Meat: Real and Fake, Truth and Fiction

Tsovel, Ariel.  "Meat: Real and Fake, Truth and Fiction." Maarav 24 (Autumn 2018). 


Entrepreneurs who promote artificial meat (factory-made tissue originated in living organisms) claim that the challenges in manufacturing and marketing artificial meat are making a product that shall be perceived by the senses as real meat (dead animal tissue), while matching the original or surpassing it in nutritional value and affordability. This position ignores additional, crucial considerations in the consumption of real meat and its analogs (meat-like products that are not dead animal tissues).

Meat analogs that more or less withstand the aforementioned challenges have already been marketed for decades, and yet consumers make successful efforts to recognize highly valued differences between any meat analog and real meat, as they will keep on doing when facing minute and unavoidable differences between artificial and real meat. Motivating such differentiation efforts are the profoundly different emotional, symbolic and moral meanings ascribed to real meat in comparison with any alleged substitute. These meanings reflect the fact that producing and consuming real meat are perceived as expressions of physical and social power, whereas meat analogs are not associated with special power.

The paper examines three approaches to the association between meat and power. According to one theory, favored by meat analog marketers, non-coercive products should attract meat eaters since consuming such products exempts consumers from association with power, which have disturbed them in the first place. An opposite, more convincing theory claims that meat analogs cannot succeed precisely because these products lack the forcible meaning pursued by meat eaters. A third theory is the most convincing one, and it claims that when a meticulous division of labor is standard, the meaning of products varies in accordance with arbitrary stories attached to these products, and foreseeing where such stories may lead to is virtually impossible. Hence it may be possible that artificial meat will succeeds in chomping off a large chunk of the real meat industry, yet it is no less reasonable to predict that artificial meat will undermine consumer boycott of real meat, against artificial meat's original purpose.