Dear Vegans: It’s Time to Come Clean about Clean Meat.

Dear Vegans: It’s Time to Come Clean about Clean Meat.


The best is the enemy of the good.” – Voltaire

As a 17-year vegan, I’ve seen a lot of progression and growth in our movement over the years. But nothing has given me more hope for the end of factory farming than the recent tidal wave of funding, consumer interest and research advancements in both plant-based and clean meat.
Most ethical vegans support the creation of plant-based meat even if they don’t eat it themselves. However, I’ve heard a lot of vegans say they don’t/won’t promote clean meat. Which quite frankly, baffles me.  We as a community need to get on the same page before it hits the supermarket shelves. I am a big believer in being proactive rather than reactive.
The intent of veganism is not about what we consume so much as it’s about what we support with our dollars and our actions. Non-consumption of animal products is a diet (e.g. plant based). The willful decision to not contribute to any animal suffering that’s within our control is a lifestyle & a philosophy (e.g. veganism).
I infer that some vegans implicitly frame the problem this way, “The consumption of animal products leads to immense animal suffering and destruction of the planet.” If that’s the problem then the only solution is for people to go vegan.  But that’s the wrong framing.  Going vegan is only one possible solution to the real root cause problem.
Let’s reframe the problem to something like, “Raising animals in factory farms and killing them leads to immense animal suffering and the destruction of the planet.”
When you look at clean meat from that lens, it makes a lot more sense why ethical vegans should support it. Clean meat gets us out of the problem of raising an entire sentient being only to be killed for its muscle fibers. It even starts to beg the question, “What other animal products should we replace with lab grown technologies?” Perhaps leather, milk, eggs, silk, wool can all be created in a lab!
A lot of the arguments I see against clean meat are “well I wouldn’t eat that because it’s not vegan.” Well obviously. No one is asking you to. You’re not the target market anyway. Worse, I see public comments like, “No one should eat that.  It’s Frankenfood.”  As opposed to what? Factory farmed meat that’s totally natural?  Let’s get real.
One thing all ethical vegans want is for people to stop making choices that continue the abhorrent cruelty that is factory farming. I recognize clean meat is a stepping stone and not the ultimate goal to a vegan planet.
But if you’re against clean meat, I’d ask you to check yourself and see if your reaction is one of purity of consumption (which is a dietary reason) or whether it’s about ending the suffering of animals as quickly as possible (which is a philosophical reason).
I’ve heard vegans say we should only tell meat eaters to switch to plant meat, not clean meat.  I’ll tell you why that’s wildly impractical.  First, if it were so easy, we’d already have done it. And we don’t know yet what’s going to get the most traction in the marketplace: the improvement and proliferation of plant meats or clean meat.  We’ll just have to wait and see.  That’s why organizations like The Good Food Institute are promoting the development of both.
What I can tell you as a human-centered designer of over 15 years: the solution that’s most often adopted is the solution with the least friction.  Clean meat is super low friction for meat eaters. It looks like meat; it cooks like meat; it smells like meat; it’s a 1-for-1 swap out of any and all meat recipes or applications.  There’s no instruction manual required.
I can also tell you that anytime a huge industry is disrupted in the marketplace, it’s because the disruptors looked at the problem differently than everyone else before them. That’s why problem reframing is so important.  It opens us up to new possibilities to solve old problems.
I’m not a big fan of Uber from an ethical perspective, but they’re an amazing case study for disruption. If Uber had said, we want to create a better taxi system, they would have gotten nowhere.  Instead, Uber said, “we want a more affordable, friendlier, convenient way for people to hire a driver.” And with that, they changed the transportation industry.
And before you tell me that clean meat relies on animal biopsies, I already know.  Is clean meat vegan? No.  Does that matter for the sake of ending factory farming? No.  Clean meat is not the best; but it’s good.
I’m going to the Good Food Conference in a few weeks. It’s the only conference to promote the development of plant-based meat and clean meat. I’m sure I’ll have more to share after that. For now, I hope this has provoked some thought and shifted some perspectives.

Dawn Ressel
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