Not on my table!


Not on my table!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

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Our bodies are not meant to deal with fake food. — Tim Ryan

This year has been quite unusual. Who would have thought that we would be wearing face shields or masks in 2020? Had someone told me last year that I would be wearing a face covering in 2020 I would have laughed at them. The year has been quite sobering as well due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The strangeness of the year has impacted all spheres of our lives. We were taught very early that animals provide the meat we consume. However, let us fast-forward to the 2020 world. Where do we get meat? Sir, we get meat from a laboratory. Correct! The answer is not by any means misinformation. In many homes a slice of roasted beef, pork, chicken, mutton, maybe lamb will be served for Christmas dinner. Perhaps, we will go to our favourite meat shop or supermarket and order our favourite cut of meat. How can you be sure what will be on your plate in the future, given the rapidly changing world in which we live, in addition to the changes we now have to try and decipher what is true from what is make belief?

Singapore has become the first country in the world to approve the sale of lab-grown meat. Yes, you read correctly, the first time. According to an article published in the World Economic Forum on December 2, the so-called 'clean meat' is grown from animal muscle cells, but at very high production costs. The article added that demand for alternatives to regular meat has surged in recent years due to a number of reasons, among them growing concerns about health. One can agree that in each society there are peculiarities and, having said so, I do not envisage Jamaicans lining up to purchase lab-grown meats any time soon. Jamaicans are old-fashioned and will be remaining true to what we have grown accustomed to over the years.

'Labriculture' — the future of food

The World Economic Forum article stated that the lab-grown meat will be sold as nuggets, and will be priced at premium chicken prices. Co-founder and CEO Josh Tetrick said demand for alternatives to regular meat is surging due to concerns about health, animal welfare and the environment. Of course, we should all be concerned about our health; however, to move towards lab-grown meat does not appear too healthy.

How healthy can lab-grown meats be for human consumption? Meats grown in a laboratory is not natural; it is done in a controlled manipulative environment. Many of us do not pay much attention to the ever-expanding list of food items on our supermarket shelves. Perhaps what will save us in this part of the world is our brand loyalty. Jamaicans tend to purchase the same brand repeatedly over time. Plant-based substitutes, popularised by the likes of Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and Quorn, increasingly feature on supermarket shelves and restaurant menus. This craze towards so-called clean or cultured meat, which is grown from animal muscle cells in a lab, is still at a nascent stage, given high production costs.

It is clear that more investment is required in our agricultural sector in order to meet the demands of an expanding population as well as to ensure food security. Donovan Stanberry, former permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry, in an article published in The Gleaner earlier this year, stated that we must salute our 220,000 farmers who ensure that the country is more or less self-sufficient in basic plant-based foods to sustain a healthy nation; that is vegetables, starches, fruits, herbs and condiments.

Jamaica spends a significant sum on food imports. According to data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) Jamaica's food import bill in 2018 was US$902 million, this was an increase from the previous year which was at US$843 million. As a people, we need to return to the principle of 'eat what we grow, grow what we need to eat'.

The taste of Singaporeans is much different from that of Jamaicans. In fact, Asian cuisine differs starkly from Jamaican cooking. Singapore, a city state of 5.7 million, currently only produces about 10 per cent of its food, but has set out ambitious plans to raise that over the next decade by supporting high-tech farming and new means of food production. On the other hand, Jamaica produces a significant portion of the meat the population consumes.

Eat Just was founded in 2011. The company counts Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing and Singapore state investor Temasek among its backers. It has raised more than US$300 million since its inception, and is valued at roughly US$1.2 billion. It is targeting profitability at an operating income level before the end of 2021 and hopes to go public soon after. It has been reported that globally more than two dozen firms are testing lab-grown fish, beef and chicken, hoping to break into an unproven segment of the alternative meat market, which Barclays estimates could be worth $140 billion by 2029. Eat Just plans to manufacture in Singapore, where it also plans to start making a mung bean-based egg substitute it has been selling commercially in the United States of America.

Consumer vigilance

Unfortunately, most of the world has found itself in a culture of fake. Sadly, this unreal and unnatural state has made its way into the food chain. Those of us who know better must resist this culture and share our knowledge with others.

As consumers we must be alert to the changes around us. We must be vigilant and proactive in order to protect our local markets from alien culinary products. As consumers we must spend the time to read labels and ingredients. We must return to eating healthy and wholesome. Do you think lab-grown meats are healthy? Undoubtedly, lab-grown meats will not become a feature of Jamaican dietary consumption any time soon.

We must be careful not to modify or try to change nature. There is a limit to everything when nature has had enough. The repercussions can be severe and long-lasting. The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that our bodies are temples in which the Holy Spirit dwells. As a result, we must be careful about what we eat in order to keep our temples pleasing in the sight of God.

Will your plate embrace this modern cultured meat or will you remain with the conviction of your parents and fore parents with farm fresh meat? The choice is yours.

In the words of Leonardo da Vinci: Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws; she has no effect without cause, nor invention without necessity.

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or @WayneCamo.

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