A food manufacturing start-up made their first public-wide pitch for “lab grown” meat. Taking only a small chunk of material from cows, sheep, and even lions, the company reports developing a meat substitute that is actual, factual meat.
Ethically, manufactured meat drops a complex mess of right/wrong/good/evil onto the desks of the most astute of theologians. Or, I’m just imagining the influx of confusing paperwork. Eating cow, elephant, tiger, shark, giraffe, lamb, pheasant, and alligator from a lab is maybe just fine, eh?
Are you sure?
Image by Yair Ventura Filho
By John Pearring
In the great litany of readings for Holy Saturday resides a little gem, a peek into the window of the Garden of Paradise at the beginning of human life with creatures in heaven. A meat manufacturer is about to make a mess of this vision.
God … said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the wild animals, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the earth, I give all the green plants for food.
Green plants for food. It’s not Soilent Green, made up food for the future, manufactured from human beings. That would be ridiculous. No one would ever turn human creatures into food. We only do that with animals. Is there another way to eat animal meat other than chopping up an animal?
Sounds kind of gross when put that way, but we do it every day. Have been for eons. Don’t we need to have meat to survive? Not according to Veg-X-ers. (That would be vegans, vegetarians, and the like.) Eating meat is not essential, though it’s practically impossible to stop us from eating delicious stuff like turkey, cow, lamb, halibut, elk, pork, duck, etc. Too late to turn back that clock.
I’ve been looking for an idiom to describe what a company called “Meatble” has done to solve this meat-eating conundrum. There isn’t one. As you read further, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Meatable offers a meat-based solution that doesn’t kill animals. Yet, there’s something to be worried about. The Catholic Church is going to have to deal with the ethical conflict about what this company does. There’s been nothing like it in human history.
A food manufacturing start-up made their first public-wide pitch for “lab grown” meat. Taking only a small chunk of material from cows, sheep, and even lions, the company reports developing a meat substitute that is actual, factual meat. Manufacturing meat impacts the theological understanding of our broken world. It sounds both awesome and awful at the same time. Ethically, though, it drops a complex mess of right/wrong/good/evil onto the desks of the most astute of theologians. Or, I’m just imagining the influx of confusing paperwork. Eating cow, elephant, tiger, shark, giraffe, lamb, pheasant, and alligator from a lab is maybe just fine, eh?
Hey, maybe this means Jews and Muslims can now eat pork because it isn’t butchered meat. Maybe they can also keep them as pets? (See what I mean?)
This new meat product is grown from extracted portions of an animal’s best meaty parts, then super grown, kinda cloned, and supposedly delicious. No animals are killed in this process. Startled, probably. Aghast if they knew what was going on. But, reportedly, all snipped creatures are returned to an animal playground where they can live out their lives until a natural death.
Meatable’s latest and cleverly aggressive campaign baffles me. See it here.
Their weirdly awkward fabricated meat pitch started in Europe. It’s been brewing about in my mind and churning a worried stomach since I first read it. Holy Saturday, then, added the strangely countermanding snippet from Genesis noted about “all the green plants for food.” My brain exploded.
I’m not a vegan, vegetarian, or militant version of either form of non-meat eaters. I’ve been trained, raised, indoctrinated, and salivating for my protein from meat products since I was 2 months old. Upon the fall of man and woman from paradise, and the clothing of the naked duo with animal skins to represent the sin-causation event of death to all living things, eating animals has been part and parcel of our stricken world.
From that very beginning of humanity in the wild, folks have corralled animals for food. Abel sacrificed a lamb, which marked the more appropriate offering to God over Cain’s armful of burnt grains. That was pretty darn early in human history!
The “paradise” statement that God’s original design was not to eat semi-sentient beings cannot be tossed out as impossible if there's an adequate substitute, unless you're a purist. Genesis specifically calls for all beings, both animal and human, to only chomp on seed-bearing plants and fruits. Some argue that’s not true. They’re wrong. Every kind of living body was safe from being BBQ’d for dinner, or smoked for later snacks, because creation lived in harmony, all without fear of death. Oh for the good old days.
Eating animals is post-fall, and not part of God’s design. Eating meat is a consequence of sin, not a meal plan. We can argue the point, but one side (meat-eaters) are subject to the kill-to-survive problem more than the other. Killing animals as much as we like to consider it legitimate, is still violent. So, kudos to the vega-X crowd. God, though, doesn’t allow vegan thinking to be doctrine. Lambs, cows, sheep, and doves were slaughtered as part of the Old Testament law. Jesus ate both lamb and fish, washing the meal down with wine. Even after his resurrection! So, there’s that bit of complex scripture to deal with.
Theology must get to work on this problem.
Worse, there’s not just the imagery of the body and blood of Christ. There’s the Catholic reality that we’re consuming his body and drinking his blood as a DNA/transformation of our own bodies. That’s a raw interpretation, but it is still an essential part of the theology. Granted, bread and wine substitute initially, but they are transubstantiated into his flesh and blood.
Catholic vegans have to deal with breaking their meat fast. I’m not being gross here, but theologically insistent. We all end up ingesting the body and blood of Jesus as a necessary path to our redemption. Upon our hoped for transformation as heavenly immortal beings all meat-eating plans come to a halt. Maybe it's just me saying that, but the evidence is fairly clearly in my favor.
That paragraph right there needs some theological heavy lifting when along comes a company that has designed manufactured meat. I’m not making a similarity between the Eucharist, heaven, and a lab-grown steak. I’m saying we need some help here!
There’s no escaping the brutal reality of this life. In heaven, and certainly upon Jesus’ return, we will no longer have tabernacles and Eucharistic feasts of Jesus’ body. That’s not heresy, that’s right there in the Catechism. In this broken world, however, Jesus’ death as the lamb of God, the ultimate sacrifice, is a practice to change our DNA, to reconnect with God in our decaying, decadent, yearning world.
I’m saying, then, that these no-harm-to-the-animal meat manufacturers are in a strange, new, and probably acceptable space by growing meat outside of the body of either pastured or wild animals. We thought life couldn’t get any more confusing. Our “dominion” as stewards over the fish of the sea and all the living things that move on the earth might as well include an impressive option of duplicating the delicious parts of our friends the animals while still getting to play with them in our back yards.
OMG. That’s the most ridiculous and pretzeled brain problem I’ve run into since I took a picture of a plant with my phone and then it told me the genus, species, and how to best keep it alive.
There’s something great about this, while simultaneously cringe-worthy. Real, non-living meat is much too difficult to address in a short weekly reflection. If there’s something wrong here, God, we need to know real quick what it is. Especially before I go out to dinner and end up having a fake/real tiger steak with lab-grown endangered lobster species on the side.
Plus, there’s the problem of eating a duck sandwich and making sure we don’t spill some duck meat on the ground for our pet duck to peck at. Creating cannibal animals who’ve never been cannibals before is probably the worst idea of all time.
Theologians are going to have to get new thinking caps, very strong whiskey made from seeded grains, and start a brand new division of living in creation while wrapped in the arms of God. I may have to go full on vegan until this gets solved.