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Book Review: Clean Meat by Paul Shapiro

Paul Shapiro’s book Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World explores the fascinating — and potentially planet-saving — world of cultured meat.

While the notion of “cultured meat” or “lab-grown” meat may sound odd to many, Shapiro’s book makes the case for why this new industry is among our best hopes for, quite literally, saving the world. He notes, “Our species truly is at a crossroads. It’s not hard to imagine the global instability that could ensue when we have billions more people on the planet, including billions more who expect to eat meat regularly. We just don’t have the resources to satiate that demand without destroying our planet and inflicting an enormity of suffering on animals, both domesticated and wild, in the process.”

As a decades-long vegan and the founder of Compassion Over Killing, Shapiro, who has also served as a vice president for the Humane Society of the United States, knows firsthand what’s at stake, and in Clean Meat he takes us behind the scenes of those who are about to change the world for the better.

As Yuval Noah Harari notes in the book’s foreword, “The world’s animals are not the wildlife we think of when we think of animals.” Rather, most animals that exist on the planet are bred for our consumption. For example: There are forty thousand lions in the world to one billion domesticated pigs, fifty million penguins to fifty billion chickens—and for these animals, life is horrific: “Judged by the amount of suffering it causes, industrial farming of animals is arguably one of the worst crimes in history.”

Cultured meat is the answer not only to the problem of animal suffering but to the issue of greenhouse gases produced by animal agriculture (responsible for more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined); the massive water consumption required (“you’d save more water skipping one family chicken dinner than by skipping six months of showers”); and the destruction of rainforests to raise animals (“animal feed is the leading cause of rainforest deforestation, essentially killing the lungs of our planet”). In Clean Meat, Shapiro writes about start-up pioneers who envision “a world in which we can have our meat and eat it, too: where we can enjoy abundant amounts of meat and other animal products without all the environmental, animal welfare, and public health costs.”

Shapiro details the fascinating science behind cultured meat as well as shows us the history of meat consumption in the U.S. and other countries, and why it’s becoming unsustainable.The science of clean meat is explained in both technical and layman’s terms, which makes the industry’s concepts accessible to all readers — and the sections outlining the technology are remarkable, showing us how real animal products such as meat and leather are being produced from microscopic animal cells, and even from yeast, bacteria, or algae.

The book also demystifies many of our perceptions of cultured meat (one major point being that clean meat is not as wild an idea as we think because nearly all the food we currently eat is scientifically engineered, from packaged foods such as protein bars to vegetables and fruits such as seedless watermelon). In addition, the very term “clean meat” reflects the improved food safety of these products; whereas meat from animals raised on farms contains antibiotics, hormones, fecal matter, and diseases such as avian flu, cultured meat, which is produced in a completely sterile environment, will be far safer to eat than the meat being produced today. “Imagine choosing between an egg white that might have salmonella and one you know doesn’t,” says Arturo Elizondo of Clara Foods. “Or milk with pus versus milk without pus, which all cow’s milk has. Which would you choose?”

Perhaps most surprising is that the concept of cultured meat is not as new as it seems; as far back as 1931, Winston Churchill wrote of “the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing” — and even he was not the first: “As early as 1894 … French chemistry professor Pierre-Eugène-Marcellin Berthelot claimed that by the year 2000, humans would dine on meat grown in a lab rather than from slaughtered animals.” Shapiro outlines our history of attempting to improve the way we eat, from hunting and foraging to culturing such foods as beer and yogurt, and how technology has brought us to where we are today. In the pages of Clean Meat, we meet scientists, idealists, and businesspeople, all working toward bringing this science to the mainstream. Having met representatives from many of the companies in this emerging field — among them Memphis Meats, Modern Meadow, Hampton Creek, Mosa Meat, Finless Foods, SuperMeat, Future Meat Technologies, Perfect Day, Clara Foods, Bolt Threads, VitroLabs, Spiber, Geltor, and others — Shapiro notes, “Interestingly, for the most part they don’t consider one another rivals as much as they do friendly competitors, all working toward the same goal.”

As with any major disruption in our social, cultural, and economic lives, clean meat will have a tremendous impact on everything from jobs to food to animal welfare, and in the end, it will likely succeed if it improves the lives of humans. As Shapiro points out, much of animal protection is accidental — whaling only stopped in the mid-nineteenth century because kerosene was discovered to be a better and more affordable alternative to whale oil; horses were replaced with cars only thanks to Henry Ford’s innovation, not animal advocates (though wonderful advocates did exist, they were not the reason Americans exchanged horses for cars).

So there is reason for hope for clean meat, especially “given that mainstream meat consumers (i.e., most people in our society) rarely think twice about buying meat from animals who’ve been raised in unsanitary and inhumane conditions … it’s difficult to imagine most of us having a problem with clean meat that (aside from being safer, eco-friendlier, and more humane) is pretty much the same meat that we’re used to eating.”

The biggest question of all — how does it taste? — will ultimately be answered by consumers themselves. As you’ll read in Clean Meat, the reviews so far are quite good. Shapiro was invited to try several foods in process, from “steak chips” to cultured foie gras to clean duck. A vegan for more than two decades, he writes, “I had little ethical concern about eating the [cultured] meat, but it still felt bizarre to be on the precipice of ingesting animal flesh.” He reports that the taste of the products he sampled was authentic; the duck “was exactly how I remembered duck tasting from my youth.”

Clean Meat should be read by anyone who cares about the planet, but most of all by those who currently eat and wear animals the way these products are made today. This book provides a detailed, well-rounded examination of a new industry that highlights the challenges — and the incredible possibilities — of feeding and clothing us all in an increasingly populated and demanding world.

“I’m convinced that when we look back in thirty years on today, how we raise and slaughter billions of animals to make our hamburgers and handbags, we’ll see this as being wasteful, inhumane, and indeed crazy,” Andras Forgacs of Modern Meadow tells Shapiro. “We need to move past just killing animals as a resource to something more civilized and evolved. Perhaps we’re ready for something literally and figuratively more cultured.”

Learn more at as well as And check out my interview with Paul Shapiro at VegNews.


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Film Review: Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

Okay, so this isn’t a book review — but it’s such an important documentary that I wanted to review it here on EcoLit Books. (The book connection: As you watch the film, you’ll learn about a few books to add to your reading list, including Comfortably Unaware and The World Peace Diet.)

Cowspiracy (which is currently still available for its special Earth Day price of $1) covers the impact of animal agriculture on the planet — it’s the number-one contributor to human-induced climate change and affects everything from the rainforests to the oceans — and why some of the biggest environmental organizations never talk about it.


Filmmaker Kip Andersen interviews representatives of governmental and “environmental” organizations, including the Sierra Club, Oceana, Surfrider (he tried to talk to Greenpeace, which wouldn’t agree to speak with him), and it’s fascinating to watch them stumble over their words when asked about animal agriculture’s impact on the planet.

And yet the facts speak for themselves. To produce just one quarter-pound burger takes 660 gallons of water (in other words, two months’ worth of showers). One gallon of dairy milk uses 1,000 gallons of water to produce, and for every one pound of fish caught, there are five pounds of bycatch (including dolphins, sharks, turtles, and penguins). To protect cattle-grazing lands in the United States West, ranchers kill coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, cougars — and wild horses and burrows are being rounded up and held so that cattle ranchers can use public lands for grazing.

Why won’t so many environmental groups talk about this? It’s not an easy topic, with agribusiness being so powerful. In Brazil, 1,100 activists have been killed for speaking out against animal agriculture. And of course, as Michael Pollan says in the film, asking people not to eat meat and dairy is a “political loser” for member-based organizations.

Yet there are both individuals and organizations who will speak the truth, and this is where the heart of the film is. A spokesperson for the Sea Shepherd Conservation society says there is “no such thing as sustainable fishing,” and quotes what founder Paul Watson often says: If the oceans die, we die. “That’s not a tagline,” she adds. “That’s the truth.”

Cowspiracy contains some difficult truths for omnivores, but it’s important viewing for anyone who’s concerned about the environment — and the last half hour is truly inspiring for those who are open to making a difference. (And in the last twenty minutes is one of the sweetest moments I’ve seen in a film…don’t miss it.)

“You can’t be an environmentalist and eat animal products. Period,” says Howard Lyman, former cattle rancher and author of Mad Cowboy. “Kid yourself if you want…but don’t call yourself an environmentalist.”

Visit Cowspiracy to learn more. And even if you don’t watch the entire film, do check out the film trailer, read some of the facts, and find out how to take action.


“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” 

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Book Review: Deep River Burning by Donelle Dreese

Deep River Burning by Donelle Dreese

“Memory is an unfolding force tucked away in the leaves of summer trees. With the slightest breeze of provocation, memories stir and reveal themselves, become more wide open and exposed. The world, tight and locked from the grip of winter relaxes fully in the heat, sits still with its memory, almost stagnates, and when life slows down, the world becomes magnified.”

Deep River Burning by Donelle DreeseA pleasant and soulful read lush with natural metaphor, the novel Deep River Burning (2015, WiDo Publishing) tells the coming of age story of Denver Oakley in a striking setting. Denver’s hometown, Adena, Pennsylvania, lies on top of an abandoned coal mine. Accidentally set afire, it is now burning unstoppably below the town.

As the noxious fumes of the hidden fires rise into the townspeople’s homes, Denver balances on the edge of adulthood posed to encounter the natural world as an adult and begin making her own way in life.

Readers of EcoLit will appreciate the settings from Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania to Isabel Beach, North Carolina. Denver’s hometown is the scene of a fascinating environmental disaster with insidious consequences. The book explores a town’s reaction to the unseen fires which slowly poison them: their denial, anger and fear. It shows people’s reluctance to acknowledge danger, stir to action and leave behind what they know. It recalls the larger crisis and reaction to climate change.

Later, the book takes a turn and Denver leaves her home, traveling downriver to the sea, where she meets an environmentalist Catholic priest at a wildlife sanctuary.

Steeped in nature, thematically Deep River Burning offers a spiritual exploration of moving on and letting go.

“We can fight our circumstances all we want, dream them away, deny them, smoke or drink them into oblivion, but we are going to be left with the same clarity at some moment when we least expect it, when the clouds pull away from the stars. And it is a blessing, just like the stars, a space of infinite possibilities. It means giving up a part of ourselves to something larger, something wiser, and something far more compassionate than humanity.”

The style and chosen point of view of the novel leads to some rather jarring and unexplained, a little too like life, events. Sometimes, Denver’s perspective seems perplexing and the reader drifts with her uncertainly. A natural force, beautiful but aloft, tells Denver’s story, dipping into the lives of those around her.

That said, Deep River Burning contains the promise of EcoLit: It connects people’s feelings and experience with environmental issues. Denver appreciates nature, but also confronts wrongs and seeks change. She grows as someone connected to the natural world who wants to make a difference. The book provides the opportunity to learn about issues and gather some facts, but empathically within the context of human lives and feelings. It compares involvement and action with the consequences of stagnation.

What to read next?
It’s brilliant when an author guides a reader to loved and influential works. In Deep River Burning, as Denver Oakley makes her way to the sea by bus, she’s reading Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us, a strong recommendation for a companion read.

For more environmental fiction, read Ann Pancake’s Strange As the Weather Has Been, a story about mountaintop strip mining in West Virginia. See the EcoLit review.

Reviewed by request.

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Book review: Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust

Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit

Wanderlust by Rebecca SolnitReading Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2000) is a lot like talking a hike. It can be a strenuous journey. At times, you may wonder what you have gotten yourself into, but you happily trek on. Along the way, the book catches your attention with a beautiful point of insight or takes you to a soaring vista. The journey is enjoyable and ultimately rewarding.

Best of all, this book will make you want to get out into the world and walk. Solnit reminds us that walking is an intellectual, spiritual, and revolutionary pursuit and can be a creative and empowering act.

“Walking is an indicator species for various kinds of freedoms and pleasures: free time, free and alluring space, and unhindered bodies.”

Solnit writes a couple of different kind of books. There are her lyrically written, inventive essays (the extremely beautiful The Faraway Nearby  for example) and her obsessively researched academic books (i.e. A Paradise Built in Hell), fascinating if the topic interests. Wanderlust falls into the latter category, but it is the pick for EcoLit readers.

“Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord.”

Solnit examines the spirituality, history, literature, and political implications of walking. Along the way, she offers numerous side trails to explore introducing works by walking philosophers and the genre of the walking essay. Side treks include Thoreau’s “Walking,” Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” and Umberto Eco’s Six Walks in a Fictional Wood.

Readers of EcoLit may be particularly interested in the second section of the book, “From the Garden to the Wild,” which includes information about the Sierra Club and its founder John Muir who, “…took a stand against anthropocentrism, against the idea that trees, animals, minerals, soil, water, are there for human to use, let alone to destroy.” Solnit writes about how, as walking, hiking and mountaineering became popular, people began to take an interest in nature again.

“It is impossible to overemphasize how profound is the effect of this revolution on the taste for nature and practice of walking. It reshaped both the intellectual world and the physical one, sending populations of travelers to hitherto obscure destinations, creating innumerable parks, preserves, trails, guides, clubs, and organizations and a vast body or art and literature with almost no precedent before the eighteenth century.”

If you like to walk, read, create, write and change the world, Wanderlust is fuel. It is the perfect walking companion and will encourage you to walk more.

“Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.”

Inspired by this book: Find out more about The Sierra Club and read about Sarah Bergman’s Pollinator Pathway project on environmental architecture — we are of nature and can design our environment for biodiversity.

What to read next: See “Walking: The Secret Ingredient for Health, Wealth, and More Exciting Neighborhoods” in YES! Magazine.

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Book Review: Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

People of a certain age (myself included) remember growing up outside. Our families opened the doors, shooed us out, and shut them again, leaving us free to wander through our neighborhoods, parks, and/or wild places, making up our own games. I have particularly vivid memories of being let loose on the beaches of Southern California, with only a vague notion of adults close enough to make sure we didn’t drown or get too sunburned but otherwise being free to run around, swim, and build and destroy things in the sand.

These are memories that today’s children may never have, worries Richard Louv, and his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder outlines the risks, challenges, and solutions for children who are growing up indoors.


Last Child in the Woods is a comprehensive book, even a bit daunting at first glance, but it should be required reading for anyone with children in their lives. Based on meticulous research and using anecdotes as well as science, Louv takes a close look at the changes in society that have distanced today’s kids from nature — as well as the changes children’s physical and social lives — and offers both stark warnings and hopeful solutions.

Divided into seven sections (beginning with quotations from writers from Whitman to Thoreau to Frost, and many others), Last Child in the Woods covers the immense gifts that nature offers us humans as well as the onset of fears that often cause parents to keep their kids too close. Louv offers data that indicate how the benefits of nature and outdoor physical activity can help with many of the problems that plague childhood populations. To offer a few examples: One study shows that the amount of TV children watch correlates with measures of their body fat; Cornell University researchers discovered that even a room with a view of nature can protect children from stress; natural surroundings encourage boys and girls to engage in make-believe play in egalitarian ways; researchers recommend nature to minimize symptoms of ADHD (“[e]ven without corroborating evidence, many parents notice significant changes in their hyperactive child’s behavior when they hike in the mountains or enjoy other nature-oriented settings”).

In addition to changes caused by housing developments — such as homeowners’ association rules or a lack of green space — issues from stranger danger to fear of the outdoors also prevent children from running around outside. Yet Louv points out that so many perceived dangers are overly hyped, and that in fact, more dangers lurk indoors than out, from toxins to poisonous spiders (the brown recluse, as one example, prefers to live indoors) to allergens to the very real risk of obesity.

Not only are there short-term and developmental effects from what Louv calls nature-deficit disorder, but distance from nature can have a wide-reaching effect on our planet’s well-being in the long run as well: “Lacking direct experience with nature, children begin to associate it with fear and apocalypse, not joy and wonder.” How can children be expected to preserve and protect something they fear rather than love?

Last Child in the Woods is powerful and important, though there is one especially disappointing section of the book, in which Louv makes “the case for hunting and fishing.” While Louv admits he does not encourage hunting, he does encourage fishing, acknowledging “the slim moral logic” dividing the two. While he offers a bit of balance, citing PETA’s objections to fishing as a sport taught in Scouting programs and quoting a young spokesperson who says, “Scouting has taught me that Scouts should not harm the environment or animals in it,” Louv nevertheless goes on to encourage fishing as a way to engage with nature—a very poor message to send to children if we want them to respect the environment in a non-destructive way. And anyone who wants to make an argument for catch-and-release should read Virginia Morell’s Animal Wise (just for starters), which makes clear that, with pain receptors on their heads (trout have twenty-two of them), fish do feel pain; there is simply no way to catch fish that is not cruel or violent, and it’s a shame that Louv encourages fishing as a way for children to engage with the natural world.

Still, otherwise the book offers other good tips and advice for bringing kids into nature. For anyone who might feel overwhelmed by the usual stressors such as a lack of time or travel funds, Louv reminds us to start with small steps: “Encourage your child to get to know a ten-square-yard area at the edge of a field, pond, or pesticide-free garden.Look for the edges between habitats: where the trees stop and a field begins; where rocks and earth meet water. Life is always at the edges.”

Louv emphasizes that the solutions will need to go beyond parenting to educators, school systems, camps, neighborhoods, and cities—but that spending quality time in nature is as essential to children’s development as it is to the care-taking of the planet we call home. “Nature—the sublime, the harsh, and the beautiful—offers something that the street or gated community cannot. Nature presents the young with something so much greater than they are; it offers an environment where they can easily contemplate infinity and eternity…Immersion in the natural environment cuts to the chase, exposes the young directly and immediately to the very elements from which humans evolved: earth, water, air, and other living kin, large and small.”

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