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Michael Grunwald: Afraid of high-tech food? Get over it

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It would be nice if we as a species were capable of sticking to diets that were better for our health and for our planet, but since we’ve consistently demonstrated that we’re not, the least we can do is stop kvetching about innovations that can help us.

MICHAEL GRUNWALD: Cultivated meat is just one example of techno-innovation’s amazing potential to help fix our food and agriculture problems. Eat Just already sells cultivated chicken in limited amounts in Singapore; I got to try a sample, and it tasted like chicken, because it is chicken, only produced with lower emissions, no manure, no risk of avian flu and no suffering. Meat grown from cells still can’t compete on cost with meat grown inside animals, but Upside’s FDA approval is a big step toward showing American consumers that it’s no longer science fiction…

Canary Media constantly reports on technologies that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels — wind turbines, electric vehicles, nuclear reactors, solar inverters, advanced batteries and more. Nobody whines that they’re unnatural. Nobody says we should go back to lighting our homes with whale oil or commuting on horses. But when it comes to the challenge of feeding the world without frying the world, a challenge just as urgent as ditching fossil fuels, there’s a widespread sense that technology is part of the problem.

In this view, we don’t need highly processed ​“fake meat,” just less meat in our diets, and maybe local, grass-fed, regeneratively ranched meat for special occasions. We don’t need more efficient and eco-friendlier fertilizers, pesticides or genetically engineered seeds; we just need to nurture our soil and sequester more carbon by farming in harmony with nature. These are pleasant pastoral fantasies, but they’re psychologically and mathematically incorrect ways to think about the problems with our food system…

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals launched in the late 19th century to help carriage horses, calling for watering stations and shorter working hours for its equine friends. Other contemporary activists were complaining that the proliferation of horse manure was destroying urban environments and threatening public health. And at the time, millions of acres of American farmland were being used to grow oats for literal workhorses.

These problems were largely solved in the early 20th century — not by activists demanding less abuse or cleaner streets, but by Henry Ford, who didn’t care about horse welfare or horse manure but produced a horse-free form of transportation that consumers liked better.

Today, we exploit animals for food, not transportation — an estimated 70 billion around the world every year. They make an even bigger mess, through greenhouse gases as well as manure, plus health risks that include antibiotic resistance, zoonotic pandemics and heart disease. And farmers now devote billions, not millions, of acres to feeding them — more than two-thirds of all agricultural land, or one-third of all land, period…

So if we want to feed a growing population without clearcutting the Amazon, we’ll need to find less land-intensive ways to satisfy our meat cravings. We’ll have to follow the advice of Buckminster Fuller that I saw at the Better Meat Company, displayed right below a wall-mounted harpoon: ​“To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Thanks to innovation, we no longer use harpoons, or whales, to light our homes. Someday we might not use factory farms, or livestock, to eat meat…

We live in an extraordinary age where we hold just about all the knowledge that humanity has acquired in pocket-sized devices that can also take videos and make phone calls and beep when we can’t remember where we left them. But for some reason, we freak out when it comes to technology in our food, even though it’s obvious that we need to transform our food system to sustain our civilization, even though the crap we shove down our pieholes every day is already killing us.

It would be nice if we as a species were capable of sticking to diets that were better for our health and for our planet, but since we’ve consistently demonstrated that we’re not, the least we can do is stop kvetching about innovations that can help us. Instead of freaking out about food and agricultural technology, we should be embracing it and subsidizing it and encouraging it in every way we can. It’s a tool, like a hammer, and we have the power to use it to fix rather than kill. SOURCE…

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