Consumption / Crop-Livestock / Environment / Farming Systems / Film and video / Interview / Opinion piece / PA / Presentation

Conscious carnivores: Bill Gates says the meat market is ripe for reinvention in the form of ‘meat analogues’

Michael Pollan - Pop!Tech 2009 - Camden, ME

American food writer and activist Michael Pollan (photo on Flickr by PopTech).

The meat market, says Bill Gates, is ripe for reinvention. The market is growing fast to meet rising demands for animal-source foods throughout much of the developing world, particularly China and India and other countries with fast-growing economies.

Food scientists are creating healthful plant-based alternatives that taste just like eggs, chicken, and other sources of protein.

Most of Gates’ fancy slide presentation cum video gallery addresses concerns about overconsumption of meat by the relatively rich, not under-nourished communities of the poor. Thus, while mock meat is not to be mocked, it is still more expensive, and less tasty, than real meat, and, until that changes, is unlikely to be a solution for many of the world’s poor who remain starved of protein. The same will probably also be true for some time to come for ‘lab-grown’ (or ‘in vitro’) meat. While biologists have long researched methods for growing muscle tissue in laboratory conditions, these products are still in experimental stages of development.

In a Q&A with Gates, food activist Michael Pollan offers an important caveat and raises a larger issue:

While mock meat is “a legitimate option for a conscious carnivore . . . it must be said that growing more soy is no boon to the landscape either. It won’t help us diversify our farms.”

Of course the traditional way of diversifying farms is to mix crop growing and livestock raising, with each enhancing the other in a fully integrated agricultural system. Such mixed farms remain the mainstay of small family farming throughout the developing world. Pollan’s point is well taken—monocropping soy, the basis of many mock meats, can be just as damaging to our environments as overstocking cattle. One answer is to diversify and integrate our food production methods.

Perhaps in this area, the world’s industrial farmers could profit from taking a leaf (bone?) from the world’s legions of small-scale farmers and consider putting farm animals back onto farms, where they provide, if not always meat, manure and a wealth of other inputs to whole, healthy farms.

Read the whole feature on The Gates Notes: The future of food, 2013.

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