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A meat-free future?

/ 04:15 AM October 18, 2019

It was scorching hot for a September morning, but we braved the prickling heat anyway, along with the smell of animal feed wafting in the air. I’d been to the farm quite a few times before, but this would be the first time I would be guided by two unassuming toddlers: Marvin and Benjie.

When I arrived, fast-food iced coffee in hand, their father was working the fields, the carabao laboring just as hard. Marvin tiptoed and asked for my coffee. I surrendered it eventually. And just like that we sealed our friendship—a trio on this vast farm. Benjie was younger and thus less sure-footed.
Marvin, however, was a born leader, and spoke sotto voce.

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We started with the chicken coops, then the cages of huge rabbits. We watched the goats in the distance lazily basking under the sunlight. We peeked at the ducks and sorted through the littered sugarcane.

A little farther, we went toward the pig pen, and there I saw a huge male pig in one enclosure and a group of piglets in the other. The piglets eagerly crowded by the gates; I couldn’t believe we were raising them to become our meals. I went home content from another farm visit, but remembering the pigs tugged at my heart.

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These past weeks have delivered news of African swine fever (ASF) affecting some areas in the country and wiping out the livelihoods of many of our countrymen. Elsewhere, the situation seems just as worrisome now that ASF has entered about 50 countries, including China, South Korea, Vietnam and parts of Europe.

The disease is highly contagious and has reportedly wiped out close to a quarter of the world’s pig population. While ASF poses no threat to humans, it has driven down the prices of pork and has dented the lives of those who raise hogs.

Not too long ago, there was a surge of interest in alternative meat. I was not quite ready to embrace a new food source, after having only recently opted for free-range products and responsible sourcing for my food. I believe in animals having free access to the outdoors rather than living in enclosures, and that consumers like us have a right to know where our food comes from. Alternative meat doesn’t seem entirely new, but now it’s becoming surprisingly mainstream.

Abroad, companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have partnered with fast-food chains to introduce alternative meat burgers in their menus. Burger King, KFC and Subway are some of the big names that have offered alternative meat to their consumers.

Alternative meat is not necessarily a vegan offering. It is not intended for vegans but rather for us, the carnivorous crowd who would still want the taste of meat but not from animal sources. Plants are still great sources of protein anyway, which makes alternative meat truthful to its name.

Plants need not be the only alternative source, however, as many laboratories are now producing their own meat by culturing animal cells. This may eventually mean less slaughtering of animals for food. Experts believe such lab-produced meat can be made available in the market by 2022. Just last week, Israeli-based firm Aleph Farms was reported to have successfully produced meat in the International Space Station.

These developments are an interesting plot twist to the narrative of the meat industry, which is relentlessly plagued by controversy, among them perceived animal cruelty in slaughterhouses, alleged contributions to the climate crisis and poor sanitation.

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I wonder if Filipinos are just as prepared to embrace alternative meat, what with our culinary habits being meat-centric and pig-raising a viable source of living for many Filipinos. Would we be agreeable to eating burgers made of plants or raised from labs? I would be, if so offered. We should be given that option. In the end, we should be able to eat a good meal without it eating through our conscience.

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TAGS: African swine fever, ASF, Burger King, KFC, meat-free future, Subway
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