Solutions journalism is news about how communities and organizations are responding to social and environmental problems. This collection contains solutions stories about innovative businesses that are making it possible for individuals to eat hamburgers, chicken wings, sausages and other animal-based products while reducing their ecological footprints. Plant-based burgers that are indistinguishable from their cow-based counterparts are now available in numerous restaurants, including several prominent fast-food chains, and others are available in grocery stores. Several companies are also developing lab-grown meats (referred to as "clean meat") that may soon be ready for the mass market. Nutritionists deem both products (plant-based & clean meat) as healthier than animal meat, and both use significantly fewer resources and emit significantly fewer greenhouse gases in the production process.
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Want to use some or all of these stories in a classroom or community setting? Here are some questions to get you started. Or make a copy of this collection and create your own!
- The primary lobbying group for the beef industry, the Cattlemen’s Association, wants to enact laws preventing the labels of lab-grown meat being called “meat.” Why would they would want to do this? Hint: Think about how language can affect our food choices. How do you describe your own food choices? Why?
- Is there a common mission that the companies working to develop and sell clean meat and meat substitutes share? How are these companies working to address issues of public acceptance and scalability? How might either type of venture (clean meat or meat substitutes) do a better job of marketing to college-age consumers or other particular demographics?
- (Group) One of the stories in this collection, “How close are we to a hamburger grown in a lab?” gives several interesting statistics on American preferences. 80% of us indicate that we are unwilling to eat meat grown in a laboratory. In other words, the study shows that Americans fear “lab-grown” meat more than driverless cars, the “eugenic” modification of embryos, brain implants, and a robot-based health care system. Formulate a hypothesis regarding how we Americans could regard this (apparently) benign food choice issue as significantly more impactful than our health care, brain status, how we reproduce, and our basic transportation system.
- What factors influence your dietary choices? Cultural? Religious? Social? Ethical? Convenience? Have you ever tried “fake” chicken, fish or hamburger? What about the Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat, the two meat substitutes considered most like the “real thing”? Are either of these, or other alternatives, offered on your college campus? In any of the restaurants you frequent?
Project Drawdown's research shows that adopting a plant-rich diet is one of the most powerful strategies for stopping climate change, and according to a study by the Center for Behavior and the Environment, eating a plant-rich diet is among the seven most impactful actions that individuals and households in the United States can take to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. A global shift toward diets heavy on plants and light on meat and dairy is not only an effective climate change strategy, it is one that individuals can adopt on their own, without waiting for government action.
Here are answers to the discussion questions:
- All lobbying groups exist to protect and promote the interests of their constituents. In this case, the meat industry is trying to protect its interests and branding. If they were successful, they would have a competitive advantage over lab-grown meat, because they could assert that what comes from the labs is not actually meat. They could, for example, call it “fake” meat to deter potential customers. Answers to the second question will vary with students.
- The primary mission of all of these companies is to address the impacts that industrial animal processing has on climate change and animal welfare. The world is eating more meat and many policy researchers question how this expanding appetite for meat can be met. Meat, particularly from cows, requires vastly more resources—such as water, grain, and land—to produce than plants. In addition, there are the billions of animals slaughtered each year to meet this demand. A core question is, in the context of climate change and animal cruelty issues, how ethical is it to eat meat? The primary challenge the “clean meat” industry has to address is public acceptance. Are we ready for “test tube” chicken nuggets? The primary challenge of the meat substitutes industry is creating products that taste or feel like meat.
- Student group discussions will vary, but much of this discussion gets back to food choices and how they are essentially “sacred” to people. Since we were children, we’ve had food preferences, and people are generally very defensive about their food choices and defend them fiercely. One analogy for this discussion is the difficulty we have in reasonably discussing race or religion.
- Answers will vary.