We are on the verge of what could be one of the most radical changes in human society since the computer and World Wide Web metaphorically shrunk the globe. Using the word ‘radical’ is not hyperbole. The change we’re talking about is the slow but steady human migration from eating animal protein to instead adopting an almost 100% plant-based diet.
And of course, the dawn of the information age has a lot to do with this shift towards veganism. Not only has the internet facilitated the dissemination of information on healthy eating – and helped break down stereotypes of vegans – but artificial intelligence, the brainchild of the information age, is also helping create the proteins of the future. –Protein and nutrition-filled foods that are surprisingly meaty.
The latest types of meat substitutes produced by startups (primarily based in Israel) are being created with the aid of AI algorithms and 3D printing. After testing untold thousands of flavors and textures, so-called ‘new meat’ producers can now make what’s called ‘alternative muscle’ or ‘alternative fat’ from all-natural ingredients.
Then, a 3D printer is used to create layer upon layer of products from vegan steak to vegan kebabs. Asked to describe these products, some tasters have labeled them “great meat products that are more than exceeding critics’ expectations.” In fact, the CEO of one alternative meat company told The Guardian late last year that some vegans have chided his company for making products that are “too meat-like.”
Similarly, companies producing alternative dairy products from various milks made from nuts, to eggs made from chickpeas and other vegetables, are making the transition from carnivore to herbivore as easy as it’s ever been for meat lovers.
And let’s not beat around the bush: people do love the flavors and textures of meat. The vast majority of the planet is not vegetarian or vegan. Even the famous example of India with its majority Hindu population is not overwhelmingly vegetarian (although India takes the crown with as many as 39% of the population being vegetarian and perhaps 9% vegan).
Some have argued that our evolution only got kickstarted after the discovery of cooking meat, which allowed for huge amounts of protein to be added to our diets. Humans evolved to eat meat and it’s fueled our journey from swinging from the trees to flying to the Moon. Most people, however, likely don’t care that eating meat is an evolutionary adaptation, they simply think it tastes good
And this is what ‘new meat’ producers understand and are tapping into. Their websites do not highlight animal welfare issues or the environment per se – although they do have pages explaining their positions on these issues – but instead they focus primarily on how meaty and delicious these 3D AI, 100% natural creations are.
This is why there’s a good case to be made that we are at the cusp of radical change, with some predicting that by 2050 for example, huge numbers of individuals across a wide variety of countries and continents are going to primarily eat plant-based diets.
There are several reasons for this prediction, and one we alluded to earlier is information. People now in their twenties grew up in a world where information has always been available at the touch of a button, and are much better informed on environmental, ecological, nutrition, health, and animal welfare issues.
Secondly, prices for meat are going up and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change. Some simple math shows that there isn’t enough space on this small planet for 9 billion people – for example – and all the animals needed to feed them. Prices for quality animal protein will invariably continue to increase.
High-tech 3D printed meat, on the other hand, is set for a drastic drop in price as it first reaches price parity with its animal ancestor…before becoming much cheaper. If something is cheaper, healthier, and less morally problematic, it’s more than a fair bit that it will become mainstream – something we are already seeing.
Each person who decides to adopt an animal-free vegan diet and or lifestyle chooses to do so for a wide variety of reasons. For some, it’s black-and-white. In May 2022 the BBC told the story of farmer Lawrence Candy who lost his herd to tuberculosis and thereafter found “industrial slaughtering of sentient beings” unjustifiable. He’s teamed up with a Scottish-based organization that helps meat and dairy farmers transition from that industry into animal-free agriculture.
But of course, you don’t need to have an animal rights epiphany to decide to go vegan. Numerous top-level athletes have discovered the benefits of eating a plant-based diet. Some, such as tennis master Novak Djokovic, prefer to say they “eat an almost 100% plant-based diet” rather than assigning themselves a label such as “vegan,” but call it what you will – for a myriad of reasons, people across the world are making what is likely a permanent shift.
A few years back a magazine article predicted that in 2050 humans would look back at meat-eating with surprise that we “used to do that.” Many laughed at what seemed to be such an implausible scenario. But with meat substitutes making a leap into the 21st century and providing high-tech solutions that deliver taste and texture, that prediction may not be as outlandish as some thought just a few years ago.