As a vegetarian I find people often ask me whether I think that vegetarianism will ever become the norm or even whether killing animals for food may ever be made illegal.
I always answer: "Yes I do believe that in a century or so almost everyone will be vegetarian* and that it will be illegal to eat most animals (not insects) for food."
In this blog post I shall give some reasons for these opinions. I warn you now that the explanation I will give is incredibly cynical. But that is precisely the reason that I am confident in my argument.
I think that major political changes occur for economic reasons. I observe that most people will only consider something to be immoral if that thing does not benefit them significantly (assuming there is some other reason to think it is immoral).
So what is the economics of meat production? Meat is not an effective way of producing protein, vitamins or calories. 90% of the energy that is present in the food cattle eat is lost before it becomes a steak. Modern agricultural techniques reduce this loss but not eradicate it (of course those techniques are horribly immoral). So meat is not an economic way of feeding people. This makes meat a luxury good. It is a drain of the productivity of the economy. But we can expect meat from animals to be consumed until there is a luxury good to replace it.
In vitro meat is that luxury good. In vitro meat is meat grown in vats with no brain or nervous tissue and hence without the moral problems of animal flesh. The technology is still in development and may take decades to mature but when it does we will wake up to a world in which there is meat that is (a) cheaper, (b) (eventually) more safe and (c) without moral problems.
When this happens economics will encourage most people to stop eating slaughterhouse meat. Once this has happened I expect to see the moral zeitgeist move on.
Is this realistic? Can such a massive change really be effected? I believe so. But first we must see vegetarian alternatives reach a high degree of sophistication. Probably the best way now to support the vegetarian cause is to fund the science behind these in vitro meats.
* By vegetarian I mean moral vegetarian: Someone who does not support economically the slaughter of animals primarily by not buying slaughterhouse products.