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Agriculture

Published on April 5th, 2020 | by Kurt Lowder

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The Intersection Of Coronavirus, Fake Meat, Food Shortages, & Climate Change

April 5th, 2020 by  


It has been widely speculated that the disease COVID 19 began in a meat market in Wuhan China. These markets are truly a sight to behold. I recently went to such a market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia that went on for over a mile. I have seen numerous similar markets in Thailand, where my wife and I have a home.

A busy European market. Image credit: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

I almost bought some stir-fried snails from a sweet elderly woman in Cambodia. She so kindly offered them to me, and I politely declined. As I walked away, I thought, “Man, I would have loved to have just paid a dollar to take a picture with her and her snails.” I almost walked back, but I did not want to risk being rude or confusing her since I did not speak her language. Next time I see snails being cooked at a market, I will be prepared. I have the made-up sign language worked out in my mind. I will get over my fear of being the idiot tourist. I will get a selfie with the lady cooking snails.

My favorite trip to a Thailand meat market was one restless, warm night around midnight. I hopped onto my scooter and decided to explore the city streets at night. Nighttime is safer, as there is little to no traffic. I set out on an adventure to find new routes and new businesses, since I knew so few places in town. Also, the daytime is ridiculously hot and humid. I came across the nighttime meat market and found hundreds of independent business owners butchering meat. It was clearly more of a wholesale market. The restaurant owners were coming soon to buy their daily provisions.

At 6’4″ / 193 cm, I had to constantly duck to not hit my head. The market was outdoors and vendors had umbrellas and tents too short for a person like me. I was a clumsy giant out of place in the market and had to walk slowly. Even though I looked silly, I often put my hand against my forehead to act as a bumper of sorts.

Walking through the stalls, I noticed a few of the owners and workers and saw they were shocked by my presence. If we made eye contact, they kindly smile, but most were too busy at their work.

The food these markets provide is so affordable the average American could not imagine it. Go to the market with $20 and you would not believe the amount of food you can buy. If I spent much more than $20, I might not be able to take it all home on my scooter.

I tell this story because I want to explain why getting rid of these markets is a challenging task with many factors to consider. Hundreds of millions of people all over the world work in markets like this. People have lived and done commerce this way for centuries. Yes it is different from Walmart or Amazon, but make no mistake, these markets (at least economically speaking) are well-oiled machines. They are incredibly efficient.

Nevertheless, they are lacking in modern food safety procedures and regulations. We can make them safer and we should. However, it is much more likely that these meat markets will be increasingly automated out of existence. Right now, these markets outcompete automation, but that is changing rapidly. Even third world countries will face increasing disruption from automation.

Now, that a picture of these markets has been painted, let’s go into the future. These markets will likely disappear over time. Why? Cheaper meat and dairy substitutes are right around the corner. Imagine fake milk and hamburger meat indistinguishable from real dairy and meat. Imagine it costs 50-80% less than real dairy and meat. These cost declines are possible by as early as 2030.

Tony Seba has put out a report claiming, by 2030, meat and dairy substitutes could be as little as 1/5 the price of their counterparts. Of course, they would be much more climate-friendly. Additionally, they will help feed the world and prevent more pandemics.

An Impossible Foods burger at the official launch of the company’s version 2.0 product at CES in Las Vegas. Image courtesy: Kyle Field, CleanTechnica

If you disagree with anything in this article, please at least dig into Tony’s report. It is one of the most overlooked and important sources of information regarding climate change. Journalists, I encourage you to use it as a primary source for your articles. It’s full of amazing data and graphs. Even if you only skim the report, you can learn a lot from it.

Currently, the world produces enough food to feed 11 billion people, but we feed half that food to animals. Billions of people around the world starve because a much smaller percentage of people in the world love meat. It’s a hard thing to accept. My love of pizza and hamburger makes food more expensive for starving children all over the world. That’s why being an early adopter of meat and dairy substitutes is so important. When you buy your coconut milk, impossible burger, or any other substitute for animal products, you are making a dramatic contribution to bring about a better future.

Less animal agriculture means less pollution, better health, less animal suffering, less hunger, and less human suffering.  We can return roughly half of agricultural land back to natural habit when meat and dairy substitutes disrupt their counterparts.

Now much to the chagrin of my vegan friends, I am not asking you to run out and become completely vegan. I am not a vegan; I eat mostly plant-based foods, though. Instead, I am simply asking you to be an earlier adopter of these milk and dairy substitutes to whatever degree you can comfortably do. I ate a real hamburger today, in fact, but I might not eat another one for several weeks. Currently, the meat substitutes that I like most are not cheap, but they will be one day, because of us early adopters. We buy while the price is higher and we help bring the cost down over time.

The Impossible Burgers (which are plant-based meat products) started out in select restaurants at $20 for a burger. Then, Burger King sold them for around $5. Now they are selling 2 for $6 (or $3 each). Do you see the trajectory? Soon, the cost of these fake burger patties will be measured in cents and not dollars. Even at relatively small scale, at these price points, plant-based meats are already giving animal products a run for their money.

Image courtesy: Burger King

We stand at the edge of an exciting precipice! We can make the transition to a cleaner, healthier, and more equitable world. As we transition to a more sustainable future, we need to think about the hundreds of millions of workers in the animal product industry who will be affected, from grass to grocery store. Some will suffer immensely, while others find better jobs where they are much more productive. We need intelligent regulations and NGOs working to help the people make the transition. We need to share best practices and increase the rate of innovation.

Many of these changes are beyond our control as individuals. However, the power of our collective purchases is immense.

Also related: Years ago, I made a Facebook page titled “Why Eat Plants.” If you enjoyed this article, you may find some of the interesting information and memes informative and share worthy. 
 


 


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About the Author

I am a jock turned wannabe geek. I fell in love with science later in life thanks to the History Channel show the “Universe.” Having taught middle school science, I strongly feel Astronomy should be taught every year because nothing excites students more than learning about the cosmos. I became an avid cleantech fan because it gives me hope about the future. My wife, my dogs, and I live simply because we love to travel the world backpacker style.



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