Will the future of food be a world without meat?
Who and what we choose to prepare for our meals consumes a large part of our daily rhythms. Meal plans vary wildly, but many focus on other animals. Eating other animals raises huge ethical issues regarding how the animals themselves are treated as well as the damage that industrial food production does to the health of the planet. What if eating meat was a thing of the past? In his stimulating new book, Once upon a time we ate animals: the future of foodFuture anthropologist Roanne van Voorst “offers a clear and compelling view of what it means to live in a meatless world”.1.2 Here’s what van Voorst had to say about his penetrating insights into the future.
Marc Bekoff: Why did you write this book?
RvV: As an anthropologist, I have done field research all over the world, mostly in places where the impacts of climate change were already clear. I could see the social conflicts increasing; I saw the number of people forced to flee floods increase when I lived in a flood-prone slum in Indonesia for over a year. Over the years I have come to realize that much of this drama has been created by the food industry, particularly large industrial agriculture – a topic that caught my attention, as I wanted to understand if it could exist a realistic and alternative future scenario: what if we changed the agricultural activity? Could this save the lives of many people – and those of future generations?
Source: Roanne van Voorst, with permission.
MB: Who is your target audience?
RvV: People who are like me, who feel, somewhere deep inside them, that they want to change their consumption and eating behavior, but who find it difficult to do so. People who feel overwhelmed by all the myths and unverified “facts” online about meat and veganism, and want to figure out what is real; who are looking for reliable information. Especially people who are sick of all the negative stories and yearn for hope – not naive hope, but genuine hope that we can change things for the better and that a different, kinder world is possible. And people who like to laugh. While the overall theme is serious, much of this book is lighthearted, whether I’m talking about the cultures that influence veganism, or the weird and unexpected popularity of kale, or the vegansexual phenomenon.
MB: What are some of your main messages?
RvV: That the way we eat now is only a relatively new habit, which means we can change that habit again. That many of the lessons we’ve learned about what’s healthy, or ethical, or right, were wrong, and that it’s time to define new ideas about what it means to live a good life. More importantly, that consuming and eating is a form of voting, of creating the future, and that by investing in one type of food you are essentially building a certain future scenario: one with more animal suffering, or one with less ; one with more damage to the planet, or one with less.
We all play a role in history and we are at a pivotal moment now – one that our children will confront us with later: what did you do, when you already knew about this impact of the food industry on the planet and animal welfare? It is up to us to decide how to answer this question. And I hope many of us are starting to see that. I’m talking about the farmers I interviewed who have already given up their livestock and are now producing beans, because they foresee it being the future of food. I’m talking about world-renowned chefs who own restaurants where everything they cook is plant-based; about the best athletes in the world who are fueled “by what elephants eat”: plants. I’m talking about lab-grown meat and other cruelty-free dishes, dating apps for vegans, and other trends that are already happening. The world is changing, and it’s going faster than we imagine.
MB: How does your book differ from others dealing with the same general subject?
RvV: This book does not attack people who still eat meat and dairy products. In my opinion, it makes sense that we find it hard not to, and we shouldn’t blame ourselves: we were born and raised in a society in which the consumption of animals is not only normalized, but deemed necessary for your health. . That this is false has only been discovered more recently; as is the fact that, contrary to what most of us have been taught to believe, humans did not “always” eat animals. There have been long periods in human history when we ate only plant-based. The idea that we have always been hunters is wrong: we were scavengers, eating the remains of animals killed by other animals. With our blunt teeth and shaped jaws, we had no chance of killing large animals without weapons.
MB: Do you hope that as people learn more about the incredible lives of so-called “food animals” that they will treat them with more respect and dignity?
RvV: Absolutely. A growing body of research shows just how smart and social pigs and cows are.3 We know that if you take away their offspring, their brains show exactly the same stress responses as when it would be done to human parents: we and they panic. The same goes for octopuses, for whales, for dolphins and many other creatures that, until now, we thought were stupid or insensitive. They experience pain, pleasure, stress or happiness, just like us. Therefore, we have a responsibility to change their lives for the better and, in doing so, also the lives of so many people around the world, in this generation and in subsequent generations. For anyone who finds this an intimidating idea, I would say think back to when slavery was a dominant world system. It was widely accepted that it was impossible to change this system: the economy would collapse! But within 100 years, after a small group of activists began challenging the system, slavery became illegal in most parts of the world. It’s in a lifetime! If they could do it, we can do it.