the Indus Valley civilisation, by Akshyeta Suryanarayan as part of her PhD at Cambridge, was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
The findings perhaps came as a shock only to the Hindu religious fundamentalists who have said that historically Indians have been vegetarians; they are not. In fact, most of us are meat-eaters. But my write-up today is not about religious fanaticism or changing of our culture and food habits by a majoritarian group in power. Today, I write about something that for me is personally a huge life change. People who know me will testify my love for meat, all kinds of meat especially the kind that has been banned in many Indian states. You see, I grew up consuming a lot of red meat. In our household, no meal was complete without a healthy portion of a delicious, falling-off-the-bone mutton curry. Everything is a habit, and so is one's dietary choices. On days that there was no mutton (butchers would be closed on Thursdays in Kolkata), lunch would be a joyless affair of food being cajoled down my throat. My long stint in Delhi meant one had to eat more vegetables. Chicken was most easily found but chicken, really, is that even meat? For years, pro-vegetarian groups and more strict vegan friends have tried to change my ways. But I have stood my ground and my love affair with meat has continued strong and neither side has ever strayed from its commitment to pleasure and fulfil the other.
But this year, the pandemic has caused me to see things in perspective. The COVID-19 outbreak made me get out of my comfort zone of how I regard global warming and climate change and the role that we play to control it. As multiple studies (and natural historian Sir David Attenborough) suggest, the only way to reduce global warming will be to control our consumption of meat. The resources that are required to breed and sustain large herds of cattle for our meat consumption impacts biodiversity. Higher meat consumption means increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Over 320 million tons of meat are annually produced in the world and a United Nations report pegs that global meat consumption will increase by 76 per cent by 2050. Greater meat demand means further obliteration of forest land. The most worrying factor is the direct connection between various kinds of virus, pathogens, and meat-eating. "To fulfil the growing meat demand, food production has encroached on land meant for wild habitats and has open doors for pathogens to jump to domesticated animals and humans. In this regard, industrial animal agriculture further breeds its own diseases, like swine flu and avian flu. Three out of four emerging diseases in humans have its roots emerging out of animals," says the Observer Research Foundation.
Worrying indeed, right? Now what do people like us do who love their meat and yet realise the urgent need to turn towards sustainable eating. Have that green! — trying a more plant-based diet will help. I'm not sure I can go completely vegan right away but can definitely endeavour to reduce meat consumption. Mock meats or fake meats are an alternative too with a kind of placebo effect if you will. However, the chances of them being highly processed is hardly beneficial for our health. Now comes the best news (at least fills meat-loving-yet-environmentally-conscious people like me with hope) — Singapore has become the first country to allow the selling of lab-grown meat. This "cultured meat" by Eat Just, which is essentially chicken cells grown in bioreactors, can stop the killing of animals. Many companies are working to do the same for pork and beef and will produce meat that tastes, feels, and satiates like the real thing! I await that day with bated breath. We do need to reduce our meat consumption, not for religion but definitely for the earth and the environment, the love for whom should be the greatest religion of them all.
The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal