Re-Thinking Meat: How Climate Change Is Disrupting the Food Industry

Re-Thinking Meat: How Climate Change Is Disrupting the Food Industry

Jeff Anhang (The World Bank Group, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4757-0.ch021
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This chapter describes how among vegetarian, vegan and animal advocates, it has been a common practice for many decades to cede the terms “meat” to livestock producers, and to ask people to sacrifice meat. Yet during those decades, global consumption of livestock products has exploded. People have often overlooked the fact that “meat” has been defined for centuries as an essential food that includes vegan versions, and plant-based meat has always been framed as equivalent or superior to animal-based meat. In fact, replacing animal-based foods with better alternatives is said to be the only pragmatic way to stop climate change quickly as needed. However, it is unlikely to happen through efforts to reduce meat consumption. It is much more likely to happen through efforts to disrupt meat production and consumption by making and marketing meat and other foods directly from plants.
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Short History Of “Meat”

In English, the word “meat” was used in the early Middle Ages as a generic term to describe foods in general. Later in the Middle Ages, the word gradually became focused on various types of flesh used for food, including the flesh of vegetables (Online Etymology Dictionary, 2017). These days, food companies market products such as “grain meat” (Wegmans, 2017) and “nut meat” (Vegie Delights, 2017), practically always as being equivalent or superior to animal-based meat.

The phenomenon by which plant-based meat is considered equivalent or superior to animal-based meat is not new. Soyfoods started to be considered superior foods in China during the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), when soy sprouts began to be used alternately as both food and medicine. During this period, the introduction of the hand-turned stone mill helped in developing and expanding the production of soymilk, fermented black soybeans, fermented soybean paste, soy sauce, and fermented tofu (Shurtleff et al., 2014).

Starting in the ninth century AD, a form of soymeat called Yuba was created from the film formed when soybeans are boiled; this began first in China and soon after in Japan (Tsutsumi & Tsutsui, 2009). Around the same time, soybean oil and cake – as well as tofu – also started to be created in China (Shurtleff et al., 2014). The earliest known document to use the word “tofu” was written by Tao Ku around the year 965 (Shurtleff et al., 2014). The document was called Qing Yilu – which translates to “Anecdotes, Simple and Exotic” – and it framed soyfoods as superior to animal-based foods. Several centuries later in China, an encyclopedic document entitled Jujia Biyong Shilei Quanji – which translates to “Essential Arts for Family Living” – described methods of making plant-based sausage using wheat gluten. From then through to modern times, soybeans have been rarely used in whole form in Asian cuisine (Shurtleff et al., 2014).

In modern times, disruption of one industry occurs after another has become prevalent. However, this was not always so. In fact, the history of meat shows that its production generally developed in phases of evolution and consolidation, rather than through rapid disruption.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Animal-Based Meat: Food that consists of animal flesh.

Disruption: Appearance of disturbances, problems or alternatives which interrupt the usual course of an event, activity or process.

Meatless Monday: A non-profit initiative and global movement to cut the consumption of meat on Monday.

Peak Livestock: The moment in time when livestock production reaches its peak and is consequently reduced due to factors beyond the control of the producers, such as lower demand or climate change disruptions.

Plant-Based Meat: Food that consists of flesh from plants.

Meat Free Monday: A campaign launched by Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney to address climate change by promoting the consumption of plant-based foods on Monday.

Yuba: A form of soymeat created from the film formed when soybeans are boiled.

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