What is "meat"? Why does it matter? In 2019, U.S. sales of plant-based meat grew 18% year over year, to nearly $1 billion. Meat grown from animal stem cells in vitro is also coming down in price. But in the past three years, 25 state legislatures have introduced bills to prohibit alternative meat products from being labeled meat. This piece by a philosopher at the University of California, San Diego argues that at least some faux meat is truly "meat."
"The traditional view of meat holds that it must originate in the body of an animal. The substance of meat is what it is physically made of: muscle tissue composed of protein, water, amino acids and the rest. Meat’s function is on one level something that we experience — the familiar combination of taste and texture in the mouth. ... In vitro meat generally satisfies the last two requirements — substance and function — but not the first, origin. ... It may seem like cheating to consciously redefine meat in order to accommodate the lab-grown version. In fact, history is full of this type of conceptual revision. Someone asking 100 years ago what a car is could be forgiven for offering a definition that mentioned an internal combustion engine or a human driver. In the age of self-driving and electric cars we recognize that these are no longer defining features of cars. ... In the jargon of philosophers, we realized that we had long been mistaking one particular conception of cars ... for the very concept. Revising our understanding of meat to make room for in vitro meat involves a similar move. We should strip down our understanding of meat so that an element previously deemed essential — in this case, being sourced in an animal carcass — is no longer strictly necessary. On this updated, more minimalist understanding, all that is necessary for something to qualify as meat is that it has a meaty substance and function. Just as Model Ts and Teslas both qualify as cars, animal-sourced and lab-grown versions would then both qualify as real meat. ... Imagine you are served two pieces of steak, one from a slaughterhouse the other from a lab, which have an identical taste and nutritional effect. Food is by definition what we eat, and if our experience of eating the two morsels is the same surely they warrant a common concept."
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