The Plant-Based Burger’s Soul
Plant based protein is all the rage. Given the state of our current agricultural system, one that delivers us unhealthy concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) meat and degraded water, animals make an easy target. Livestock are living beings, much like our pets who become part of our families. If we just stop eating meat, no animals will suffer and die, we’ll reduce our environmental footprint, and we can put people to work extracting protein from legumes and grains. And because we, as eaters, aren’t exposed to the dangerous saturated fats, cholesterol and other harmful ingredients in meat, we’ll all be healthier. The world will be saved and we will all live healthy, happy lives.
CAFO is a very efficient system, but maybe doesn’t take into consideration the soul of the animal.
One of the first replacements they went after was the iconic hamburger. If they could make a burger from plants that tastes like ground beef, it would serve as a powerful example of the potential of science. Next they went after the existential, versatile egg, extracting protein from mung beans and turning it into an egg substitute. As these products have advanced, consumer interest has grown. Economists and agronomists are tracking dollars and trends. Environmentalists, vegans, and investors are touting their support and backing this technology with their dollars.
But nobody asked the cow, the chicken, or the bean.
In his book, Care for the Soul, Thomas Moore speaks to the connectedness of our world. That our soul is separate from our living being and connected to the greater universe. For me this is in concert with Aldo Leapold’s science based “land ethic” or the Native American’s spiritual belief that all things are related, that the cow and chicken are our relatives and have a soul. Like the rocks and water, all things have soul. Even the plant-based burger. A cow or chicken raised in confinement on the same feed it’s whole life, never on pasture or being able to express its inherent traits, likely has a soul that is damaged. It shows in the food they produce, consistent, bland, and lacking nutrients and good fats.
Can the soul of a plant based burger be well?
Like animals from a CAFO, plants grown in degraded soil and sprayed with chemicals, reduced and extracted, chemically altered and reformed in the shape of something it’s not, plant based burgers and fake eggs can’t provide what we need as humans, a connection to nature and our planets soul.
Could livestock raised with an emphasis on the entire system hold the key to a troubled industry?
There are no vegan ecosystems, and eating should be a soulful act. The soul of agriculture is hurting. Farmers today have the highest rates of suicide of any occupational sector. Our universities, government, and business sector have driven a model of agriculture that has unprecedented efficiency. But the soul cares little of efficiency. Animals are vital to living systems. After thirty some years of study, I believe that only through the integration of properly managed livestock into our farming systems can we restore our soils and clean our water.
Is it a stretch to suggest that animals raised on healthy land, with access to fresh forage, clean air and sunshine, and the ability to express their inherent traits, have a healthier soul? Is it better for the soul of a person to work with the land and farm in concert with nature, or to work in a factory turning plants into a processed food that looks like meat? The soul and future of our planet likely rests on this question.