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Food system trend watch: The Year of Meat

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2014 is shaping up to be the Year of Meat. At TEDxManhattan 2014, this Examiner’s “weather report” for the year ahead in food, animal protein was the first theme to emerge. For the first Talk of the day, Peggy Neu unpacked her Meatless Monday campaign (now active in nearly 30 countries). Andrew Gunther addressed animal welfare, Lance Price freaked us out about antibiotic-resistant superbugs, and Megan Miller offered us cricket-flour cookies.

In mainstream media, Nicholas Kristof, best known for covering genocide and other human-on-human atrocity, is now covering meat. James McWilliams, who is in fact known for covering meat, recently penned “Meat Makes The Planet Thirsty“ in the New York Times which, in both tone and reception, was a far cry from his Atlantic food section days when he used to rack up more comments (mostly hostile) than any other contributor including Marion Nestle and Barry Estabrook.

When I first wrote about McWilliams in January 2011, meat was a “hot-button topic.” His Atlantic commenters were unrestrained with their exclamation points – early ones taking aim at McWilliams before the collective swiftly shifted to snapping at one another under the banners of either Meat is Evil or Meat is Mine.

But today, attacks on the meat system are quotidian and public vitriol notably slackened. This is true both on a policy front and in business.

In food entrepreneurship, Beyond Meat and Hampton Creek are attracting big-name dollars to develop and launch plant-protein technologies – designing the animal right out of the equation. You can find Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo (bird-free) in Whole Foods Market.

And, at the systems level, it seems the varied concerns hooked up to the meat system – e.g. soil, water and air destruction, climate impact, massive use of antibiotics, drug inefficacy, asthma, allergies, animal abuse, worker abuse, and anti-Darwin genetic roulette – are beginning to band together.

Indeed, human-rights watchers, conservationists, goat-huggers and insurance companies may be seeing each others' motivations for what they are: helpful. They are, after all, pointing to the same horizon. (Thankfully, this dynamic of identifying alignment and abundance over zero-sum is becoming more common in other food-system issues as well.)

You can learn more about meat-system dynamics here at home. On April 4, Harvard Food Law Society will host its “The Meat We Eat” forum. Boston local foodies, students, scholars, vegetarians and omnivores alike, take note.

Wanna talk about it? Tweet me at @businessforfood.

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