Wrong Turning: Lab-Grown Meat

I tend to say “yes” to requests from handsome men. (It’s a character flaw, I know, and it often leads me into trouble.) So when animal activist Jon Hochschartner asked me for my thoughts on the moral problem of theodicy with reference to wild animal suffering, I published a reply and I liked what he did with it. Two days after Boxing Day isn’t the season for blogging about possible religious objections to lab-grown meat but I’m still no better than I should be, so here I am.

Ethical complexity was central to my doctoral work and whenever I get a gut reaction that I can’t immediately intellectually justify, I’m intrigued. I’ve been vegetarian for decades and vegan for years. I can’t even eat meat substitutes that taste too meaty. I hate the very idea of lab-grown meat. It appals me. Yet Jon argues otherwise and calls for massive state investment in R&D:

…cultivated meat is grown from animal cells, without slaughter. When this new protein is cheaper to produce and superior in taste to slaughtered meat, we will have achieved the conditions under which animal liberation starts to become possible.

CounterPunch 19th Nov. 2021

Put like that, bearing in mind the huge reduction in animal suffering from factory farming and slaughter, it seems like a no-brainer. So why am I instinctively against it? On reflection, I’ve identified seven reasons:

  1. Pragmatic: veganism is booming and there are already acceptable meat substitutes for those that crave them. It seems like the time to invest in changing the culture away from meat rather than towards a more ethical version.
  2. Nutritional: I’ve been lectured at, for decades, by fat people with bad skin and no stamina who frequent burger bars and wouldn’t know B12 from beetroot – and yes there are new vegans who do not eat a balanced diet – but nowadays few nutritionists would attempt to argue that a human diet heavy in animal products is healthier than one based on plants.
  3. Ideological: The push for lab-grown (and insect) meat has a global political context that even to mention this time last year earned an automatic penalty on social media – either jeers of “conspiracy theorist” or some form of shadowbanning. The Great Reset, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, leverages climate anxiety and White guilt in order to greenwash economic disruption – disproportionately impacting the most marginalised – and focusing on exploiting the bedrock of the 4th Industrial Revolution: the conflict minerals of Africa.
  4. Financial: Bill Gates (who finances: the media, government public health advisors, “fact-checkers”, the pharmaceutical industry, the World Health Organisation and both sides of the aisle in American politics, directly or indirectly) is now the biggest private owner of farmland in the USA. I say all this because his PR is so successful that any critique is immediately met, in the USA especially, with “oh you must be a [insert ideological other]”. His push for synthetic meat clearly doesn’t come from any concern for farmers – who went out of business during the lockdown his funded advisors imposed and sold their land to him (cheaply?) – or for animals – who were slaughtered early, often under even more barbaric conditions than usual.
  5. Sociological: with citizen journalism available to anyone with internet access, the mainstream media version of events falls in hegemonic power. As reports of vaccine injuries rise, along with those of the pharmaceutical industry’s attempts to cover them up, Gates may well become a toxic brand and any products he pushes unlikely to meet with consumer approval from his conservative opponents. Across the aisle, liberals are more likely to be open to veganism – so why try to sell them something less?
  6. Compassionate: Gates (while publicly expressing angst over eating cheeseburgers) does occasionally match donations for an animal sanctuary but with his money he could have bought all the animals as well as all the farmland and saved them from the gas chamber, drowning, shooting and electrocution – and hardly noticed. Why didn’t he? Because to Gates and his ilk, life on earth is the problem, not the solution.
  7. Religious: lab-grown meat does not solve any moral problems unsolved by veganism. Even for ritual purposes, there are acceptable vegan substitutes.

Done well, a religious process of pondering a moral problem is holistic, taking into account all the patterns of values concerned. While developing technology may be seen as participating in the creative energy of God, what is important is its impact: all its relations. The lines connecting lab-grown meat and human and animal life in all its fruitfulness form a spiderweb with a morally ambiguous opportunistic businessman, passing as a philanthropist, at the centre.

There was a moment, after the Second World War, when the conditions that had led to the wartime unbalanced monoculture production of carbohydrates (potatoes, wheat) that could be shipped and stored were no longer in existence. This followed centuries of disenfranchisement of the rural poor as they migrated to the cities, losing their connection to the land and their culinary, herbal and nutritional knowledge as they boarded in shacks with no kitchen and fed, almost solely, on wheat pies of meat and potatoes. As shell-shocked men returned home and deprived women of the jobs they had been doing capably for years, there could have been a reversal of the mechanisation of agriculture. Employment on labour-intensive small-holdings would have raised morale as well as levels of nutrition and avoided the turn towards factory farming that inevitably followed.

As, like it or not, we are presented with a similar moment in our history – except this time all over the world – we have the opportunity to make the right choice. Greater artificiality, centralisation of food supplies and association with industrial giants whose lack of prudence is infamous – all these things are not what is needed now. As we face the prospect of another industrial revolution, we need to turn from our former errors and not repeat them.

Thanks to Dawn Hudson for releasing her image Red Germ into the Public Domain.

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That Old Hut

Something was always holding me back from clearing out that old hut. There was all that electrical equipment to go through, and the old paint tins, and what about the broken bikes and the broken sunlounger with the ripped mattress? Clearly, all this stuff couldn’t just be thrown out. No. So my patient brother put up with my procrastination, and for months we had ‘the old hut’ and ‘the new shed’ both in use in the back garden of the home we grew up in. At one point I’d had three old bikes (one in bits and one not working) then a friend gave me a shiny new (to me) one. Something had to give. The abandoned kid’s bike I’d rescued, that no-one I knew wanted, I fixed up and left outside a community centre (last year) with a note on it: “free to a good home”. It was gone in two days. Months later, I faced the fact that the best-looking bike was actually the worst (as it needed more ballbearings in the rear hub) and fixed up the old banger so it would go. And then, for weeks, I did nothing.

That old hut wasn’t just wood inside and junk inside, of course. It was our gang hut when we were wee. Me and my sisters used to play together, as my bro was too old to play with me, ‘the baby’. I remember rare Scottish sunny days with Cremola Foam drinks in lime green plastic tumblers, making up gang hut activities, like our perfume factory (the roses recovered and the compost heap was blessed) and our neighbourhood espionage (noting down the licence plates in the car park round the corner – why?). It was also where we kept our tennis racquets, for our yearly fortnight of summer enthusiasm during Wimbledon – until we fell out with each, other over who had to go get the ball, and gave up.

But most of all it was Dad’s hut. All those mysterious manly objects, like spark plugs and the whetting stone. The heavy roller lawnmover and the electric hedge cutters, that I pleaded to use then almost cut my finger off with, were here and, later, the strimmer. Seed packets, bought and harvested, the riddle, spades and hoes and rakes and forks. Wellington boots and green twine. It was a world I was always impatient with. It wasn’t till my last year at my first university that I began to get a glimmer of understanding why. I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance then and hardly understood a word. But I got this bit:

They talk once in a while in as few pained words as possible about “it” or “it all” as in the sentence, “There is just no escape from it.” And if I asked, “From what?” the answer might be “The whole thing,” or “The whole organized bit,” or even “The system.” […] The “it” is a kind of force that gives rise to technology, something undefined, but inhuman, mechanical, lifeless, a blind monster, a death force. Something hideous they are running away from but now they can never escape.

Robert M. Pirsig (p.24 in the 1999 Vintage paperback edition)

It wasn’t till my last year of my Ph.D. studying Pirsig’s work that I felt his theories click into place – and saw how I could simplify them. The famous paraphrase of Einstein (by Roger Session of the New York Times) asserts that ‘everything should be as simple as possible – but no simpler’. So I cannot simply characterise my father as a technophobe. He was a tailor by profession, a competent car mechanic, gardener and helpful handyman. Yet he’d swear in Polish (which was worse than when he swore in German) when wallpapering and an old anger, of being pitted against the world, would return.

For years I felt inadequate in the man’s world. Young men often feel like this and the father-son relationship is often very difficult indeed. For years I felt I was secretly disappointing him so I told him openly how disappointing he was to me. We had years of pain. This is not unusual. I grew up and understood more deeply not just the war horrors that he and his generation had survived but also why almost everyone feels alienated from technology – even from organisation. And I strove to counter the basic illogic that constantly fucks things up in Britain, where it’s not polite to suggest rethinking something that’s always been a bloody mess; and I tried to do this in my family and largely failed. Because, of course, the root of it was in me.

All that junk in the old hut, and all my emotional baggage, life’s just simpler without it. But life isn’t life then. When I realised that my reluctance to clear out the old hut was my reluctance to (once again) face my unresolved conflicts with my late father, I did what I always had to do when I was leaving a country I’d been living in, or trying to hitchhike away from somewhere. I let go. Or rather I accepted that that’s where I was and stopped holding onto things that kept me stuck there. “Stuckness” is a very Pirsigian concern, he devotes a whole chapter (24) to it.

So I fixed up and gave away the old banger to a friend – with instructions about locating a shop to service it for free, under the Government 50 quid scheme. And this morning I sat down and went through all the electricals to see what could be reused. So only some things were taken to the dump by my sister (they recycle what they can there). And this afternoon my brother and I took down the old hut. Tomorrow we plan to build raised beds. I plan to keep you posted.

All photos (c) Alan McManus.

Meditation is Medication – how to keep sane shut-in

If, because of this global madness, you spend weeks (or months) shut up indoors just worrying, winging and binging – on drink, drugs, porn or TV/online drama – you’re likely to emerge dazed into daylight a lot less healthy, mentally and physically, than you are now. Addiction to work online, though lucrative, may give you eyestrain and RSI; addiction to either exercise or sex, gruelling or gratifying, may leave you (and your partner) rather worn out.

There’s more to life than all that, and whereas religious nuts may be prophesying The End of Days (just as the Earth is recovering and small island nations like lovely Barbados may, after all, have a chance to remain above sea-level) not all who are interested in the spiritual side of life are that nutty. Some are even quite fruity. But that’s another discussion.

Anyone who’s spent any time in solitude knows that the primary experience, when you get away from it all, is being alone with yourself. Those who rely on the applause of others to stoke their egos may find that hard, as will those whose one purpose in life is to emote as much as possible and let everyone know every detail of their lives.

Because not a lot happens when you’re shut in. At least, apparently not.

The spiritual dimension is not just some sacred space that you enter, as if you were checking in on TripAdvisor. It’s a perspective on life that is always possible. You just may not have looked that way yet.

Just look. Just be aware.

How? What do I do when I want to get spiritual?

I’d suggest that more is less and that the first thing to do is limit your input.

Switch off the TV, the radio, silence your phone (don’t take your landline off the ringer ‘cos folk will literally call the police if you do). Ask your ever-talking housemate to SHUT UP. Calm the dogs. Get the kids involved in something quiet (good luck!). Close your laptop and your tablet. Fill the kettle with just enough water for one cup (they can get their own later! honestly!) and just listen.

Focus – A watched kettle never boils, they say, impatiently. But attend. Wait. Do nothing more than listen. Hear the beginning of the sound the water makes as it heats up. Listen to the phase changes. After the bubbling, as you pour (yes it can be coffee if you can’t stand chamomile) listen to the encounter of liquid and powder and solid. Alchemy.

Reflect – Let your mind rest on things that change. All things change. Some just do it more slowly.

Breathe – You can become conscious of your breathing if you want (some find that annoying) or watch things move in the wind.

Look – What’s moving? Trees outside. Scarves on the washingline. What’s still?

Feel – Peeling off the layers of the onion: partner, family, kids, parents, social media friends and enemies, colleagues, officialdom, all those groups you’re in…how are you? Who are you?

Let go – Observe how the world keeps turning. You’re not at the centre. It’s not all about you.

Be grateful – don’t count your blessings, just remember them. There are so many!

Hope – Actively, turn your attention to all you know that’s good about humanity. Affirm this. Affirm it in you.

Reach out – Pray if that’s what you do, or just visualise all the little lights of hope in your household, next door, along your street, your neighbourhood, town, city, country, all over the globe. Light. Healing. Be part of it.

Commit – You are a drop in the ocean/ the ocean is made up of drops.

…to justice

…to peace

…to love

Amen/ so be it/ let it be

(Feeling better? Okay, now you can go and sort out whatever utter mayhem the kids have been up to.)

Scarves blowing in the wind

Photo “Scarves Blowing in the Wind” (C) Alan McManus

          

 

Karma & Christmas

In Glasgow last week, visiting a friend who lives in the city centre, it struck me that the pre-Christmas bustle, that we are all supposed to find inevitable, exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure, is fuelled by desire. Nowadays, fuelled principally perhaps for a personal desire to have ourselves a very Merry Christmas. The ingredients of this modern Merry Christmas are well known:

 

Necessary

1 lavishly decorated green or silver fir tree (preferably huge, dead or alive).

A large amount of objects (preferably new) colourfully wrapped in shiny paper, tagged with names of their new owners.

1 large warmed-over slaughtered animal (or equivalent) in the centre of a table (preferably large).

Several happy faces around the table (preferably laughing) wearing paper hats & pulling crackers.

At least 1 Significant Other, preferably cute.

An unnecessary amount of food, mostly fatty, starchy & sugary.

Copious amounts of alcohol.

Several hours of TV or equivalent (preferably nostalgic).

 

Optional

Carols (at the door/ fireside/ piano or in church).

Charades.

Brussels sprouts.

Woollen jumpers (sweaters in N. America) with large associated motifs.

 

Unnecessary (but expected) outcomes of this festive mix include:

Indigestion.

Family feuds.

Relationship break-ups.

Alcoholic poisoning.

Homelessness.

 

It is a central tenant of Buddhism that suffering is caused by desire. Even where this desire is not for personal enjoyment, there can still be such a stress nowadays on imposing this relentless and compulsory seasonal jollification on all persons falling within one’s sphere of influence.

Is it any wonder when it all goes horribly wrong?

A good friend whom I worked with on the Isle of Iona, is celebrating an unusual pastoral service this evening. At least, it’s unusual in the UK but not in the US and Canada where pastors felt they were failing people for whom Christmas was not at all merry.

The Longest Night/ Blue Christmas this evening is almost one of a kind in the UK and I’ve come down from Scotland to the lovely Shropshire village of Minsterly to visit Shalome and her husband, and to attend this service.

It’s been an interesting year. Actually it’s been exhausting. Looking after my elderly mother, rescuing my boyfriend from the clutches of the Home Office, writing a book on AIDS hypotheses, in rage and tears at the callous stupidity of governments and pharmaceutical companies.

Yes, when I return to Glasgow this weekend, I expect to have at least some of the ingredients of a merry Christmas. But I’m looking forward to the quiet honesty of this evening when Christmas can be allowed to be the deeply personal and very problematic time of the year that is not about distraction from the very human realities that challenge us throughout the year.

The Buddhist way is to let go, the Christian way is to let God. In both traditions we are each responsible, but not sufficient, for our own happiness – and in neither tradition is the pursuit of happiness the point.

Viktor Frankl reminds us that suffering can be transcended by finding its meaning but that this meaningfulness is different for each of us. This year for me has mostly been about saving lives. Perhaps, in the candlelight of the traditional Methodist chapel, another meaning may present itself to me. Something that may make it easier to accept and enjoy the merry bustle of these days and yet also be accommodating of the experience of those for whom Christmas is the dreaded low point of a bleak midwinter.

dark-branches-against-a-bleak-sky

Thanks to Lynn Greyling who has released her photo ‘dark branches against a grey sky’ into the public domain.