Could lab-grown meat ever be indigenous?

Atlanta Grant ate in Silicon Valley.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) indigenous masters student, who is from the Wendake reservation of the Huron-Wendat Nation in Quebec and grew up in Sudbury in Robson-Huron treaty territory, spent time in the Mecca of the California startups earlier this year testing the products of three lab-grown meat and dairy companies.

As Grant chewed on lab-made pork, dairy and salmon, he felt a disconnect. As an indigenous person working on food sovereignty, he is well aware of the links between food, culture and ecological health. “Once that land is gone, or those ways of eating are gone, the indigenous food culture is gone as well,” she says.

But for the companies whose products he tested, he says, the implications of what they were doing “felt like new information.” As he talked to the founders, it seemed the companies hadn’t thought about the social consequences of producing animal-free meat and dairy; that idea was “something that was maybe separate from the technology,” he says.

Indigenous perspectives have been notably absent from the mainstream conversation around lab-grown meat, also known as “cultured meat,” “clean meat,” or “in vitro meat.” But the technology may have important implications for indigenous cultures, says Grant.

a new trip

Grant stumbled upon the world of cultured meat when he had the opportunity to attend a workshop earlier this spring. in the three days conference Organized by the University of the Fraser Valley, indigenous peoples and elders met with startups and NGOs to discuss the potential impacts of the idea.

For #indigenous people who have deep cultural and spiritual connections to the #animals they eat, can lab-grown meat ever be acceptable? #IndigenousFoods #Food Sovereignty #CellularAgriculture

She was immediately fascinated. Grant has long been interested in the gap between corporate solutions to the existential crisis of climate change, she says, and the ways those proposals disproportionately impact the cultures that face its worst consequences. The field of lab-grown meat, which promises to produce animal protein without the impacts of factory farming, is just one such technology.

His recent trip “was pretty amazing and emotional in a lot of ways,” he says. Grant isn’t all that interested in the technological feasibility of lab-grown meat or the seed money behind the concept: She went to Silicon Valley to talk about the possible cultural implications of lab-grown animal meat.

Grant, like others, is concerned that these products could further separate indigenous peoples from sacred animals and put indigenous food sovereignty at risk, in the name of tackling climate change.

Wildtype produces what it calls “sushi grade” salmon in laboratory tanks. Photo submitted by Wildtype

“Me and the other indigenous person there feel like it’s powerful for us to raise those voices,” she says. “We were very grateful that [the companies] He gave us the space to do it.”

To tour cultured meat production facilities and see what proprietary technologies companies have, Grant had to sign many confidentiality agreements that forbid him to name every company he spoke with. But she highlights one, Wildtype, which produces What is it’s name “sushi grade” salmon in laboratory vats. Wildtype had plenty of room to dialogue with her and her indigenous colleague, she says, and, more importantly, they didn’t put the burden of figuring out next steps on them.

“I really felt that they were going to spend that time investing in what cross-cultural engagement means and what the social implications mean for communities, especially indigenous communities, affected by this salmon,” she says.

contacted by Canadian National ObserverWildtype CEO Justin Kolbeck said by email that participating in the conference was “an important first step in a broader effort.” His company plans to continue working with indigenous collaborators to consider the social implications of its lab-grown salmon, he said, and is seeking any indigenous people who are interested in weighing in. He included Wildtype’s contact information: [email protected]

Aryé Elfenbein (left) and Justin Kolbeck (right) are co-founders of Wildtype, a company that produces salmon through cellular agriculture. Photo submitted by Wildtype

Is the moose still my brother if we don’t eat it?

One of the attractions of lab-made meat is that cell cultures can be grown from many types of animals, even those that would be cost-prohibitive or logistically impossible to grow on farms. This fact has led companies to experiment with a number of meats that have great cultural significance for indigenous groups in North America, including bison elk Y Rabbitas well as salmon.

Theoretically, at least, it is possible that many other culturally important meats will be farmed in the future. In 2016, Margaret Robinson, a member of the Lennox Island First Nation and Dalhousie University professor in the departments of English and sociology and social anthropology, attempted to discover how, or if, farmed elk meat might fit into the Mi’kmaq worldview. her.

In Is the moose still my brother if we don’t eat it?Robinson drew on traditional stories and the teachings of community leaders that set a high standard of respect and gratitude for the moose and their sacrifice in being allowed to hunt and eat. “For many Mi’kmaq, our relationship with settlers has usurped the importance animals once had in our lives,” he wrote. He also divides the communal aspects of the harvest and distribution of meat. “In vitro meat promises a future where I don’t need to interact with anyone to have elk meat, especially the elk itself.”

On the other hand, Robinson wrote, perhaps lab-grown elk meat, made with stem cells from wild elk, could represent a renegotiation of the longstanding relationship between his people and the animal.

She is a long-time vegan and has followed the ethical stance out of a desire to express her Mi’kmaw spirituality and connection to other animals while living in a city.

“As I learn more about the history of colonialism and how the meat and dairy industries motivated land theft and the killing of native animals, going vegan has been a way of resisting those colonial forces,” he says.

If farmed moose were possible, he wrote, his relationship with live moose could change from one of sacrifice and dependency “and [could] they begin to grow closer to something akin to family members who, after a long period of tension, have finally become friends.”

However, Robinson says that she herself would prefer not to eat the meat. “It’s still a moose body, even if it died a long time ago,” she says. “I see lab-grown meat as something for carnivores, not for me as a vegan.”

In the years since the essay was published, he says, “I’ve come to see some of the challenges that accepting in vitro meat can bring.” Like most other food sciences, he says, “decision-making power is not in the hands of indigenous peoples, so our values ​​and perspectives are not embedded in technology or practices.”

Robinson has set his sights on a new problem: food marketing. Prioritize profits over nutrition and relationships, she says. And she worries what might happen if animal genetic materials are patented as some seeds have been. “I don’t want a corporation to patent the moose,” she says.

Canadian National Observer contacted the Nova Scotia Assembly of Mi’kmaw Chiefs for comment on this matter. The bosses referred us to the Unama’ki Natural Resources Institute, which had not responded to inquiries as of press time.

Tabitha Robin, an assistant professor in UBC’s School of Lands and Food Systems who studies indigenous food systems, also considered and rejected the idea that cultured meat might have a role to play. In her opinion, cellular “animals” are an example of the violence that can be committed against marginalized peoples when their values ​​are ignored, she said. Canadian National Observer Via email. “Elk, salmon, venison are relatives, not just food.”

Moose are an essential food source for many indigenous peoples. This photo shows a moose eating in Denali National Park and Preserve. Photo by Jacob W. Frank/NPS/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

“For Indigenous Peoples, the healthiest food we can eat is the food that contains the most relationships,” he wrote. “Because the moose is in contact with the sun, the wind, the stars, the earth, the plants, etc., it is full of good relationships. Cellular ‘food’ is devoid of good relationships”.

a way to go

There are some signs that as the field of lab-grown meat matures, these issues are beginning to be thought about, says Evan Bowness, a post-doctoral settler at the University of the Fraser Valley who collaborated with Grant and formed part of the team that set up the workshop this spring. But there is still a long way to go, he says. “This is the same as the rest of the food system. We are very colonial. We are super exclusive.”

Thanks to his experiences this year, Grant is contemplating a new path: starting an indigenous-led consulting company that will connect people who want to talk about a technology related to climate change, such as the potential impacts of cultured meat, with companies who are trying to assess their own work

Companies that are committed to the environment must take responsibility for considering the cultural impacts of their work, he says. She hopes that a consulting firm like the one she is contemplating will help bring willing indigenous voices to companies that commit to this responsibility.

“Social healing and environmental healing are parallel,” she says. “They have to heal separately but together.”

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