FOR an old carnivore from Coatbridge, I would say I am adapting pretty well to living predominantly in vegan households. Thursday night’s birthday dinner for six required a taxi to get me up the hill from the supermarket. But I set about the plants and spices with enthusiasm, doing my usual slavish following of internet-sourced instructions.

African peanut stew, paprika-roasted cauliflower with pickled onions and avocado puree, cavolo nero with garlic and fennel seeds. Ya bass, as one might have uttered when in the Brig. Happy folks, happy dad-chef. No-one complaining about lack of taste or bulk. And the vegan birthday cake at the end was sweet enough to put stars behind your eyelids.

I could live like this, I tell myself. The Gen Z around me are morally calmed by my commitment. There’s no shortage of foodie geek-out in this kind of eating. Indeed, torturing a savoury taste out of, say, the humble white potato demands even more baroque technique than any previous culinary adventure.

So why, when I’m out on manoeuvres beyond the family circle, does it sometimes go so horribly and gorily wrong?

I don’t lack for gut-wrenching and heart-breaking documentaries on the mechanised cruelty of factory farming, sent my way by the aforementioned youth. They would make anyone’s carnivore insides lurch when you see them. I’m also becoming aware of the absurdly wasteful and reductive use of land by the global livestock industry (more on that later).

READ MORE: What Yessers say about a Twitter declines impact on the indy debate

But when access to meat becomes easy and unpoliced, I shamefully tend to take it. I used to mutter evolutionary, paleo-style justifications for my behaviour. “Come now, we’re evolved to be omnivores, are we not? And what about predator/prey relationships, the circle of life and all that, eh?” But withering admonition from the future-weans (“surely we can evolve out of these behaviours too?”) has made that line too taxing to hold.

So now my justification is reduced to having a need for protein (between 50 and 70 grams a day, say the doctors). Will beans and nuts get me there? I doubt it.

So can science come to my rescue? And the planet’s?

The weel-kent actors Alan Cumming and Brian Cox have put their names to a letter pitched at the closing stages of COP27. It argues for an end to “intensive industrial livestock farming”, which causes “more greenhouse gases than the direct emissions of all the world’s planes, trains and cars combined”.

Yet does this imply that less intensive animal farming would be better? What if “organic” farming, grass-fed beef, etc, actually took up more territory than even conventional farming? Is there any way we can get directly to the protein, while drastically reducing our use of animals and land?

To the last question, science and innovation are currently answering “yes”. The veteran and highly respected environmental writer/campaigner, George Monbiot, has recently hitched his star to an international campaign called Reboot Food, also making waves at COP27.

The National:

Like Cox and Cumming (above), the Rebooters also recite a litany of chastening facts about factory farming. It’s the biggest cause of the sixth mass extinction; it uses 70% of all freshwater; it’s caused 80% of deforestation this century; it covers 28% of our planet’s surface, just to serve livestock grazing; it slaughters 75 billion animals a year.

Deeply unimpressive.

Imagine, say Monbiot and the Rebooters, if we could make effective and usable protein, without exploiting, farming and slaughtering animals. Well, the technique exists and is called precision fermentation. We currently produce rennet and insulin this way (the latter used to require 50,000 pig deaths a year), and we’ve always made beer, bread and soy sauce through controlled fermenting methods.

But now we can precisely and genetically engineer microorganisms (bacteria) to produce the kinds of protein that could comprise “fake” meat, eggs and dairy products.

READ MORE: Alan Cumming and Brian Cox join calls for end to factory farming

The really radical point is the potential efficiency of precision fermentation. Reboot calculate that the accumulated factory area required to serve the planet’s current demand for protein, would only be as big as Greater London. Compared to livestock’s use of land, this is an efficiency improvement of more than 40,000 fold.

It’s a stunning fact. Reboot then evokes a largely rewilded world. Strangulated and toxified agricultural lands are returned to rich biodiversity and stable ecosystems. These rewildings would both draw carbon out of the atmosphere, as opposed to spewing it in – as well as mitigating the extinction process.

Indeed, it would restart our relationship with animality for the first time in 10,000 years, marking as great a shift as the birth of agriculture.

The Rebooters have been chucking themselves at the COP27 conference because they realise such a massive change would have to be supported by governments and regulators. And some are already smelling that the protein slabs may be off here.

The Netherlands’ EAT Foundation, which is heavily involved in the Reboot campaign, are backed by what the Scottish food writer Joanna Blythman called “a roll call of the big names in pharmaceuticals, pesticides, genetically modified and ultra-processed food.

They include Bayer, which now owns Monsanto and its infamous Roundup (glyphosate) pesticide, big sugar (PepsiCo), big grain (Cargill), palm oil companies, and leading manufacturers of food additives and processing aids.”

READ MORE: Boost for Scots climate activists as Norway halts Arctic oil field

REBOOT are quick to counter this. They want the science of precision fermentation to be “open source”, not wrapped around with copyright, with “corporate concentration to be actively mitigated”. Let’s see. Some, like the environmental designer John Thackara, are calling Reboot a di Lampedesa strategy – where everything changes, so that nothing changes (and certainly not the centralised capitalist ownership of food production).

Thackara points to the 900 million female livestock farmers in the world who currently make their livelihoods from their animals. Are they to be summarily abolished by the votaries of Monsanto and PepsiCo? Who will support the enormous shift in skills and focus implied by a globally rebooted food system?

Others, like the small-scale farmer Chris Smaje, believe that Reboot moves in exactly the opposite direction that is required.

Humans should be reconnecting with the basic productivity of their neighbouring lands, intensifying their commitment to their locality and its natural potential. My problem with the Reboot vision is that it is, to copy a term from Silicon Valley, a bit “solutionist”. That is, they’re assuming that the right technological method will solve all of our problems.

I think they underestimate the cultural shift implied. I try to imagine the realisation-point of this new food civilisation, and it does feel odd. 

READ MORE: Windfall tax increase 'makes little difference' while subsidies remain

Humans would still have a relationship with “meat”, “fish” and “dairy”, as they mould and morph this neo-protein. At the same time, their relations with the animals that used to provide these substances are now – what, exactly? Reverent? Co-existent? Guilty? And what happens to them, unused as they might be to a “free” existence?

And even though my young friends hold out that we can “evolve beyond” killing and eating animals, I am sure something elemental will be erased from our species-being. How will we feel if we completely abstract ourselves away from the “hunting” part of our hunter-gatherer past?

There could, however, be much to gain, even for the evolution of our consciousnesses.

Maybe an underlying drive towards aggression in human societies would be lessened if this old predatory passion was finally snipped at its root.

Certainly, as I played the paterfamilias doling out the African peanut curry the other night, nobody needed “real” meat to make us any merrier.

Time to retire, old carnivore?

For more see