The insanity of Woolly Meatballs

31 Mar 2023

Just when you start feeling optimistic about the regenerative work being done by food and fibre farmers all over the world to repair soil, build diversity and health and mitigate against climate change, there's news that an Australian company has spent a toenail-curling amount of money making a meatball in a laboratory out of extinct Woolly Mammoth cells.

Because that's definitely going to fix the problem...

In evidence that our hubris has no bounds and we've learned nothing from the punishing lessons nature's been giving us over the last five years, swathes of investors, including the previous NSW Government, have given this company $56 million to build the technology to create laboratory meat from extinct animals. (The Woolly Mammoth meatball idea, by the way, was a stroke of genius from the deep thinkers at the ad agency. So we can all relax because the future of food is in good hands.)

These investors are banking on speculative biotech as a key part of the solution to climate change, rather than putting their money into transforming the broken, existing agricultural model into a regenerative, non-interventionist system that works with nature and ancient wisdom with proven results. Read and weep.

The idea that growing food in laboratories in order to save the planet by reducing emissions from conventional agriculture is confounding. Don't address the problem - an agricultural system that destroys natural assets and a global economic model dedicated to growth at all costs. Instead, create a whole new industry, situated outside nature, predicated on the same attitude that got us into this climate change pickle in the first place.

Given how little we understand of the complexity and workings of the natural world, it's astonishing to hear the claims of the companies involved in producing artificial food that their products are as nutritious as food grown in healthy soil. Every day, it seems, there's another extraordinary discovery about the relationships between plant, soil and fungi and how human health is fundamentally connected to the chemical construction of the food we eat.

If we don't fully understand how the natural system works, the system within which our species evolved and depends upon, how can we possibly claim to be able to artificially replicate the full suite of nutritional elements that we require in our food?  

Don't get me wrong, I'm no technophobe and the work in this field is remarkable. I just think it's misdirected.    

Fortunately, we don't have to eat woolly meatballs, even if we could afford them and even if they didn't make us sick because we haven't eaten Woolly Mammoth for thousands of years so who knows what it would do to our immune systems?

There are wonderful, healthy, natural alternatives - plant and animal - grown by devoted, regenerative farmers who are quietly getting on with the job of fixing our soil. They're the people we support and represent.

If only the market spent $56 million on them.

Photograph: Wunderman Thompson from The Guardian article, 'Meatball from long-extinct mammoth created by food firm'. See link above.

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