translated by: Mor Ilan
“The big challenge is making meat that looks, feels, and tastes like the real thing,” a news agency recently reported in an article about artificial meat (synthetic, cultured, lab-grown, in-vitro), meaning factory made tissue originated in living organisms. If this is the challenge ahead, it may have been resolved long ago and without any sophisticated biotechnology, at least if my own personal memory serve. As a young boy and new vegetarian, I visited my aunt. She served me sausages and explained they were not made of meat. I peered suspiciously at the product, seeing no difference between these and regular meat products. When I finally agreed to try them, I was startled. There was no way to distinguish between the sausages I was chewing on and actual meat, the taste I still remembered well. I suspected my aunt had made a mistake, or deliberately misled me, and began interrogating her about the source of these sausages. But she knew nothing about them apart from the fact they were not meat. The transparent plastic packaging in the freezer also offered no information. I eventually gave up and ate them. I trusted my aunt, and she trusted whatever the salesperson told her or whatever she had read in the store – information provided by another source. As a consumer deliberating between products that “look, feel, and taste like the real thing”, I was forced to choose between the testimony of my senses and things told to me. I was easily convinced that my senses are even more limited than my judgement in ascertaining the reliability of other speakers. Finally, it was the lack of convincing means that would validate or disprove product information that discouraged my initial interest in the product’s actual properties.
This event from the early 1980s demonstrates something Marx identified as early as the mid-19th century as a disassociation or alienation between the production and consumption of products. The division of labor during production and the thorough processing of products, including products consumed sensorially, such as foodstuffs, into mysterious items that progressively reveal less about themselves even throughout direct experience. Thus, understanding the nature of such products increasingly relies on dialogue, texts, and images stamped on the packaging that envelopes the product, the same packaging that prevents any tactile contact with it, and also advertisements that appear far from it. Such channels of information were expanded in the 19th century , although my case reveals how much they were further developed during recent decades. Unbranded products left bare of an array of words and images are rarer today than they were in my youth.
Meat substitutes, meaning non-meat products that simulate certain properties of meat, have existed for thousands of years (I use the word “substitute” as a general reference to alternative, replacement, replications, fake, imitation, reconstruction, and enhancements. Despite the variances between them, these terms may apply to the very same products due to local differences between manufacturer intent, consumer intent, social norms, and method of use). The modern development of such products began in the late 19th century in John Kellogg’s Michigan-based health sanitarium where meat substitutes were cooked according to Kellogg’s recipes, some of them purely plant-based. At the time, he claimed his dishes looked, tasted, and smelled like real meat. A patent he filed reveals his understanding of the sensory complexity of identifying meat, claiming that his product meets these criteria: “In color and appearance it resembles potted veal or chicken. It has a distinctly meaty odor and flavor. When a bit is torn off and chewed, it shows a distinct fiber. It is of such consistency that it may be masticated like tender meat and when cooked retains its form as does meat.” Over the years, and particularly during the 1950s onwards, various meat alternatives were added to the Kellog version – products made of soy beans or other legumes, cereals, mushrooms, and more. Artificial meat is simply another link in this chain.
How successful are these products in simulating the original? Occasionally one hears reports of such products fooling the taste buds, just as in the childhood story I recounted. But it’s unsurprising that allegations of success and expressions of wonder (“They fooled me!”) typical of personal stories have never been systematically researched. Actual food consumption is carried out in conditions far removed from controlled settings of deception. People buy, people cook, and people eat food products without closely distinguishing between the original and its substitutes, and they are usually exposed to reams of information through texts and images long before encountering the product itself. However, systematic taste tests are held by food and food flavor manufacturers, tests noted in patent profiles of industrial companies to demonstrate the simulative meat-like qualities of certain products. Patents certainly state the high success rates of various materials in imitating real meat flavor and other sensorial qualities. Another clue indicating one shouldn’t trust human senses in these matters is evident in the enormous efforts invested in developing technologies that identify plant components in meat products, although such methods were designed to locate plant fibers mixed into real meat products, and not necessarily expose pure imitations. Beyond this, another clue to the poor reliability of sensory experience of such products is evident in the legal efforts made by meat producers since the 1960s and till this day to deny meat substitute marketers the right to refer to their products as “meat” and to use other words that may imply that these products are derived from animals. Concurrently, vegan organizations have been labeling vegan products and they attempt to ensure a mandatory labeling of such products.
The sensory experience of meat is thus less unique than often presented, and the sensory sensitivity of food consumers is already reliant on other dominant factors of learning, emotions, and cognitive content. However, I do not claim the sensory experience is unimportant. Even a minute variation between products is enough to enable consumers to differentiate between products and instill them with very different properties, as clear in the efforts exerted to clearly mark originals against copies, imitations and fakes in other fields: money, art, archeology, brands, and so forth. The philosopher Nelson Goodman noted that even if we cannot currently identify each difference between an original and a fake painting, we may nevertheless be able to do so in the future. And such differences, however tiny, may have critical aesthetic significance – to the point they may enable us to tell a superb artwork from a mediocre one. Moreover, understanding these distinctions in their historical context may provide an aesthetic astuteness we currently lack. Similarly, it may be that we cannot now distinguish between real meat and certain substitutes but could be taught the difference and so fill in crucial significance of differences later on.
This claim holds not only for plant-based meat substitutes, but also for artificial meat as a product intended to simulate real meat’s sensorial qualities. The Modern Agriculture Foundation, which promotes the development of artificial meat, maintains that “Clean [artificial] meat is the exact same tissue as the meat tissue we know, therefore it will basically taste the same. With that being said, at the experimental stage that clean meat is at, there are a few obstacles on the way to making clean meat tasting exactly like the meat that is known to the world.” The Foundation presents this as a technical difficulty that can be overcome, but there is no reason to believe that artificial meat created in some factory will not be dissimilar from other products, at least in some minute detail. As Goodman explains, someone may discriminate and hence find justification for huge product value differences – either in the flavor (or aesthetic) experience they provide or in other parameters. It goes without saying that efforts at replication, imitation or copying, as well as attempts to expose such efforts, are generally geared towards validating the superiority of the original. If the tiniest difference between two objects suffices for someone to make sweeping generalizations of merit regarding each, there will always be someone willing to raise that point. No physical resemblance or even absolute likeness in most physical components will stop such value determinations being made. Meaning, the primary factor establishing the status of meat alternatives is not the measure of similarity to true meat, as claimed by the artificial meat promotors. Far more important is the motivation of consumers to make the distinction. This motivation is neither instigated nor refuted by food engineers and biotechnologists.
And so, why do people even bother exposing differences between very similar objects? Even if Goodman is right, even if you may find some profound aesthetic meaning in discovering that a painting originally ascribed to Vermeer is actually an imitation or a forgery, this realization cannot prove to be particularly pleasurable. On the contrary – seeing the differences may detract from viewers’ artistic experience on seeing a fake rather than enhance the experience of those facing an original Vermeer. The motivation for identifying counterfeits is the endorsement of the artistic and economic value attributed in the first place to a real Vermeer – and not a search for new and positive experiences. Correspondingly, the efforts of meat enthusiasts to reveal differences between real meat and its substitutes are not aimed at enriching the authentic meat experience, and ultimately only diminish the substitute experience, as if “something is missing” in it. Such efforts are justified only by sanctioning the other values tied to eating meat, meaning those not subject to the sensory experience of dining.
What values are automatically associated with meat? Or, more precisely, what values justify consumer efforts to detract from the eating experience of meat substitutes? Proponents and detractors of meat in various places and throughout various periods may agree on certain facts: meat entails killing animals, it is hard to obtain when compared to other food sources (animal husbandry is expensive, and wild game is both elusive and dangerous), and meat is both nutritious and delicious. Data from industrialized countries in recent decades can add a few facts to that list. Eaten animals suffer severe abuse long before they are killed, meat is no longer difficult to obtain (chicken meat has even become cheap) yet there is a growing emphasis on the environmental price for its production, and finally there are more and more health risks associated with meat production and consumption. Concurrently, meat is still generally considered nutritious and delicious. Thus, the focus on facts has shifted slightly. Nevertheless, the question is not factual, but rather a question of appraisal: what do these traits signify for consumers? High nutritional value and a good sensory experience maintain a stable level of positive significance. All the efforts of meat substitute manufacturers are oriented to imitating these qualities, although even if they attain success or near success the motivation for differentiating between the original and the imitation still does not rest on nutritional value or sensory pleasure. In contrast, the meaning of harm, waste, and danger is not stable and therefore it is the key to people’s interest in distinguishing between real and substitute meat and to their attitude towards meat substitutes. This issue may be examined through three primary viewpoints: A) people shy away from harming others, paying a high personal or social price, or endangering themselves; B) people are drawn to all these possibilities; C) people reflect their unique life circumstances and so their attitude towards harm, waste, and danger vary greatly.
The first approach focuses on the expected results of knowing that one product may be replaced by a similar product that is not harmful to animals, less costly and environmentally harmful, and even safe for us and more beneficial. This fact should lead us to replacing meat with its substitutes, as it touches on the natural human sensitivities and universal morals. Furthermore, every attempt to consider this rationally through the construct of accepted values in a civilized society should lead you to believe that replacing meat with its substitutes is a worthy goal. This view is typical of meat substitute marketers and other advocates of avoiding meat, one clearly expressed by psychologist Melanie Joy. In her work, Joy presents common rationalizations for meat consumption as the factor inhibiting the natural goodwill of people, enabling them to eat meat despite their inclination. She exposes such thinking along with facts about the meat industry, assuming that recognition of this background will recall her readers to their natural path. And yet, Joy’s claims are presented with almost no reference to rival theories, she rarely compares various attitudes to meat in other cultures, and the empirical data supporting her claim that humans naturally retreat from violence is scant and flimsy (her main argument is the claim that soldiers in some wars did not shoot and did not hit the enemy as much as expected). If rationalizations alone suffice to depress our natural tendency to act reasonably and avoid violence, some explanation must be found for their remarkable success in this case – an explanation that Joy’s theory fails to provide. One could counter her claim by noting that in most agricultural societies in the past and currently the majority of people have lived in close proximity to the entire agricultural process and all its phases, well aware of facts regarding meat production. Yet it seems that they generally exhibited none of the dramatic conflict described, nor developed intense coping mechanisms against it. Had Joy’s theory been true, we would certainly have encountered another approach to meat – misgivings, regrets, abstinence, and subversive activities – in every sociohistorical group whose meat consumption exceeded survival needs. Meaning, such reactions would manifest in many and diverse groups. If Joy is correct is her depiction of any social group, then historically this would be a small group – primarily those born in the last two or three generations, well-educated, secular, and urban. This group does exhibit a fairly explicit conflict on the status of meat, but it constitutes an anomaly when compared cross-culturally and is thus unlikely to substantiate how this group could represent universal human traits. In any case, even this group generally avoids meat substitutes. Clearly, this group is reacting irrationally, and quite puzzlingly in view of Joy’s hypothesis, when learning that animal meat can be replaced by an equivalent or even improved alternative.
The anthropologist Nick Fiddes provides an excellently articulated viewpoint that opposes Joy’s on several fronts. Fiddes agrees with the established fact that meat consumption unavoidably entails harm to animals and a waste of resources (he provides little address of potential harm to consumers, perhaps as this issue tends to be influenced more deeply by historical changes). However, he claims that the conventional attitude to inflicting harm and to high price is not necessarily negative. The symbolic significance of harmful and wasteful consumption is, first and foremost, a demonstration of power over nature or power in general – the economic, social, political, technological, or physical power to harm and waste. Fiddes explains that in most agricultural societies, and perhaps even pre-agricultural societies, such power displays had positive value. This claim is supported with data from a wide range of cultures. For example, Fiddes cites the deliberate and public torture of animals prior to eating them, especially when the meat has been considered a delicacy; the symbolic and ritualistic links between meat consumption and power in contrast to plant eating and weakness; the correlation between the value attributed to meat and the size and strength of the animal eaten; and the aversion to eating animals not killed by humans. To these common phenomena noted by Fiddes, one could add new ones linked to meat substitutes, such as the addition of plant-based and synthetic blood imitative components to two new and popular meat substitute brands. It is hard to explain the desire for bloody effects as an expression of a pure sensory experience, a yearning somehow unrelated to the blood as an indication of the violent overpowering of the victim.
The great theoretical challenge facing Fiddes lies in explaining the attitude to meat of people openly averse to harming animals, to wasting resources, and to endangering themselves. The vast majority of well-educated, secular, and urban people born in the last two-three generations would immediately deny any allegation their meat consumption was some kind of ritual of power. They would prefer an explanation focusing on utility. Fiddes replies that in this specific sociohistorical group, an exceptional dual morality evolved regarding overt displays of domination. The resolution to the contradicting positive and negative values of meat is founded on evading recognition of that very contradiction. Underneath a façade of firm declaration against violence and waste, coercive values and rituals of power continue to flourish. The clash between these conflicting approaches is avoided thanks to public and private mechanisms set up to hide the violence against animals, the economic and environmental waste and other perils, mechanisms that mask coercive values with other, seemingly neutral values. For example, this particular public often discusses the issue of meat and meat substitute flavors since focusing on such a non-controversial topic distracts from problematic moral questions. To the best of my understanding, if this theory holds, meat alternatives should be summarily rejected as they do not fulfill meat’s most basic function – a display of power. The moral stance towards aggression and wastefulness must change in every dimension of the individual’s life and culture for consumers to lose their deepest craving for real meat.
Fiddes’ theory is better reasoned than that presented by Joy and marketers of meat substitutes. However, both attitudes rely on outdated assumptions, whereby human feelings and values reflect a unified human nature, or that certain matters carry universal symbolism. These last five decades or so, it has become the norm to assume that emotional, moral, and symbolic meanings emerge under local sociohistorical conditions. This leads to the conclusion that any prevailing meaning of meat substitutes, including artificial meat, is not limited to one fixed sequence that extends between attraction and aversion to the essential elements of the product. Meat and its substitutes may be imbued with meaning far removed from facts about their physical properties and methods of production. For example, a marketing campaign can tie any product to some personal story of real or imaginary culture hero that has nothing to do with the product itself. When Tnuva hired the actor Shaike Levi as its presenter promoting veal (2009), the company ensured its customers would associate the product with the range of content related to the public image of this Israeli entertainer, as a member of the HaGashash HaHiver trio since its founding in 1963. Likewise, from that same year the fictional character of Ronald McDonald has linked between meat with clowns and toys among McDonald customers in the US and around the world. Obviously, neither the performer nor the clown have enriched consumers with any content regarding the real properties of these meat products.
Consumer repugnance from the production process, the alienation of products from the sensory experience of their consumption, and the increasing reliance on words and images as primary sources of information about the product – all these undermine the power of essentialist descriptions of meat and its substitutes. When all the sources of information about a product cannot be confirmed or disproved through personal experience, then a description of meat production methods is likely to be perceived as one story amongst a long list of other stories. The market today includes meat, plant-based meat substitutes, artificial meat (which does not yet exist, apart from as an esoteric experiment, a far-flung vision, and a marketing tale), and foods that could include a combination of these in various ratios. The market is also rife with possible misinformation, and an endless stream of advertising completely unrelated to the actual product. In a market such as this, all products labelled as meat exist in a “hyper-reality”, meaning descriptions of them are no longer considered true or false, as truth and falseness no longer apply to a system comprised entirely of tales or representations. Moreover, when the distinction between meat to plant-based and artificial meat substitutes is blurred, when the distinction between truth and falsehood fails, then consumers lose their ability to influence the world as they see fit and have no incentive to specifically explore stories regarding meat production.
That being the case, and considering this latest approach – what are the ramifications of selling meat substitutes convincing enough to appear authentic? One possible scenario is the breakdown of meat’s symbolic meaning as the embodiment of harm, waste and danger, the gradual dissipation of meat easting rituals as displays of power, and thus also the reduction in consumption of meat and its substitutes. But another scenario is just as likely to unfold, whereby the public becomes even more apathetic to the reality of meat and meat substitute production processes. The consumer boycott on meat, based on clearing the obscurity of products’ origin and exposing the sole truth about it, will soon collapse as the protest against meat, led by moral, environmental, and health-related vegan movements, has lost its ground. This second scenario has already materialized in the fur industry. With reciprocal imitations now making real and faux fur indistinguishable, consumers are no longer capable of identifying the nature of products seen worn or even examined in a store. Over a decade ago, after a period of dramatic recession of real fur, the protest and the consumer boycott lost their strength, and real fur slipped back unopposed into mainstream fashion.
Two views of reality compete over the future of the meat industry. On the one hand, an unmediated perspective on products that takes an interest (sympathetic or condemnatory) in facts. On the other – an attitude to products reliant solely on words and images, utterly uninterested in the product’s actual properties. The commercial production of artificial meat will accelerate the development of the latter view, but the full repercussions are difficult to foresee. Perhaps artificial meat will succeed in chomping off a large chunk of the real meat industry, or maybe it will rebound to the detriment of its original purpose. Imitations are a fickle business.
 Ariel Tsovel, “Alienated Contact: Changes in the Relation to Animals in the UK and the USA from the Eighteenth to the Early Twentieth Centuries,” in Humans and other Animals in Historical Perspective, edited by Benjamin Arbel, Joseph Terkel, and Sophia Menache (Jerusalem: Carmel, 2007), 333-387.
 Adam D. Shprintzen, “Looks Like Meat, Smells Like Meat, Tastes Like Meat,” Food, Culture and Society 15, no. 1 (March 2012): 117-118.
 Florian Wild, Michael Czerny, Anke M. Janssen, Adriaan P. W. Kole, Marija Zunabovic, and Konrad J. Doming, “The Evolution of a Plant-Based Alternative to Meat: From Niche Markets to Widely Accepted Meat Alternatives,” Agro FOOD Industry Hi Tech 25, no. 1 (January-February 2014): 45; F. E. Horan, “Meat Analogs,” in New Protein Foods vol. 1: Technology, part A., edited by Aaron M. Altschul, chap. 8 (New York: Academic Press, 1974), 370.
 “Vegan Food Taste Test,” Good Mythical Morning, July 10, 2015, video, 15:00 minutes; Christina Chaey, “The Fake-Meat Burger So Realistic It Fooled My Entire Family,” Bon Appétit (April 27, 2016); Paul Solman, “Can These Mock Meat Entrepreneurs Fool You with a Plant-Based Burger?” PBS NewsHour, November 9, 2017, video, 08:35 minutes.
 Hugh Hose, Robert Dustan Wood, and Beat Dennis Zurbriggen, Production d’un Arôme de Viande, EP0818153B1, applied January 14, 1998, granted November 13, 2002; Sachi Hirai and Hideyo Yoshida, Flavoring Composition, Food or Beverage Product Having Stew-Like Flavoring, and Production Method Therefor, WO2014142267A1, applied September 18, 2014; Mirjam Tabitha Groenewold, Compositions with a Beef Flavour and Production Thereof, US20160242446A1, applied August 25, 2016.
 Brigid Prayson, James T. McMahon, and Richard A. Prayson, “Fast Food Hamburgers: What are We Really Eating?” Annals of Diagnostic Pathology 12, no. 6 (December 2008): 406-409; Farzaneh Tafvizi and Masumeh Hashemzadegan, “Specific Identification of Chicken and Soybean Fraud in Premium Burgers Using Multiplex-PCR Method,” Journal of Food Science and Technology 53, no. 1 (January 2016): 816-823; Rhani Ducatti, José Paes de Almeida Nogueira Pinto, Maria Márcia Pereira Sartori, and Carlos Ducatti, “Quantification of Soy Protein Using the Isotope Method (δ13C and δ15N) for Commercial Brands of Beef Hamburger,” Meat Science 122 (December 2016): 97-100.
 Richard A. Meyers, “The Versatile Soybean: A Marketing Dilemma,” Business and Society 9, no. 2 (March 1969): 13; Jaden Urbi, “The Fight against ‘Fake Meat’ has Officially Begun,” CNBC, February 23, 2018; “France to Ban Use of Meat Terms to Describe Vegetable-Based Products,” BBC News, April 20, 2018.
 “Criteria for Granting a “Vegan Friendly” Certificate for Businesses,” The Vegan Future Organization, accessed July 31, 2018; Niamh Michail, “EU to Set Legal Definition of Vegetarian and Vegan Food,” FoodNavigator, November 3, 2017.
 H. Tuorila, H. L. Meiselman, R. Bell, A. V. Cardello, and W. Johnson, “Role of Sensory and Cognitive Information in the Enhancement of Certainty and Linking for Novel and Familiar Foods,” Appetite
23, no. 3 (December 1994): 231-246; Klaus G. Grunert and Carlotta Valli, “Designer-Made Meat and Dairy Products: Consumer-Led Product Development,” Livestock Production Science 72, no. 1-2 (November 2001): 83-98; A. I. A. Costa, M. Dekker, W. M. F. Jongen, “An Overview of Means-End Theory: Potential Application in Consumer-Oriented Food Product Design,” Trends in Food Science and Technology 15, no. 7-8 (July-August 2004): 403-415; R. Barrena, T. García, and M. Sánchez “Analysis of Personal and Cultural Values as Key Determinants of Novel Food Acceptance: Application to an Ethnic Product,” Appetite 87 (April 01, 2015): 205-214. The secondary importance of flavor is also well-known in attempts to predict market reaction to artificial meat: Christopher Bryant and Julie Barnett, “Consumer Acceptance of Cultured Meat: A Systematic Review,” Meat Science 143 (September 2018): 8-17.
 Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1968), 99-112.
 This refers to preventing the harm inflicted in the course of agricultural exploitation, and not to avoiding any harm to animals. In the moral debate on artificial meat, some oppose its production as it is based on animal cells and animal-based serum for cultivation (although alternatives may be found), but that is excessively strict. The severity of harm to animals in the artificial meat industry will not necessarily exceed that of growing plant-based foods on a commercial scale. Pesticides torture and exterminate rodents and other animals, and plant products are often sold along with animal products as the shared revenues support the animal industries. Replacing meat with substitutes thus dramatically reduces harm to animals but does not abolish it completely – an almost unattainable goal in large commercial systems.
 Melanie Joy, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism (San Francisco: Conari Press, 2010), 34-35.
 Nick Fiddes, Meat: A Natural Symbol (London: Routledge, 1991).
 Shiri Katz, “Good News for Vegans: Beyond Meat Products are Coming to Israel“, TimeOut Tel-Aviv, May 17, 2018; Mahita Gajanan, “The Meat Industry Has Some Serious Beef With Those ‘Bleeding’ Plant-Based Burgers,” Time, March 21, 2018.
 Jared Piazza, Matthew B. Ruby, Steve Loughnan, Mischel Luong, Juliana Kulik, Hanne M. Watkins, and Mirra Seigerman, “Rationalizing Meat Consumption. The 4Ns,” Appetite 91 (August 1, 2015): 114-128.
 Jennifer E. Lerner and Linda Kalof, “The Animal Text: Message and Meaning in Television Advertisements,” The Sociological Quarterly 40, no. 4 (1999): 575, 577. For examples of imaginary representations of meat and animals exploited for their meat in other areas of popular culture, see: Elizabeth S. Paul, “The Representation of Animals on Children’s Television,” Anthrozoös 9, no. 4 (January 1996): 169, 179; Kate Stewart and Matthew Cole, “The Conceptual Separation of Food and Animals in Childhood,” Food, Culture and Society 12, no. 4 (2009): 473-474.
 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, translated by Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1994, originally published 1981), 1-3.
 Ariel Tsovel, “Fur: Violence, Symbols, and Fakes: Comments on the Meaning of Real Fur and Faux Fur,” Animal Rights This Week 539 (October 31, 2011), republished in Anonymous for Animal Rights website, accessed August 2, 2018. In the interests of brevity, I cannot present a detailed comparison between various animal industries, and between consumer reactions to corresponding animal products. However, differences between meat and fur may elicit different reactions to their imitations, and the leather market has already come forth with a different response to compelling substitutes, compared to the response of the fur market.