I seem to be on the Our Enfeebled Elites beat these days. Last week it was the medical profession, with “Grey’s Anatomy” where the doctors spend more time on the hospital wards having sex with each other than attending to their patients. It  gives new meaning to the precept “First, Do No Harm.” 

Today’s topic is Media Meat Guilt. Some 13 years ago, while covering ruminants for Washington City Paper, I took a trip to Maryland’s annual Sheep and Wool Festival. There, amid pens of lowing rams and ewes, I won third prize in the cooking contest for grilling up the largest slab of lamb that anyone in the state of Maryland had ever seen.

But media times have changed. A couple of weeks ago, Slate’s William Saletan took a trip to the very same festival, and what did he do? Burst into tears while chewing on a hunk of lamb sausage:

“Every society lives with two kinds of moral problems: the ones it’s ready to face, and the ones that will become clear or compelling only in retrospect. Human sacrifice, slavery, the subjugation of women-every tradition seems normal and indispensable until we’re ready, morally and economically, to move beyond it.

“The case for eating meat is like the case for other traditions: It’s natural, it’s necessary, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But sometimes, we’re mistaken. We used to think we were the only creatures that could manipulate grammar, make sophisticated plans, or recognize names out of context. In the past month, we’ve discovered the same skills in birds and dolphins. In recent years, we’ve learned that crows fashion leaves and metal into tools. Pigeons deceive each other. Rats run mazes in their dreams. Dolphins teach their young to use sponges as protection. Chimps can pick locks. Parrots can work with numbers. Dogs can learn words from context. We thought animals weren’t smart enough to deserve protection. It turns out we weren’t smart enough to realize they do.”

A ditty by Lewis Carroll titled “The Walrus and the Carpenter” comes immediately to my mind. And gee, I weep huge tears over lock-picking chimps! And how about those rats? Dontcha feel sorry for them? Put ’em on the Endangered Species List!

So–since Saletan freely admits that he enjoys a steak or two from time to time, he’s got an idea:  Let’s not slaughter animals for meat! Let’s grow it in taxpayer-funded laboratories!

“By growing meat in labs, the way we grow tissue from stem cells. That’s the great thing about cells: They’re programmed to multiply. You just have to figure out what chemical and structural environment they need to do their thing. Researchers in Holland and the United States are working on the problem. They’ve grown and sautéed fish that smelled like dinner, though FDA rules didn’t allow them to taste it. Now they’re working on pork. The short-term goal is sausage, ground beef, and chicken nuggets. Steaks will be more difficult. Three Dutch universities and a nonprofit consortium called New Harvest are involved. They need money. A fraction of what we spend on cattle subsidies would help.”

I don’t know where to start on this one. (“Eeeuuw!” There’s a good place!) I must say that although I’m usually against overweening Big Brother-like government agencies, there’s something to be said for the FDA’s current ban on test-tube-grown “fish that smelled like dinner.” New Harvest, by the way, describes the process of putting this stuff together as “tissue assembly.”  Mmmm-mmmm!

I’ve got a question for you, dear Inkwell readers: Where would you have your own tax dollars go: “cattle subsidies” in America or “tissue assembly” at Dutch universities? Me, I’ll take a tax cut and a double cheeseburger.