Why the future will forget about meat

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Then again, if those same diners are likely to be splattered with red paint when they leave the restaurant, they’re less likely to risk ordering the beef. This is a distinct possibility that the same tactics that were used to marginalize makers and users of fur coats in our century will come to be used against the eaters of what you may come to call “unclean” meat. 

Because here’s the thing: It’s going to get harder and harder to ignore the fact that we are killing living beings, fellow mammals with brains capable of feeling the same emotions as us. We’re killing them by the truckload, every second of every day. I’m no vegetarian propagandist; as a kid in the 1980s I rolled my eyes when a singer named Morrissey (any of you guys still into The Smiths?) warbled about how “meat is murder.” But how long can you keep looking at the end of your fork and not connect what you see with the whole traumatic experience that put it there? 

Steven Pinker’s groundbreaking study of violence, The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011), would support the notion that we are slowly coming around to a vegetarian viewpoint. Pinker points out that everything we now think as barbaric in terms of what we do to other humans — slavery, torture, public executions — was once commonplace in the most civilized societies. People rolled their eyes at abolitionists, too. 

In 16th century Paris, Pinker points out, there were public displays of cat-burning that made spectators including the supposedly-enlightened aristocracy “shriek with laughter.” Over the centuries, western civilization began to ban or shun a spectrum of animal cruelty: bear baiting, cock fighting, dog fighting, fox hunting, animal testing. Can widespread disapproval of animal-eating be that far behind?

Pinker thought, in 2011, that “meat hunger” would prevent this trend from reaching its logical, vegetarian conclusion. Then again, around the same time, his Harvard fellow Pollan never thought he would enjoy a fake meatball sandwich.

If “meat hunger” can be sated by a product that looks and tastes exactly like meat, but in the production of which no animals were harmed, why would a succession of increasingly squeamish, ethical generations not grasp that option? I’m calling it now: Whatever you’re having for your next meal, it wasn’t something that ever thought or felt. 

All we can hope is that you don’t hate us for what we ate, and that we really didn’t think as clearly as you do about what’s for dinner. 

To paraphrase William Carlos Williams: Forgive us. It was delicious. So juicy, so protein-rich, so hard to replicate. 

Yours in meat hunger,


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