Chris Ip:

We’re in a new era of food tech: ahi tuna sashimi made from tomatoes, lab-grown foie gras. Greggs, the UK everyman’s bakery, has made a wildly hyped vegan sausage roll, and in 2013 Dutch scientist Mark Post showed off a $325,000 cell-based burger paid for by Google’s Sergey Brin. Nestle, McDonald’s and Tyson, the US’ largest meat processor, are all set to debut alternative proteins.

These products don’t aim to resemble the ascetic formlessness of health foods that trade taste for moral rectitude. But neither are they the soulless nutrition-delivery systems of Soylent and RX bars that trade it for efficiency. The problem with most future-of-food plays is how hard it is to feel any emotion about them. No matter how optimized they are, they’re insipid on a sensory level: As Topic wrote about energy bars, “consuming them doesn’t satisfy hunger so much as deaden it.” These new meat facsimiles aspire to be good enough on flavor, health, price and ethics, proposing the outcome we seldom get in life: Why choose?

…”Ethical consumerism is a failure and doesn’t really accomplish what we want it to accomplish,” said Michael Selden, CEO and founder of Finless Foods, a cell-based seafood startup. “What you need to do is create things that are ethical and moral as a baseline but make them compete on metrics of taste, price and convenience, which is what people actually buy food on, and Impossible has really embodied that.”

There’s a comparison to sustainable energy here: We all need it and we’re barely willing to curtail our electricity demands, but if there’s a price-competitive, clean alternative, then sure. With food, it’s an acknowledgement that — solely for the guaranteed sensory enjoyment that those who are food secure might enjoy each day — taste is the key driver to change our habits.

It’s an in-depth, fascinating article that also looks at the large roles that economic and cultural incentives will play in the coming arguments over the ethics of meat-eating. As a long-time mostly-vegetarian, I’m personally looking forward to the opportunity to try an Impossible Burger, but we also have cattle-ranching relatives out west, and we’ve been thinking about this issue for months, wondering how to go about broaching the topic to them. Having experienced the disruption of the newspaper industry firsthand, I don’t envy how they’re going to have to adjust and adapt once a cheap, tasty, convenient, and ethical alternative to meat exists on a competitive scale. It’s also interesting to think how this issue might make bedfellows out of the anti-GMO types and the “real meat as a way of life” subculture that will eventually consolidate from the upheaval. I dread the idea of diet becoming even more politicized in the near-future, but I don’t see any way for this to not become another front in the endless culture wars.