3D Printing, Food and Ethical and Sustainable Vegetarianism

As a long time vegetarian (I’m about to hit 10 years!), I’ve become immensely interested in reading up on the ethics of being vegetarian and the older I get the greater I appreciate adopting ethical reasons for vegetarianism. What is interesting is that I’m also a staunch advocate for technology and adaptation.

Technology and it’s use within the food and food industry has brought us advances that have led to great things like pasteurization. And here’s a personal story – my dad hated when they started pasteurizing our local cider from an orchard in my hometown, my mother the practical PNP (medical degrees are useful in helping address food choices) believed it was for the best, my dad looked for unpasteurized cider for years insisting pasteurization impacted the flavor. These technologies perhaps come at a price. We’ve all heard about Monsanto and their proprietary seeds, but there is perhaps less truth to these accusations than me and my vegetarian friends may know. Can industrial agriculture be problematic – yes certainly! One of the main reasons I became vegetarian was for sustainability purposes, so it is something I take to heart. This year I also started growing from seeds and I’m working on my first ever greenhouse garden, so I take my vegetables and sustainability quite seriously.

At the same time some interested new technology companies are arising. That use processes like bioprinting to create their products like this Genetically Engineered Yeast! The yeast product is like milk for those who didn’t dive into the article yet. As an ethical vegetarian inspired by sustainability and friend of technology – should I be drawn to this particular product – why yes! Am I still a little weirded out by things like this – yes. We’ve now got lab grown meat being introduced and I know a vegetarian who ate some. The framing of this product is as “clean meat” and even PETA is on board. I think part of my vegetarianism was that I was raised to be compassionate towards other creatures on this earth so I again should be super excited about clean meat. I’m intrigued but want to know more, as one of my vegan friends said she was “freaked out a little bit”. When we know these technical advances are coming, should be even be surprised? And if we looked at how our food is grown industrially – maybe we would be even more freaked out. Another story, when I stayed in Italy, I visited with a local cheese maker, and we saw the traditional production of rennet. If you don’t know where rennet comes from Wikipedia is your friend. I was not vegetarian at the time, but I do recall having a greater understanding of the process of how our food and in particular cheese was made, although I was a bit upset at the visual process of attaining rennet the traditional way. Having this understanding am I grateful for vegetarian rennet? Oh heck yes! Maybe all we need to be excited about advances in food is more exposure to the realities of our food systems.

I think part of adopting new technologies is being skeptical of their capabilities – its partially why I think our K-12 education system is behind the times and when I was helping do research on this topic everyone seemed to say – “go back to the books”! In terms of food though I’m excited to see technology being applied to help well create further sustainability and perhaps help make the consumer make more ethical choices. Just like my friend though I’m a bit “freaked out”. Perhaps by creating a better understanding of the process of getting to these products and how science is an awesome tool to help solve sustainability issues with our world’s limited resources more of these companies can convince the skeptical vegetarians and vegans of the world to try their products. They not only have to do the work framing the product, but they should be doing the work to better make folks like me less “freaked out” by the technology at hand. When technology is a tool it is useful, when we don’t understand it it’s a science fiction story turned into something real that might bother us. Us vegetarians and vegans have been analyzing labels and our food information for so long at this point, we’ll continue to do so as companies develop and release products created thanks to technological advances. If the companies producing these products provide a guide through which to come to a greater understanding of these technology produced food(s) we might be able to be more accepting.