The Bell Tolls for Meat

The year was 2216 and meat had been abolished for a century. The algal bioreactors on Mars hummed efficiently and provided the denizens of New New York City (its founder, the first Chief Executive of the Regolith, had quite the sense of humor) with sustenance. The students of E.R. Musk High School assembled into their Socratic groups and headed into class.

Gamma Group’s first class was social studies. Their teacher spoke. “Today we’ll be continuing our coverage of the progressive movement in the twenty-first century and their struggles against income inequality, heterosexism, and geographical discrimination based on artificial boundaries called ‘borders’. Now, as progressive for their time as they were, you all know that many of them ate meat, and we can’t ignore that large moral blot on their record. Before I begin covering the history, does anyone have thoughts they’d like to express on the matter?
Yes, Arturo?”

“I feel like it might not make sense to judge them so harshly, since, well, they didn’t really have bioreactors back then. I mean, economically it’s way easier for us to get by without having meat, while they—don’t get me wrong, obviously meat’s terrible—but in their time the technology wasn’t really there—”

A particularly outspoken nonbinary entity named Rylex interrupted him. Xir bioluminescent genetic tweaks caused xir skin to pulse like strobe lights. “Are you apologizing for meat? Meat is evil. It was wrong then, there’s no excuse, and if you don’t realize that, you need to quit with the opinions and educate yourself.” Xe sat back with smug satisfaction.

A girl named Kira came to Arturo’s defense. “I don’t think any of us can say that we’re morally superior to the people who lived back then, contra Rylex, because we don’t know how we’d act in a world without bioreactors. But at the same time, despite the fact that eating meat was a mainstream thing to do, there were people who knew better and took a moral stand even then. It was possible."

Rylex’s skin pulsed red, but a boy named Vikesh spoke next.

“Not only was it possible, entire cultures got by without meat. My ancestors were Hindus and what they lacked in bioreactors they made up for in curry. Going back to what Arturo said, if we want to talk economics, let’s not ignore the fact that billions of people—often incredibly poor—fed themselves without committing the atrocities that the meat-eaters did.”

Song Lee spoke. “Well, the meat-eaters were hardly the only ones that committed atrocities. I know we all think of ‘Jon Bernstein’s Body’ as just a catchy song, but the things he did with the Animal Liberation Front...I don’t want to sound extreme...but they could almost be called acts of terror. I know he was ahead of his time on the meat question, but I don’t think that necessarily justified his use of violence.”

Rylex burst in again angrily. “Of course his violence was justified! You can’t dismantle systems of structural oppression if you’re not willing to give the oppressors what they deserve. It’s disgusting that you would even bring up the terrorism label—‘terrorism’ can only be committed by oppressors against the oppressed, otherwise it’s ‘freedom fighting’. The meat-eaters were lucky that he only used car bombs; if it were me, I would’ve slaughtered them in their own factory farms!”

“...Well, class, I think that was certainly an interesting moral discussion. Przekąs, can you get us some refreshments before we begin the lesson?”

The slave dutifully went to fetch drinks for its masters.