Bill Gates is a smart guy (obviously), and very good at looking at global problems and exploring creative global solutions. So it’s good news that he has focused his brainpower and advocacy on the fact that producing meat for everyone who wants to eat it simply isn’t sustainable (i.e. meat is killing the planet). The bad news he is promoting the wrong solution.
On his GatesNotes site, he now has an interesting section on “The Future Of Food.” It’s got lots of good data and thinking about why we can’t go on eating meat the way we do.
Now, you’ll notice that one of the comparative items in the second and third slides is “Beyond Meat.” That is a meat substitute that Gates seems to be excited about.
His thinking is that we’ll never get the human race to move beyond meat and go vegetarian, so the solution to the impending meat bomb is to develop meat substitutes so people can eat “meat” without actually eating meat.
I’m not sure that thinking is right. I have tried plenty of meat substitutes and have concluded that if you want to stop eating meat it is a mistake to try and chase after a diet that features meat substitutes. The simple fact is that you can’t truly replace the taste and distinctive qualities of meat. And if you keep trying you will be perpetually frustrated by your vegan/vegetarian diet because you will always know that real meat would taste better (and it would).
Maintaining a commitment to meat flavor (and meat-like dishes) also gets in the way of simply moving on to all the incredibly tasty and natural cuisines (especially Asian and Indian) that are easy to make without any meat or animal products. There is so much good food out there, and so many good recipes that don’t require meat or animal products, why get chained down by the idea that your food has to include “meat.”
Abandoning the idea that I would try to substitute for meat in my food freed me up to explore all kinds of good food, and was the perceptual shift that suddenly made it pretty easy to go vegan. Don’t substitute. Explore, and find all the delicious new things you can eat.
Gates is making a mistake, I think, to suppose that getting the world to shift to meat substitutes–even if they weren’t as nasty and unappealing and unnatural as they happen to be right now–would be easier than getting the world to truly go beyond meat by simply abandoning it. I think promoting a global vegetarian culture and cuisine, though that is a HUGE challenge, is the easier path.
Gates is a technologist, so I suppose it is natural for him to turn to technology to solve the “meat” problem. And perhaps he has never had incredibly tasty vegetarian food. But I hope that as he digs deeper into the question of how to take the planet past its meat fixation he’ll realize that the simplest way to get people to stop eating meat is in fact to encourage them to eat vegetarian. Because the future he imagines just isn’t very appealing.
2 thoughts on “Bill Gates Wants To Reinvent Meat”
I actually prefer meat substitutes to meat. I don’t think of them as trying to be meat but as filling the niche meat once occupied, without the gristle and bone. I’ve had some things which have so precisely imitated the taste of meat they’ve made me feel ill (a chicken-flavoured cuppa soup reminded me I didn’t miss chicken, for instance). It’s not meat in the slightest but, as you say when discussing things which are vegetarian without meat whatsoever, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.