Animals are friends, not food

Visitors to the NEMO Science Museum’s ‘Energy Junkies’ exhibit, which can be visited until June 2023, paint how they see the future in light of climate change. NEMO Kennislink makes a selection of graphics and explores artwork with an expert. In this episode: Animals are our friends, not food.

In a meadow, a smiling cow is standing next to a person holding a veggie burger. In the second drawing, the cleaver over the cow, position as it is now, has been replaced by a heart. There will be no blood slide on a plate in the year 2050. By then, animals can count on love and respect, if it were up to their cartoonists.

Can eating animals really become a thing of the past? Almost all Dutch people consider animal welfare to be paramount. We see animal abuse as bad, and huge stables are unpopular with six out of ten Dutch people, because there can never be enough concern for the health and welfare of the livestock. This was shown by research by the Animal Affairs Council, which includes animal ethicist Bernice Bovenkerk of Wageningen University. Despite these numbers, only seven percent of Dutch people are vegetarians and at least 1 percent are vegetarians. “Nowadays many people call themselves Latinos, but the total amount of meat eaten has increased slightly,” Bovenkirk says.

View a small selection of future graphics via the slideshow below:

The cleaver gives way to the heart. Steak on the plate is a thing of the past.

Nemo studio

A person standing with a veggie burger next to a smiling cow.

Nemo studio

No more factory farming in 2050.

Nemo studio

Elimination of Forests

What Bovenkirk finds interesting is that the artists think from the animal’s point of view. Their rights and well-being are reasons for switching to a vegan diet, and not so much sustainability. Although it is quite clear that stopping meat and dairy production helps reduce carbon dioxide2emissions and forest conservation. “We have a system where we keep too many pets and deplete the land. Those are extreme numbers. All those animals need to eat. In various parts of the world, including the Amazon, forests are being cleared to grow soybeans, which are shipped here to feed the livestock.” Then we eat the animals. That’s inefficient and bad for the environment. And then there’s also the risk of zoonotic diseases, infectious diseases that can pass from animals to humans. Many animals on top of each other form a reservoir of viruses.”

According to her colleagues at Wageningen University, the most sustainable way to use the land is to keep some of the animals. The Earth contains pieces of land that cannot be cultivated as food for humans. Cattle can be grazed in those areas to convert grass into protein, i.e. meat and dairy products, for human consumption. My colleagues have calculated that people can eat between 9 and 23 grams of meat per day (the equivalent of one or two slices of ham). That would be more sustainable than an all-vegetarian diet. At least, looking at land uses.” In terms of methane emissions, from manure, and animal welfare, animal keeping is the most sustainable. This last aspect is exactly what is close to the heart of painters. “By the way, there are startups looking at whether they can Making grass suitable as a source of protein for people, so that we can also get food from uninhabitable plots of land.”

meat and milk

Let’s go back to the question of whether eating animals can become a thing of the past. Because despite their aversion to animal suffering, many people are not willing to give up animal products. The resilient person wants to decrease, but finds it difficult. How about warm summer barbecues? “People are used to the taste and the culture around it. You can’t win that group with legumes. You have to come up with something that tastes like meat and doesn’t require people to change their habits.”

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Bovenkirk believes cultured meat and cultured milk have potential. In Singapore, farmed chicken nuggets are already available at McDonald’s. Growing meat without using an animal is not yet possible. Blood serum from killed calves is needed to grow hamburger cells. But companies like Mosa Meat, which was founded by a professor of physiology at Maastricht University, are working hard to change that.

Once there is a well-marketed alternative, there will be movement, Bovenkirk predicts. “The vegan butcher, for example, is working on animal-free cheese that has to taste like cheese. You can’t make good cheese from oat milk, but you can make it from cultured milk. We know from research that a large group of vegans don’t take the step toward following A vegetarian diet because of cheese.”

A world without a bioindustry still seems a long way off. I’m optimistic he’ll get that far. Eighty percent of the population believes that animals have rights and a moral standing. However, this view is not yet directly related to eating meat. Consciousness processes take a long time.” But as soon as the distance becomes too far? “When we stop using animals as objects, we will have a completely different society, where people and animals live together on equal terms.”

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