Hirte mit Vieh in der Wüste

«Israel is a hub for lab-grown meat.»

Five questions to Efrat Gilad

In the past deca­de, Isra­el has beco­me a major deve­lo­per of alter­na­ti­ve meat sources, from vegan and vege­ta­ri­an pro­ducts to lab-grown meat. The his­to­ri­an Efrat Gilad (Bern Uni­ver­si­ty), an expert in Jewish food­ways, is curr­ent­ly wri­ting a histo­ry of meat con­sump­ti­on in Isra­el and Man­da­te Pal­es­ti­ne. She will pre­sent her rese­arch on 13 Decem­ber 2022 at Bern Uni­ver­si­ty, open to the public. Nao­mi Lubrich asked her about Israe­li eating habits, ani­mal ethics and the future of meat in the 21st century.

Nao­mi Lubrich: Efrat, you’re an expert on meat con­sump­ti­on. Do you eat meat?

Efrat Gilad: I try not to. I do still eat meat some­ti­mes, but I’ve redu­ced my con­sump­ti­on con­sider­a­b­ly. I tried to go vegan, but kept fai­ling, which made me very frus­tra­ted. So, I came up with a kind of sys­tem. I go about it ani­mal by ani­mal now. I’m not drawn to pork, so avo­i­ding that one is easy. I also rare­ly eat fish and an array of other ani­mals. Cow was ano­ther sto­ry. Beef was a fes­ti­ve and com­fort­ing food gro­wing up, so I have to make a very con­scious effort the­re. What helps is that the more I learn about ani­mals, the less I want to eat them. (She laughs). But dairy and eggs are espe­ci­al­ly hard to give up.

NL: Meat alter­na­ti­ve pro­ducts are boo­ming in Isra­el. Why?

EG: They are! Isra­el is curr­ent­ly a hub for lab-grown meats. The­re are seve­ral reasons why: First, Isra­el is a good envi­ron­ment for start-ups, and many alter­na­ti­ve meat com­pa­nies are young or deve­lo­ping. Second, Isra­el is a cen­ter for medi­cal cell engi­nee­ring, which is the bio­tech­no­lo­gy used for lab-grown meat. And third, Isra­el con­su­mes and imports gre­at amounts of meat – much more than it pro­du­ces, – so new sources of meat are inte­res­t­ing eco­no­mic­al­ly. The­re are also some deep cul­tu­ral reasons, in my opi­ni­on, for Israel’s turn to lab-grown meat – and that’s what my public talk will be about.

NL: I’m sur­pri­sed! Sin­ce when has meat been such a lar­ge part of the Israe­li diet?

EG: It’s a recent deve­lo­p­ment, from the 1990s onwards. Pal­es­ti­ne was never a major meat pro­du­cer, whe­ther under the Otto­man or the Bri­tish empires. This didn’t chan­ge much with the crea­ti­on of the sta­te of Isra­el – actual­ly, the peri­od until the ear­ly 1950s was refer­red to as the austeri­ty peri­od and most­ly remem­be­red for its scar­ci­ty of meat. The eco­no­mic boom of the 1990s and the ope­ning of the Israe­li mar­ket to meat imports chan­ged eating habits in Isra­el. Today, it’s a huge con­su­mer of meat, per capi­ta the fourth big­gest among OECD count­ries. And it is the num­ber one con­su­mer of poultry.

NL: Whe­re does Isra­el get its meat from?

EG: Most catt­le slaugh­te­red for meat in Isra­el are essen­ti­al­ly a by-pro­duct of the country’s pro­spe­rous dairy indus­try. But the most important source is import. Young catt­le from Aus­tra­lia, Por­tu­gal and other pro­du­cing count­ries are ship­ped to Isra­el, whe­re they are «fat­ten­ed,» as the indus­try calls it, and then slaugh­te­red. Isra­el also imports a lot of fro­zen, packa­ged meat.

 NL: Whe­re does alter­na­ti­ve meat place within the kos­her landscape? 

 EG: The ver­dict is still out, but some rab­bis have come up with very sur­pri­sing ans­wers. Some, for exam­p­le, are sug­gest­ing that lab-grown meat could be kos­her, even if deri­ved from a non-kos­her ani­mal! They cite the Jewish prin­ci­ple of a «new face» (panim cha­da­shot) which refers to a mate­ri­al that has been mani­pu­la­ted so dra­ma­ti­cal­ly that it no lon­ger reta­ins its for­mer iden­ti­ty. The­se rab­bis argue that lab-grown meat could be con­side­red an enti­re­ly new «thing» so lab-grown meat would be a food cate­go­ry of its own. This would ren­der it not only kos­her but also par­ve, i.e., cate­go­ri­cal­ly not meat. This seems like quite a radi­cal inter­pre­ta­ti­on, but the dis­cus­sion its­elf is fasci­na­ting. It makes us recon­sider our ide­as about what is and is not meat.

NL: That would be an inte­res­t­ing turn of events! Thank you, Efrat, for your insights.

verfasst am 28.11.2022