Less and Better? Episode 3: “Alternative” Proteins: More and Better?

Less and Better? Episode 3: “Alternative” Proteins: More and Better? 150 150 Farmerama Radio

“Alternative” Proteins: More and Better?

What do we do about meat? With this urgent question as its starting point, this series seeks to move beyond polarised debate and identify key questions and shared values to help us build a better meat future for all.

In episode 3, co-hosts Katie Revell and Olivia Oldham explore the question: if we decide to eat less and better meat, what do we eat instead? They speak with a legumes specialist and a cellular agriculture entrepreneur, and ask whether we should see “alternative” proteins as “alternatives” at all. In doing so, they reflect on what we value in our food system once we do away with the meat/non-meat binary.

In this episode you heard from Dr Pietro Iannetta, Raymond T. Pierrehumbert, FRS, Divya Veluguri and Illtud Dunsford.

Less and Better? was created thanks to the generous support of The Roddick Foundation and The A Team Foundation. Our series music is made by Alex Bachelor, with artwork by Jagoda Sadowska. The series was researched and produced by Katie Revell and Olivia Oldham, with support from executive producer Jo Barrat. Thanks to the rest of the Farmerama team, Abby Rose, Dora Taylor, Annie Landless, Eliza Jenkins and Lucy Fisher.

If you are interested in the ideas and questions raised in the third episode, we’ve linked some further resources below. Enjoy!

Trends in UK meat consumption: analysis of data from years 1–11 (2008–09 to 2018–19) of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey rolling programme

Greenhouse gas emissions from nitrogen fertilizers could be reduced by up to one-fifth of current levels by 2050 with combined interventions

Biological Nitrogen Fixation

Soy no more: Breaking away from soy in UK pig and poultry farming

Modelling an agroecological UK in 2050 – findings from TYFAREGIO

Feeding Britain from the Ground Up

Back to the future: Using ancient Bere barley landraces for a sustainable future

Harnessing ecological principles and physiologic mechanisms ini diversifying agricultural systems for sustainability: experience from studies deploying nature-based solutions in Scotland 

Enabling crop diversification to support transitions toward more sustainable European agrifood systems

Prospective life cycle assessment of a bioprocess design for cultured meat production in hollow fiber bioreactors 

Cultured Meat and Farmers project

2023 Statistical Review of World Energy

Access to energy

Emerging Profiles for Cultured Meat; Ethics through and as Design

English Estates & Farmland Market Review | Spring 2023

Climate Impacts of Cultured Meat and Beef Cattle

Magical disruption? Alternative protein and the promise of de-materialization

The Politics of Protein

In the name of protein

Fixing food with a limited menu: on (digital) solutionism in the agri-food tech sector

Episode Transcript:

Olivia Oldham 00:04
Less and better: Episode Three, alternative proteins more and better? I’m Olivia Oldham.

Katie Revell 00:14
I’m Katie Revell. In the last episode, we explored the idea that animal agriculture is environmentally bad. And we came to the conclusion that it’s just not that simple. There are lots of questions we can be asking when we’re trying to work out the environmental impact of any piece of meat, and whether that impact is negative, or positive or a combination of both. But we do both still feel that eating less on better meat is a valid and a necessary option.

Olivia Oldham 00:52
So what if meat wasn’t the default? If it wasn’t seen as the norm? What would food in the UK look like? In this episode, we’re digging into the world of so called alternative proteins, and asking whether we should really be seeing them as alternative at all.

Divya Veluguri 01:09
Growing up certainly meat was just not something I considered food. I mean, it’s still not something I consider food. I’ve just never been taught how to cook it. My name is Divya Viluguri, I’m a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, I study sustainable food systems. So I’m really interested in India’s shifts towards more sustainable food production and distribution. It really is very hard for me to think of meat as food, actually, it’s not really a matter of replacement, right? If most of the dishes you make are centred around vegetables, and really seasoning those things when so that it’s enjoyable to eat them, rather than steaming them and putting salt and pepper off.

Katie Revell 01:57
For lots of people like Divya, eating little or no meat is just normal. For them, meat is not the default. And it’s worth pointing out that meat consumption in the UK is declining. A recent study found that overall per person, meat consumption has fallen by about 16%. In just the last decade.

Divya Veluguri 02:16
I grew up in a household where my father actually did eat meat and my mother didn’t. So at home, it was a predominantly vegetarian household. But me and my brother were allowed to choose if we wanted to eat meat or not once we became teenagers, I always thought that once I moved out of home when I went to college that I might actually start eating meat. And then I went to college in the US and took classes on environmental science, and started learning about animal welfare practices alland about meat production in the US and it was a very easy choice for me to continue being vegetarian. I think growing up in a fairly religious, Hindu household means that I was told an origin story about the world where human beings and animals and plants and all of nature as part of a shared common consciousness, and I can recognise that this perhaps is different from the origin stories for religions that might view that God has created human beings and then nature and animals for human beings.

Katie Revell 03:29
We should also say that Divya was keen to point out how different the cultural context is in India, where a vegetarian diet is strongly associated with being upper caste, and eating meat can be heavily stigmatised.

Divya Veluguri 03:41
To talk about vegetarianism in a positive light is challenging for me, given my political stance. In India, like if you’re meat eating, like there’s many people who will refuse to rent you a home. I think there’s very little point in vilifying the act of consuming meat.

Olivia Oldham 04:07
Here in the UK, if we decide to eat less and better meat, what could we what should we be eating instead?

Katie Revell 04:16
Maybe the obvious place to start is with plants that I’m from Mediterranean bank, and we would often have pasta and beans. We even had a saying before we ate it, we’d all say bonfiglioli which is good, good beans. That’s Dr. Pete Ianetta, a research scientist in the agro ecology group at the James Hutton Institute. Pete’s specialism, and his passion is legumes,

Pietro Ianetta 04:38
which is this group of crops that can fix your nitrogen from the air into something that’s biologically useful. That’s a massive oversimplification, but it is the main point of difference, I would say compared to other plants, other crop plants.

Katie Revell 04:54
There are lots of different types of lagoons, but the ones we can eat are referred to as grain legumes. Some of these are alogenius, meaning they contain oil, the ones that don’t contain oil are what we call pulses. Those are the kinds of things lots of us have in the cupboards like peas, lentils, chickpeas and beans. Many of the meat alternative or plant based meat products that have hit the shelves in recent years are made with pulses or bits of pulses at least. Pea protein, for example, is a key ingredient in lots of those meat free burgers, sausages and packs of mints. But people like Pete are also excited about legumes for other reasons.

Pietro Ianetta 05:36
They’re coming into their own now I feel because of climate change impacts

Olivia Oldham 05:40
And that’s because cultivating legumes can have major benefits for reducing farming emissions.

Pietro Ianetta 05:46
The biggest and easiest way is fertiliser offset. We know that synthetic fertiliser overuse damages soil. So to get maximum production with minimum fertiliser use, your legumes can achieve it.

Katie Revell 05:58
A quick explainer – all plants need nitrogen to grow. They use it for that most basic of functions photosynthesis. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the haber bosch process has been used to produce synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, which is used on conventional farms around the world. But the process is extremely energy intensive. And these synthetic fertilisers are responsible for about 5% of emissions across their lifecycle. That’s not just 5% of agricultural emissions 5% of all global emissions. And importantly, most of those emissions are not of methane, but oflonger lived carbon dioxide.

Olivia Oldham 06:39
Legumes on the other hand, can pull nitrogen directly from the air and drop it into the soil a process known as nitrogen fixing. This means that if it’s done right, growing legumes can reduce or even eliminate the amount of fertiliser that’s needed to keep crops healthy.

Katie Revell 07:01
But Pete’s keen to point out that legumes also offer wider environmental benefits. For example, when it comes to biodiversity and soil health.

Unknown Speaker 07:09
The provisions they make to the environment are much bigger, they leave a lot of residues in the field, they’re give filling lots of carbon, their root microbiome doesn’t just attract rhizobia, which is the bacteria that’s responsible for fixing this nitrogen, which it does within structures on the roots. It develops a symbiotic microbiome, it attracts a whole different cascade of bugs around the roots. And that of course then impacts on the soil system itself, the soil physics and the soil chemistry. They help liberate soil phosphorus, we know that’s in short supply as well. I could talk for days, they’ve certainly got a big story to tell.

Katie Revell 07:56
So given these benefits should alas and better meat future mean, we’re growing on eating more beans, peas and lentils. Several recent studies and reports have suggested that if we want a more ecologically sound food future in the UK, then yes, we need to dramatically increase the amount of legumes that we produce and eat.

Unknown Speaker 08:17
In most parts of Europe, I would say grain legume cultivation is probably four times lower than it should be.

Olivia Oldham 08:26
Why does Pete think this? Well, for one, he believes that growing more legumes would help us wean ourselves off imported soy for both human and animal consumption. We heard in the last episode why soy is such a problem. But homegrown legumes could also help improve the productivity of arable farms.

Pietro Ianetta 08:47
Some years ago did a meta analysis of crop rotation in Europe. And we found that the most productive systems, the ones that gave the most biomass, the most production, had 25% grain legume inclusion, they also had 25% legume cover crop inclusion, so you’re talking about a 50% legume cover. But that doesn’t mean the ground was covered just with legumes. Many of the more successful systems were what we call intercrops, putting legumes and with with an another non legume crop like cereal, wheat or barley.

Katie Revell 09:19
What is the situation of pulse production in the UK at the moment?

Unknown Speaker 09:23
The situation is pretty poor at the moment we’re choosing to import, most of our grains. The big one, of course received the most attention to the importation of soybean, especially soybean that comes from ex cerrado or rainforest regions. I would like more scrutiny on the specific products that are traded. And I think when it comes to particularly the high protein grain legumes that we shouldn’t be trading, or we should minimise our global trade. If you’re importing grain legumes, how are you going to get that biologically fixed nitrogen all those other carbon and residue benefits into your system?

Olivia Oldham 09:59
So what might it take for Pete’s vision to become a reality? First and foremost, he thinks there should be much more investment in breeding varieties suitable for the local climate.

Unknown Speaker 10:11
What I’d love to see is as pulse breeding return to what we call the main research providers in Scotland, which is how it used to be. So as well as breeding potatoes and barley and soft fruit. I’d love to see us ueah, having beans that are bred for the Scottish climate. At the moment, we generally are taking beans that are bred elsewhere, and we screen them here. And if they do okay, then we grow them. But I think we could go a lot further with homebred beans.

Katie Revell 10:38
But the same researchers and farmers who are working to breed and promote legumes as a climate solution, are themselves struggling to cope with the impacts of the ever deepening climate crisis. Pete showed me a trial plot on a hillside overlooking the Firth of Tay. It was May and it was a scorching sunny day.

Unknown Speaker 11:09
For a trial like this, certainly getting one for almost 1000 pounds worth of seeds. The weather’s just consumed that. I don’t know what to do with the spring cropping if we’re going to keep getting these hot, dry summers. You know, even if you have a crop that’s tolerant to hot weather, it still needs water. Even if you have an irrigation system, can you guarantee being able to to apply it will even be there to apply? How deep is your well? How long are you going to keep mining that reserve?

Katie Revell 11:43
Yep. I mean, people still joke about it. Well, you know, in Scotland, we’re never gonna have any issues with..

Pietro Ianetta 11:50
2018 2018, we were fearful of our borehole, drying up. And that’s deep. We’re below the bottom of the Tay, our pumping station at our main site. So if the farm managers are saying to me, we’re worried about the water running out, then, you know, yeah.

Katie Revell 12:18
This brings us on to a big question. With the climate and biodiversity crises as urgent as they are, do we really have time for the slow gradual cultural change that’s needed for people to wean themselves off meat and on to, for example, homegrown pulses, even if they’re disguised in a meat like burger, especially if those pulses are potentially vulnerable to that very same changing climate? Or do we need a more radical technological disruption?

Illtud Dunsford 12:50
I’m Illtud Dunsfor, from a farming family, we’ve farmed the same land for well over 300 years. How we produce food currently, we already exceed planetary boundaries in a number of areas. There are some answers that we already have, you know, we could consume less, we could waste less. But the reality is, as consumers, there’s a sense of abundance, especially in kind of the more western world we’re so used to to this idea of abundance that changing our habits is actually very, very difficult.

Olivia Oldham 13:22
So far, we’ve been talking about so called alternatives to meat that have been part of human diets for 1000s of years, whether we eat them as they are or process them into plant based meat lookalikes, legumes are based on an ancient plant technology, photosynthesis. But in the past 20 years or so, there has been growing interest in taking the production of meat alternatives out of the field and into the factory.

Katie Revell 13:51
Arguably one of the most radical of these technologies is cellular agriculture. Cellular agriculture produces animal products from cells instead of whole animals. That might mean using microbes to create substances through fermentation. You’ve probably heard of Quorn, that’s quorn with a q, which uses a single celled fungus to make protein. You may not yet have heard of solar foods, a Finnish company that’s using bacteria to produce a protein powder they’re calling soline.

Olivia Oldham 14:21
But it’s also possible to use cellular agriculture to produce actual meat. To do this, stem cells are taken from live animals and grown in vessels called Bio reactors. The cells are fed nutrients, and they multiply to produce cultured or cultivated meat, which on a cellular level, is identical to meat taken from a slaughtered animal.

Katie Revell 14:44
Back to Illtud. After a stint working in the film industry. He returned to the family farm.

Illtud Dunsford 14:50
I diversified the farm business, setting up a specialist meat business, a charcuterie business and have since moved into alternative proteins.

Katie Revell 14:59
Illtud is now the CEO of a company called cellular agriculture limited. In 2016, they became the first UK based company within the cultivated meat industry.

Unknown Speaker 15:08
We’re not a food production company, we focus on the technology to produce cultivated meats.

Olivia Oldham 15:14
This might seem like a pretty radical change in direction for a livestock farmer and charcutier. But for Illtud, there is actually a really clear through line from his charcuterie business to his enterprise developing technology for cultivated meat. Back when he first set up the charcuterie business,

Illtud Dunsford 15:32
we were very, very much focused on the idea of waste, whether that was co products from the food industry being fed to animals, or whether they were animals that were deemed to be kind of waste in some ways within the food industry, things like male calves that had been sort of shot early in life, or even low value animals at the end of life that traditionally would have gone into low value products like like pies and so on. It also kind of became of interest in looking at things like blood and skin, fat, bone, products that were kind of a waste product or a co product from the meat production industry, but really didn’t have any value and could actually be utilised for food. I secured a Nuffield farming scholarship in 2015, I really wanted to understand where cultured meat sat within the kind of realms of meat science at the time and whether it was a potential threat or whether it was an opportunity for the agricultural industry.

Katie Revell 16:23
During his scholarship, if did find himself wondering whether we really need to be generating all those waste products, skin, bone fat in the first place.

Unknown Speaker 16:32
I went to a conference in Maastricht University, a quote came up from Churchill from the 1930s, about what he imagined the future would look like in 50 years time. He he had written about only producing the chicken breast as opposed to the whole animal, because that was the part that people wanted to consume. And there was me working within the traditional meat industry and within regenerative agriculture thinking, well, this kind of negates all the work that I’m doing if we can actually produce the product that people want to consume. But it also kind of challenges that whole kind of consideration of whole carcass utilisation. And how do we deal with that? And so it was a consideration, well, actually, we probably need to look at alternative ways of producing a food, rather than just what we currently had in toolbox.

Olivia Oldham 17:15
Another motivation for effort was the fact that in his view, profound dietary change is slow and gradual. It takes a long, long time to change our eating habits. In this country, and in lots of other places too. Many communities do have a deep and long standing cultural relationship with meat and other animal products. And with those cultural links come very strong emotional attachments.

Unknown Speaker 17:41
To be perfectly honest, until my mid 30s, hadn’t actually questioned the idea of consuming we probably could have gone and looked at plant based proteins. But realistically, my understanding was to do with meat. My own meat business had come from a family tradition of producing for our own table, you know, it was very much a heritage thing. So I really understood the kind of the connection that we have as humans with meat.

Katie Revell 18:04
In theory, cellular agriculture, would allow us to produce meat on a large scale using very few animals. Some people argue it’s the key to an easier, faster and much more palatable way of reducing our meat consumption, and thus reducing the need for animal agriculture. Instead of persuading people to swap their beef burger for a bean burger, just let them swap it for different kinds of beef burger, one that’s been grown in a lab.

Unknown Speaker 18:30
I have eaten cultivated the proteins first time i ate it, it was in 2017. And that was a prototype by one of the kind of Silicon Valley funded companies, actually the company that was the first to sell in the market in Singapore. And it was partly the reason why I actually moved full time into the industry, because I still had my meat business at the time. And even though I started the company, I was only working in it part time at that time, and was kind of like the final part of the jigsaw for me, it gave me the same emotional feeling as eating meat. There was a duck chorizo that I had, and it just had this sort of punch of Umami in the product that gave me all those things that I would associate with meat and it was enough for me to be happy to take that leap full time into into this industry. And then subsequently I’ve eaten fish as well. It was a product by a company called Wild Type, I ate that in New York last year, and it was a replica of smoked salmon. And what was interesting about that, that product, I had it a very traditional way in New York of having a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon, but the cream cheese had also come from a fermentation process. So it was another similar agricultural product as opposed to cheese from from an actual dairy product, but as a complete food product, there was nothing in it I would have been able to differentiate from the real thing. So again, they just ticked all the boxes in terms of the emotional response to food.

Olivia Oldham 19:57
One of the key arguments the cultivated meat industry makes in support of its processes is that they can drastically reduce the environmental impacts of producing meat. A study that Illtud’s company contributed to showed that when compared with British beef production, cultivated protein could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90%. Use 90% less land and use 50% less water.

Unknown Speaker 20:23
Where the cultured protein for short is then in energy use, it is significantly more than extensive beef. But if those are from renewable sources, it negates that that kind of issue, the one other thing that is does kind of change it slightly is that cells grow at body temperature. So it depends where you site your technology.

Katie Revell 20:47
Raymond Pierre Humbert Halley professor of physics at the University of Oxford is a bit more circumspect when it comes to the environmental benefits of cultured meat. He contributed to a study comparing the emissions of cultured and farm raised beef. This was a lifecycle analysis that accounted for all the emissions associated with each of these products through their entire lives.

Olivia Oldham 21:07
But one big problem here is that it’s difficult to get hold of this information. A lot of the data is commercially sensitive and proprietary. In other words, it’s a trade secret which companies keep hidden to protect their profitability.

Raymond Pierre Humbert 21:07
Our conclusion was that with the scant data on existing methods for cultured beef, cultured beef could be worse than farmer’s beef because although you get rid of all the methane emissions from the beef, and although you get rid of the need to deforest for pasture, which depends on what kind of beef you’re growing on the farm, the energy requirements for some forms of cultured beef and for the for the manufacture of the different feedstocks that go into culturing the beef can lead to higher co2 emissions than you would have for certain kinds of farmers beef. Now, our point is not that cultured beef could never be better. Our point is that one should not jump to the conclusion that cultured beef will solve all the problems of meat, it depends on the details. It’s really essential to get full lifecycle assessments of energy requirements and emissions associated with producing the feedstocks that go into the culture of beef. It’s essential for there to be transparency in emissions. And so companies that are making claims about climate benefits of cultured beef should fully disclose their their lifecycle emissions. Now, some people backing cultured beef might say, well, we’ll just use renewable energy. But still, that renewable energy that you’re using for cultured beef takes away renewable energy that’s otherwise available for things like charging electric cars and reducing fossil fuel usage. If you produced all the world’s beef by cultured beef, with the energy requirements of some of the methods that we analysed, they would use more than the total available renewable energy in the entire world. And of course, that’s a moving target. We’re making more renewable energy all the time. But but you can’t simply say that we’ll just do it with renewable energy until there’s a vast excess of renewable energy out there.

Katie Revell 23:21
It’s difficult to imagine this kind of vast excess from today’s vantage point. Even as renewable energy sources grow, there’s no evidence yet that they’re actually displacing fossil fuels. Given that around one in 10 people in the world have no access to electricity at all, surely, we have to ask ourselves, what are the implications of this vision for global justice? Would it be fair to prioritise the cultural challenge faced by those of us in the relatively wealthy global minority? The challenge of changing our eating habits to reduce our meat intake? Would it be fair to prioritise that over the need for much of the rest of the world to access the very least electricity can provide.

Olivia Oldham 24:09
Another reason why some people object to the idea of lab grown meat is they believe it contributes to an existing and deepening detachment between people and the natural world that we’re part of. They argue that food production should instead be embedded in communities that it should be serving as a vital link between people and the living world. And of course, farming animals is about a lot more than just food. It’s about culture, heritage tradition, about links to the land to ancestors and to ancient knowledge. There’s a lot to lose.

Katie Revell 24:45
But does it have to be either or could this apparent choice between lab grown food on the one hand and farm grown or soil grown food on the other? Could it be an unhelpful false binary? Illtud thinks so.

Unknown Speaker 24:58
I think there’s a role for regenerative farming to have hand in hand with with any form of cultivated protein. In a recent sort of farm visit where the farmers was rearing traditional pedigree Hereford cattle, one of the conversations that we had was actually would there be a potential way we could utilise cells harvested from his cattle as of the start of sales for production. But even on my own farm, you know, if we, if we had sort of a small herd of animals, so to be able to do that, that would probably be the ideal as opposed to looking at kind of producing a sort of at an intensity to be able to profit from a more commodity market.

Olivia Oldham 25:36
There’s also scope for farmers to be producing the inputs, the so called feedstock that are needed for cultivated proteins.

Unknown Speaker 25:43
There’s the possibility of using those initial inputs that come from primary agricultural production as the source of the inputs for the cells. And so there’s, there’s the definite opportunity for the agricultural industry to integrate, I’ve always felt it as being the process of producing cultivated protein is a form of evolution of how we produce meat, it’s not the dissolution of a kind of agricultural process, it’s just a more technical way of producing something that’s exactly that the output is exactly the same. It’s also the scaffolds that we grow the cells on here, we could utilise something like cellulose from grass to, to do that, realistically, for us to get to that point of price parity, that’s actually what we need to be looking at, we don’t really need to be looking at energy intensive systems, we need to be looking at systems that that are currently producing products like

Katie Revell 26:32
Illtud even thinks cultivated meat could allow farmers to keep farming, but to do it less intensively.

Unknown Speaker 26:38
If we were to replace some commodity production with with cultivated protein, it will definitely help free up some land. Now you still need those inputs that come from from agriculture. But realistically, when we’re looking at the amount of land needed for that, it’s significantly less. The question then is, is what we do with the land? And I don’t think it’s necessarily one for the cultivated protein industry to answer. But thinking of my own farm, what what could I do with this, this land could form better? It’s not sort of a straight answer, or let’s take this out of food production, it’s perhaps even, let’s just make it less intensive. I don’t want to be sort of romantic and say, let’s go back to the 1950s. And do things in that way. Because I don’t think that necessarily solves any anything either. But I think they just have to be conversation and each farm is different. There are so many challenges that are facing agriculture, not just in terms of something like culture and cultured meat.

Olivia Oldham 27:37
It seems clear to us that some kind of transformation is needed when it comes to how we produce and eat meat. We’ve heard about some of the technologies that could aid in the from seeds to cells. But can we achieve the necessary transformation just through technological change? Or do we really need a broader social, economic and political transformation?

Unknown Speaker 28:01
There’s not a silver bullet. I’m not even offering legumes as a panacea. Legumes are an important part of a larger system. Absolutely. We need to deal with climate change and a climate emergency because say, the problem is if you choose a linear fix for one problem, you don’t know what you’re storing up another so in the same way that legumes are multifunctional, I’m interested in dealing with the world what I’ve chose to call the climate change, biodiversity, nutrition nexus to these two things, so that the existential pressures if you like on humanity.

Katie Revell 28:36
There is no guarantee that technological disruption will lead to deeper transformations of the food system. What exactly is disrupted depends, at least partly, on what exactly we identify as the problem. Is the issue intractable consumer preferences, people’s reluctance to forego their steaks and sausages? Or is it the corporate production of demand to advertising? Is the problem a lack of knowledge of how to produce food sustainably, or the fact that making evermore profit drives most food system decisions? Is it farmers who refuse to change their practices or public policy that promotes industrial production methods?

Olivia Oldham 29:16
It seemd to us that by focusing only on more or less favourable technologies, we might be overlooking how those technologies are tangled up with broader social, economic and political processes. Technologies are undoubtedly an important piece of the puzzle. But we think we need to understand how they fit into a much broader view of the future of the food system.

Katie Revell 29:41
If we’re looking for an answer to the question of what we should do about these alternative meats, well, once again, it depends on what our priorities are.

Olivia Oldham 29:52
I guess one of the questions around priorities that comes up for me is around who different technologies benefit and who they harm both now, and also potentially in the future. So, if we’re talking about lab grown meat, where do the materials come from to build the facilities that create them? How might they affect existing farming communities and farming livelihoods? Is it possible for them to be incorporated into a just transition?

Katie Revell 30:31
Yeah, I totally agree. And I think for me, it’s so important to see these technologies in context.

Olivia Oldham 30:39
Having said all that, I guess I’m also wary of rejecting these new technologies outright. I think there’s almost something aesthetic about it, you know, they don’t seem, quote unquote, natural. And so therefore, they’re wrong in some way. You know, actually, what we think is natural, what we think is unnatural, is deeply cultural. And there can be a huge amount of moral judgement and even discrimination hidden in conversations about what isn’t, isn’t natural. So, for me, that’s not really a satisfactory way of understanding these kinds of technologies. And I wonder if we can sort of unpick that perception by thinking about whether it’s actually possible, contrary to some of the assumptions that are made, whether it’s possible for them to actually support a closer connection with nature for people who don’t say, have a phone, on their back doorstep?

Katie Revell 31:41
Yeah, there’s, there’s an idea that you’ve mentioned a few times, which I find really intriguing, and provocative and compelling. Which is the idea of the neighbourhood pig.

Olivia Oldham 31:53
Yeah. So this is a thought experiment. That was developed by some researchers about 10 years ago. And the idea was that every community, whether that’s a neighbourhood, or a street, or or whatever it might be, they have an animal that they look after together a pig or a cow. And every so often, someone from that community takes some stem cells from the animals, so the animal is alive, it doesn’t die for this. And then those stem cells are used to grow meat, either in individual households, or in kind of decentralised neighbourhood scale factories. So this is obviously very much a speculative exercise, technologically speaking, as well. But I think it raises all kinds of questions, you know, could this kind of model allow me, for example, to continue to have and deepen my relationship with animals with the living world where food comes from kind of all these concerns that people often raise in relation to this kind of lab grown meat idea. But at the same time, you know, attending to concerns about animal wellbeing, the ethics of animal death, and, crucially, the ecological impacts of animal farming. I think it’s an interesting thought experiment for thinking about how this technology could be embedded in a very different set of social relations. And for raising questions about what exactly it is about it that we object to, if we do object to it, you know, and would this necessarily need to replace all animal agriculture? Or could it be kind of complimentary? Could it be like community gardens, you know, they’re not going to replace all horticulture, but they still serve a really important purpose, and they do still feed people. It’s just a sort of speculative idea. And there’s a lot of nuance and detail that this skims over. Some of the issues that we’ve already mentioned, like energy use, and things like that, for example. So I guess it’s possible that these particular technologies around lab grown meat really are just too deeply tangled up with our current system to work in this kind of vision. For me, really important question about all of this is what about ownership? A big criticism of lab based approaches is that they tend to concentrate power in the hands of very few people. You know, if lab based proteins are privately owned, is anything actually changing?

Katie Revell 34:50
I think that is the question that looms in the background of all of this. And I think that fundamental question is really what it comes down to, for me, whatever the technology is that we’re talking about, whether it’s, you know, seeds, or whether it’s some kind of cultured meat, technology, some kind of fermentation setup. It’s not so much, or in fact, it’s not at all about whether it’s high tech or low tech. But it’s those questions of power control, ownership. Those are the ones that I think are most important. There’s been a lot of attention, a lot of noise around the campaign that George Monbiot has joined reboot food. And their things specifically is precision fermentation. So using microorganisms to produce proteins in labs. And I have to confess that my initial reaction was one of scepticism. And I still have some concerns, some questions. But one thing I do find interesting is that one of the pillars of what they call their manifesto is open source, everything they say that new technologies and foods should be open source and corporate concentration must be actively mitigated, to ensure the benefits of the food revolution are shared equally with all. Obviously, that raises lots of questions as well. There’s not a huge amount of detail in there. But I think in principle, I’m fully on board with that. I think, again, for me, it’s much less about the technology that we’re talking about. And it’s much more about those questions of transparency and control and ownership.

Olivia Oldham 36:44
At the very least, it’s like a good important necessary starting point. You know, and maybe, you know, I might argue that we need to go further. I mean, what is what does open source mean to them, you know, I would argue, really, that we should be looking to, as democratic forms of ownership of technologies as as possible, whether that’s worker ownership, or public ownership or some form of the commons community ownership. It’s important to recognise that the food system we already have, is highly concentrated in terms of where power and control lies. And so whether we’re talking about lab grown meat, or legumes, and not eating meat, or regeneratively, produced meat, or some combination of all three, the key question like, like you were saying, Katie, like the key question is, who owns them? Who holds the power? And do do we as citizens? Do we have any say over over what happens and I want to imagine a world where, yeah, we’re any technology, whether it’s pates, legumes, and then nitrogen fixing abilities, or afterwards, cultured proteins, where either of those and anything else are all directed towards social and ecological goods, rather than the extraction of profit.

Katie Revell 38:30
In many ways, this series is about meat. I mean, of course, it’s about meat. But it’s also about all the other things that people grow and produce and eat that aren’t meat, but could play a similar role in our diets. And positioning these as alternatives, puts meat at the centre with everything else relegated to the margins, it frames meat as the default.

Pietro Ianetta 38:52
It really annoys me when when I hear legumes being called a meat replacement, or a meat substitute, you know, because me and legumes, legumes, we know the high fibre the starter, essential minerals, and took me off of some of these things as well. But it’s comparing carrots with oranges, you know, the yes, the both orange however, in other words, different things in terms of their provision.

Olivia Oldham 39:16
So many communities around the world, including in the UK, already eat very little meat or no meat at all. That might be for cultural, religious, economic, ethical, or environmental reasons, or a combination of those. Maybe we all need to get better at embracing the diversity of foods available to us. Maybe we need to value all of them more. In other words, is the question really about less than better meat? Or should it be about more and better, everything else?

Katie Revell 39:51
In the next episode, we’ll be asking in the context of less and better meat, what is land for?. And why might we want to think twice about that question? Thanks for listening. You can find a transcript of this episode and links to relevant resources on the farmer on my website.

Olivia Oldham 40:15
If you value what we do at Farmerama, please consider supporting us on Patreon.

Katie Revell 40:20
Less and better, is researched, produced and edited by me, Katie Revell and me, Olivia Oldham with the support of executive producer Jo Barrett. Our series music is by Alex Bachelor, and our artwork is by Yagoda Sadowska, thanks to the rest

Olivia Oldham 40:37
of the Farmerama team, Dora Taylor, Annie landless Eliza Jenkins and Lucy Fisher.

Katie Revell 40:44
Less and better was made possible thanks to generous funding from the Roddick foundation, and the A-team Foundation.

Olivia Oldham 40:52
Yeah, turns out cell cellular is the hardest word in the English language to say.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai