Updated: Jun 14, 2020
An Anthropology Professor Unpacks the Need for Cellular Agriculture Education
I’ve been teaching anthropology courses for over 14 years. I love walking into the classroom or lecture hall with the single goal of energetically sharing my passion for learning interesting things about people and places. I love telling stories that illustrate complex problems because that’s how humans have passed on knowledge long before formal education existed. #Stories, as deliverables for lessons on critical basic survival skills, are as old as our earliest speaking hominid ancestors. Had there not been elders telling stories about how they fought off dangerous predators to kids around the campfire, we’d be long gone by now. Those kids listened carefully to these stories because they, too, lived in the same ecological niche where this particular knowledge ensured their own survival.
Today we live in a vastly different world where the connection between learning and using what is learned to survive is an abstract concept at best. For cultural #anthropology students, simply learning about new ways of thinking about the world and its inhabitants is not very useful if it does not enable the learner to apply what they have learned in and beyond their own lives. The goal of learning has to be something different than just the transmission and absorption of knowledge: this newly acquired knowledge has to do something. More importantly, this knowledge has to do something that addresses one or more of our many and persistent human problems. Ideally, it should be of service to humanity at large.
The most valuable kind of knowledge, I believe, is transformative and highly inspirational.
And this precisely is why my personal brand of teaching has always been guided by the conviction that if you can’t inspire, you can’t teach.
This is also why I didn’t just want to become an educator who can effectively transmit knowledge; I have always wanted students to care about what they were learning. The thing is, it is very difficult to make someone care about something that depends entirely on your mediation or presentation; care has to be intuitive and experiential. It has to be about something that really matters. For many years, I tried to underwrite every lecture and every discussion with a focus on why and how this or that topic relates to students’ everyday lives and beyond. But as I taught class after class about the cultural construction of race and gender, and the ethnocentrisms inherent in our everyday experiences of “otherness,” outside of the classroom, the Amazon forest was burning, the icecaps were melting, and entire ecosystems were disrupted because of hurricanes and tornadoes. A much larger, potentially deadly panhuman problem was unfolding that could wipe us all clean off the planet. A problem so big, that even if we solve the problems of gender inequality, systemic racism, and global poverty combined, we wouldn’t even have a world to live out our important socio-cultural victories. A problem that we alone created in part by our food choices and how we cater to providing these food choices to nearly anyone in the world. A problem that is so profoundly impacting our planet that we have given it its own geological time-stamp: the #Anthropocene.
I realized that although the current generation of college students is aware of the urgency to address problems related to climate change, and although information about climate change and its possible solutions has never been easier to access, there was a massive gap between what students knew about the problems and what students did about affecting the solutions. But even before I could bring up this topic in class, I had to ask myself the very same question: what was I doing about the issue? Wasn’t being a long time vegetarian, an avid recycler, and minimizing consumption of all unnecessary things made out of plastic enough? Why did I dismiss #climate #change education as something that wasn’t “my field” or “part of an introductory anthropology course” when it is as critical to our own survival as stories about survival were among our hominid ancestors? Why did I keep what I think is the most important aspect about our shared human future out of my class lectures that more often focused on our shared human past? And why did I think I needed someone else to “allow” me to become a cellular agriculture educator rather than simply deciding that this is what “doing something about climate change” should look like in my line of work? Well, a year later, here I am, having allowed my decision to completely change my life.
Climate change education is survival education. If we cannot ensure a human future on this planet by changing the way we produce our food, we will at best quickly join the vast majority of species who have already gone extinct via failure to adapt, and at worst take millions of other living species with us as the planet becomes uninhabitable.
Adapting to a novel system of subsistence and #food #production is key to our survival and that of generations to come. But at this time, we can’t propose to revert to more “natural” ways of raising animals for food and expect to feed billions of people; it is way too late for that. We can’t compete with every new culinary rebirth of butter and bacon by rushing plant-based facsimiles into grocery aisles to sit right next to these. None of these solutions solve the systemic problem of an increasing, global demand for cheap meat, dairy, and eggs that are readily available anytime, anywhere.
We need change and we need it fast. Cellular agriculture may be the new kid on the climate change solution block, and as such, is years away from becoming an everyday reality in the world of food. But the roadblocks are temporary and their removal depends on first educating the world about the real possibility of growing burgers without cows, and secondly, to grow a whole generation of young people committed to actively participating in the process of global cultural adaptation to eating meat without eating animals. #Cellular #agriculture is long past the proof of concept stage but organizations and individuals in the field need funding, research, development, scaling infrastructure, marketing, and legal regulation. These needs seem like overwhelming hurdles but I see them as opportunities that are calling out to young people everywhere to make a huge impact in the world.
These opportunities should hold great appeal to the modern college student of today who wants a “why” reason, not just a “what” reason for their career choices. I see the first generation of full-time cellular agriculture workers as having both “traditional” college degrees but also “Nano” degrees obtained through independent study courses mentored by faculty experts in related fields. I see meaningful internships in key production sites to learn the process of cellular agriculture from the ground up, much like anthropologists in the field learn about new cultural phenomena. I imagine the open and collaborative nature of many cellular agriculture companies to look inviting to college students who want to work in a place that stimulates creativity, not just productivity. I would love to see especially women and young people of color to become the first generation of students to disrupt animal agriculture as a predominantly white, male field. All of these career possibilities loom larger than ever on the horizon of #cellular #agriculture: there is virtually no area of college education that cannot connect to cellular agriculture as an essential part of climate change solutions in one way or another.
The #future of meat, dairy, and egg production is already here. We need to populate the space with fresh energy and new ideas to move it forward. We invite you to join follow the future and help us pick up the pace!