It was almost a little too real. As I looked at the fake blood—this wasn’t a horror movie—I had a hard time accepting this wasn’t the real thing. I mean Beyond Meat’s vegetable-based sausage. My daughter recently sent me a captivating article about artificial meat. Unlike many paeans to its virtues by fellow vegetarians and vegans, this was written by an omnivore who unabashedly stated that we’ve reached the point where synthetic meat has surpassed the real thing in flavor and the eating experience. The piece on Outside made me glad. Feedlots, apart from being the largest industrial polluters in this country, are a horror film based on a true story. The way we treat “food animals” violates just about every ethical stance in the book, and it’s a big book. We do it for profit, of course. Now that artificial meat is turning a substantial profit, those who slaughter are starting to pay attention.
I recently ate at a local restaurant where our waiter recommended the cauliflower burger. The thought wasn’t appealing. Don’t get me wrong, I do like cauliflower. I prefer it raw, however, since cooking brings out its more cruciferous qualities. In any case, our server said, “It’s new on the menu. We offered it once before and so many people requested it that we’ve made it a regular item.” Now we don’t exactly live in a hippie haven here. Still, enough people are asking for alternatives that we’re discovering it pretty easy to find plant-based protein in some pretty remarkable places. It put me in mind of my most challenging course in college: biomedical ethics.
A class that asked, and then pressed on very sensitive questions, biomedical ethics required a term paper. I wrote mine on animal testing. This was back in the 1980s, and technology has moved on since then. Even back in those dark ages of Reaganomics, artificial tissue was being lab grown, eliminating the need for animal testing on many products. Now we’re reaching the point where the same may apply to comestibles. I’ve long used vegetarian alternatives (now vegan ones) and they’ve increasingly improved. When I had the most recent alternative, however, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t meat. It was too real. I’m not morally opposed to verisimilitude, I assure you. The closer they get to the real thing, the better it is for the animals who’ll never need to be born to be killed by us. It’s just I find the fake blood upsetting, and I’m happy to be reminded that this is only a simulacrum after all.