The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

It’s Tuesday, October 26, 2021.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Fake Meat and Real Questions: The Fake Meat Industry Claims Moral Innocence — But In A Fallen World, Innocence Is An Impossibility

Today, we’re going to talk about a range of issues. The common theme is going to be the distinctions between plants and animals and human beings, and we’re going to start in the State of California, and why not? Recent article appeared in the Los Angeles Times with the fascinating headline, “Why California is the Capital of Fake Meat.”

Now, if you were to go back in human history and try to use that expression, fake meat with people, they probably wouldn’t know what you’re talking about, or they would assume it is something like the tofu-based meat substitutes that emerged about a generation ago. Tofurky was the most famous of these, the Thanksgiving turkey made out of tofu, and of course, you also had fake pork, but it basically still wasn’t fake meat because it was made out of turkey or chicken, made out of poultry, but disguised to taste suspiciously like bacon, but the article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times is about genuine fake meat. Enjoy that combination for a moment. What would genuine fake meat be? It would be meat made out of plant products, and California would be the capital of fake meat.

The article by Corie Brown begins, “Two generations ago, California gave birth to a consumer-led food movement with a big promise, eating organic fruits and vegetables and pasture-raised meat would save us and our planet.” The article continues, “But that bounty proved limited was unaffordable to many and didn’t pencil out for small farmers. As for the planet, it doesn’t appear to be healing itself,” but the article continues. There’s still hope. “Today, another generation of Californians is calling for a consumer-led food system change, saving the planet by dismantling industrial animal agriculture and choosing alternative proteins over conventional meat.” Now, the article concludes that this is still a hard pivot.

It’s hard for many people to imagine eating fake meat. It is also debatable about just how meaty fake meat is, but it has become a commercial success. We’re talking about at least one company with a multi-billion-dollar valuation. Others are trying to get on the fake meat bandwagon. As the L.A. Times article tells us, two companies have dominated the headlines about alternative proteins, “Because they figured out how to improve the rightly maligned veggie burger.”

“Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat launched its plant-based meats in 2012, San Francisco’s Impossible Foods burger followed in 2016,” and we’re told that, “When publicly traded Beyond had a market valuation of $8 billion this summer, rumors swirled that Impossible was considering a $10 billion public offering.” We’re also told that both companies have since moved manufacturing to less expensive Midwestern and international locations. That means less expensive than California, but California is still where the research and development and offices are found. They’re less able to say they are California corporations, “Helping make the state a magnet for alt-protein innovators and scientists.” The article tells us about Ross Mackay, a 30-year-old, who is an entrepreneur of the Alternative Proteins, we’re told that he moved from Scotland to Los Angeles in 2019 to launch a company known as Daring Foods.

“He came here to tap into California’s concentration of food tech talent.” He says, “There’s also an engaged audience here for healthier food products.” We’re told that within the year, Daring’s non-GMO, soy-based chicken was in a few stores, but by the end of 2021, he expects it will be in 6,000 stores, but we’re told there is nonetheless an engaged audience in California for healthier food products. That tells you that California’s audience engaged with these kinds of food products might be larger than the audience in other states. That’s probably an understatement.

Impossible Meats has a Vice President of Product Innovation named Celeste Holz-Schietinger. She said, “Meat is man’s most environmentally destructive food.” She goes on to say, “A giant industry needs to be taken down. To do that, we all need to succeed,” so there it is, take down the meat industry. In order to save the earth, a giant industry needs to be taken down, but just three days before that article ran in the Los Angeles Times across the continent in The New York Times, another front-page story in the business section, this one advertises, “A Hard Look at Plant-Based Foods,” is by Julie Creswell.

What kind of hard look does this article represent? Well, it’s a hard look at whether or not. Now, buckle your seat belts for this, whether or not fake meat is truly more environmentally-friendly than real meat. The article here starts out by saying, “We really don’t know, because there is no way right now to track the environmental footprint of the fake meat industry,” but there’s good reason to believe it is not an innocent industry. Indeed, it could well be that the cost environmentally of fake meat, at this point, actually exceeds that of real meat.

Creswell begins, “Consumers and investors alike have gobbled up Beyond Meat’s burgers, sausage and chicken in recent years, thanks at least in part to the company’s message, that its plant-based products are good for the environment.” The article continues, “But some aren’t so sure. One investor tracking firm gives Beyond Meat a zero when it comes to sustainability measures. Another rates it a severe risk, putting it on par with the beef and chicken processing giants, JBS and Tyson,” so here’s a huge question, “What’s the point of fake meat if the fake meat is as environmentally dangerous, we are told, than real meat?” And by real meat, we mean meat that comes from animals. Now, there’s been a lot of attention recently to cattle ranching and pig farming and chicken production about the environmental costs, but of course, that has to be measured against, as Christians would understand, what it will take to feed billions of human beings, but let’s hold onto that for just a moment.

Let’s go back to this New York Times article. Let’s just assume that we are sold out to the idea that we need to find a way to be more environmentally friendly when it comes to our food. Well, the big sell was that fake meat is environmentally superior to real meat, but what if it’s not so? The same issue has to be raised when it comes to electric vehicles, because they are not environmentally pure, and at least at this point and at least in some places, what it takes in terms of mining precious metals, heavy metals, particular kinds of elements needed to create those giant batteries, it turns out…. By the way, the electricity doesn’t just come out of thin air either.

It turns out that at least in the short run, many of these supposedly sustainable technologies turn out to be sustainable only in theory, not in practice. It turns out that fake meat might be another one of these issues. Now, let’s consider the fact that when you are looking at a new technology, it takes some time to have a full measure of it, but the point is, it does take some time, and the truth is every decision like this is a matter of weighing costs and benefits. There’s no way around it, and this is where Christians understand there is no position of environmental innocence. There is no reality, in which it will not take energy to produce food in order to feed me, you, our loved ones, our community, not to mention, the billions and billions of people around the world, but it takes not only biomass and energy, it also takes farmers, ranchers people absolutely committed to the production of the food that we will eat.

Again, when you’re talking about, say food-based protein, fake meat, the food, which is the plants has to come from somewhere, and that is not a position without its environmental effects, but of course, absent those farms, that farming, those plants and the entire farming system, we are on a severe diet to the point of death. The New York Times cites an authority from the firm, Sustainalytics, who says, “The problem with plant-based products, generally speaking, is that while they may be fixing one problem, combating the fact that growing meat is very carbon intensive and emits a lot of carbon dioxide, depending on the ingredients, and where they are sourced from, you could still be involved in deforestation issues. You still need the space to grow the soy that is in many of these products.” Again, a profound issue from the biblical worldview. It’s implicit in our understanding of creation.

It’s implied in the mandate that God gave us to exercise dominion. It is implied in the Christian doctrine of sin that makes very clear that there is nothing human beings touch and there is nothing in a fallen world that does not show some effect of sin. One of the things we note is that in the new environmental religion…. Again, Christians understand our responsibility to care for the created order. That’s a part of our Christian responsibility. The theme is stewardship, but still, we understand that in this new religion of hyper-environmentalism, there is a search for the recovery of some kind of innocence, some kind of innocence by what you wear, where you live, whether or not you walk or ride or drive.

If your car is a hybrid or electric, or the old internal combustion engine, you’re looking for something, including your diet, that gives you the assurance that in a very, very dangerous and evil world, you are innocent, and so is your Impossible burger, but it’s actually the innocence that is the impossibility, and when you’re looking at these issues, we recognize that you are faced with endless trade-offs, but for one thing, you’re also looking at the major ethical imperative to feed people. My favorite line from The New York Times article, by the way, comes in the response from an Impossible Foods spokesperson to the claim that they’re not counting enough in terms of the measure of sustainability. We are told that this official “said it would be ridiculous for the company, which uses coconut oil in its products to try to ascertain how many of the coconut shells it used were recycled versus thrown away.” Well, that’s an important question and I demand an answer. How can we know how environmentally sustainable fake meat is if we don’t know the percentage of coconut shells that are recycled?

That’s a huge question. As we often discuss on The Briefing, one of the most important issues in terms of Christian worldview responsibility is to maintain the distinctions that are revealed in scripture and are so important to our understanding of the world and our place in it. The first distinction, and we often come back to this, the first most important distinction is the distinction between the Creator and creation. Confusing that is a fatal theological error. The next distinction is the distinction between human beings and other creatures.

That’s extremely important, because human beings alone are made in God’s image, and it is to human beings that God speaks. Human beings, of course, are also the focus of God’s redemptive purpose, which explains the entire existence of the universe, but here’s what we need to keep in mind, the distinction between the Creator and the creation, number one, the distinction between human beings and other creatures, number two.

Confusing that is absolutely fatal.

Part II

Kidney Transplants to Humans from Pigs? Thinking About Distinctions Within Creation, and The Value Of Humans As Image Bearers

But there is an endless confusion over these issues, and that raises another very important headline news story. It was on the front page of both USA TODAY and The New York Times last week. The headline in The Times, “Breakthrough on Pig Organs in Transplant.” The headline on the front page of USA TODAY, “Animal Organs Show Promise for Humans.”

Karen Weintraub, reporting for USA TODAY offers the subhead in the article, “Groundbreaking Operation Using a Pig’s Kidney May Be a Key to Solve Organ Shortage.” There is a huge organ shortage in the United States. We are told that 12,000 people die every day who are in need of a transplanted kidney, but it’s not just kidneys, it’s kidneys and livers, it’s lungs, it’s hearts. It’s an abundance of organ need and a deficit of organ supply. Now, there may be all kinds of reasons for that, but the point is that for decades now, doctors have been seeking some alternative to donated human organs, and there is a demonstrated need for it, and when it comes to the organ that is most in demand, it is the kidney.

The hope has been for some time that hearts and kidneys, and other tissues might be grown in pigs that will be compatible in human beings. Now, there are many human beings right now who have pig vowels as a result of heart procedures, and we’re looking at the fact that the use of pigs in this way has benefits, which has to do with the relative organ size. Pigs’ organs are relatively close to ours. I don’t know what you do with that, but nonetheless, pigs are also, in terms of tissues, less likely to have tissues and organs that are rejected by humans than others, so the hope has been that there might be some way to source organs from pigs. There might be human organs or organs for humans grown in pigs that are then taken from the pigs, transplanted into human beings.

The headline news has to do with the fact that that has happened in one sense. Not a transplantation, but a brain-dead human patient with the permission of the family was attached to a kidney that had been grown in a pig, and the kidney almost immediately began to function. That’s what has catapulted the story on the front page news. It is big news. Now, let’s just pause for a moment.

What would be the Christian worldview thought about this? Well, for one thing, this would appear to be an exercise of dominion. This is not something that pigs are considering when it comes to humans, this is what humans are considering when it comes to pigs, but you’ll simply note that there are long-term issues here that had to be considered ethically and morally. For one thing, when you are in grafting, this kind of organ there could well be a genetic inheritance for future generations. This is in the process known officially as xenotransplantation, the transplantation from one species to another.

There are ethical complications, but Christians understand this is a lot less complicated, ethically speaking than many other proposed options for sourcing these organs and meeting the need, but you’re probably not surprised that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA as it is known, the animal rights group is not pleased with this idea. A statement from PETA said, “Pigs aren’t spare parts and should never be used as such just because humans are too self-centered to donate their bodies to patients desperate for organ transplants.” USA TODAY’s report puts it this way, “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights group, says the organ shortage could be solved without killing animals if the U.S. switched from its opt in donor program to one that was opt out, requiring people to say they didn’t want to donate. There’ll be plenty of organs,” the group says, and, “From an ethical perspective, PETA has always been opposed to the use of sentient animals as warehouses for human spare parts. Animals are not spare parts, that according to Alka Chandna, identified as PETA’s Vice President of Laboratory Investigations Cases.”

Now, one immediate response to PETA is that the entire idea of the animal rights movement in this sense is a denial of that second most of all important distinctions, the distinction between the human beings and other creatures. By the way, PETA is a decided minority, but an extremely influential minority in the animal rights movement, when it comes to, say, pigs, because in the United States, about 130 million pigs become breakfast, lunch and dinner for American families.

Part III

‘A Rat Is A Pig Is A Dog Is A Boy?’: The Animal Rights Movement And Its Direct Denial of Human Dignity

But the animal rights movement itself is based upon a denial of that basic distinction between human beings and animals. You say, “Well, that might or might not be so,” just based on these comments that have come from PETA, the statement in response to this surgical procedure and to the anticipated success of this kind of xenotransplantation kind of procedure. You might say, “Well, PETA might not be in such a radical position,” just from those quotes, but my response is, “Oh, yes, it is,” and I will simply direct you to other arguments from PETA. Most infamously, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, on their own website, under the theme, “Animals are not ours,” ran an article back on August the 28th of 2012, and this is one of the most ominous titles, one of the most ominous articles I have ever read in my entire reading experience, and that goes back a while.

The article is entitled, “A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy.” That title tells you everything. It is the absolute unabashed denial of the distinction between human beings and other creatures. It is the assertion that a rat is a pig, is a dog, is a boy. That article is written by Ingrid Newkirk, one of the leaders and founders of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and she was citing a document that had recently been released, known as the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. That statement was released in Cambridge on July the 7th, 2012, and we are told that an international group, a prominent group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at the University of Cambridge, “To reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non-human animals.”

Here’s the bottom line in this statement. It was an organized attempt to try to use the authority of science to say there is no real biological, physiological basis to a distinction between human beings and human consciousness and animal consciousness, at least for animals of high consciousness. Now, this is something we’ve seen before. Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University has argued for a long time that infanticide, the intentional killing of a young human being might be justified because at an early stage of human development, that child does not yet have consciousness equal to a pig in terms of self-consciousness, the ability to establish relationships, and to anticipate a future. You can see where this argument’s going. It is absolutely chilling.

It’s also absolutely real. By the way, speaking of the authority of science, the news release about this Cambridge statement says that it was signed in the presence of the late famous Cambridge Scientist, Stephen Hawking, but the point is Stephen Hawking’s name doesn’t appear on this. It was signed in his presence, as if that means something like being in the presence of a king, that that presence evidently didn’t imply the fact he was willing to put his name on this statement. Now, remember, Ingrid Newkirk’s article was entitled, “A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy.” Also, reporting on the Cambridge statement, Newkirk wrote, “The mathematical abilities of fish have proved be on par with those of monkeys, dolphins and bright, young human children.”

Yes, bright, young human children. They’re just another animal, to be classified with highly mathematical fish. Her article title again for that article on August the 28th, 2012, “A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy.” That is a direct refutation and contradiction of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. It is full evidence, I will add, of Genesis 3.

By the way, as we have to come to a conclusion, the big, ominous issue here is the confusion when it comes to human beings, the denial the human beings are distinct from the rest of the creatures and the rest of creation, because we’re made in the image of God. You’ll notice where that leads, to the absolute denial of any inherent human dignity and bright, young children classified along with mathematically adept fish. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy, but we need to note something else, and that is that there is another distinction, and that is between the things that we are to eat and the things that we are not to eat, and there was a distinction in the Old Covenant that was made for Israel when it comes to the kosher system, as we know it, and the food commandments, but here’s what we need to note. The New Covenant people are not under the same commands, but when you look at Genesis, you look at the book of Genesis, human beings in the garden were given every green thing to eat, save one. They could eat from every single plant or tree, save one.

Sin came when our human ancestors, our mother and our father, Adam and Eve sinned and ate the fruit of that one tree that was forbidden them, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As the Bible says, it’s not just that Adam and Eve sinned, but that we sinned in Adam, but you will note however, and we discussed this when it came to the death penalty, the Noahic Covenant in Genesis 9. In Genesis 9, God gave humanity not only the rainbow, God gave humanity meat to eat, the flesh of the animals He gave to human beings to eat. God, our Creator specifically authorized human beings to eat meat, unless we do eat meat as an exercise of the dominion that God has given us and as the grateful receiving of a gift that God has given us. My purpose today is not to argue theologically against fake meat, it’s simply to say that when it comes to a biblical worldview, we are given grateful permission to eat meat and to enjoy it, but the distinction between fake meat and real meat, I’ll leave that to your further consideration.

It pales in significance when compared to the claim that a rat is a pig, is a dog, is a boy. A society that refuses the distinction between a rat and a pig and a dog on the one hand and the boy on the other hand is a society that faces a real and not a fake deadly confusion.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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