Question: A documentary describes how chicken nuggets can be cultured from chicken feathers. Is such food considered vegetarian or vegan?
Answer: The starter product as feather cells is vegetarian, as it is not meat, but the end product is meat. Throughout, it is not vegan as it comes from imprisonment and exploitation of chickens for their body parts. (To summarise, cultured meat is neither vegetarian nor vegan.)
Encouragement by the Buddha to go vegan is in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra《楞严经》, where he said to the effect that those who exploit sentient beings will forge negative karmic affinity with them. It is thus better to go for directly vegan foods, as plant-based foods are healthier for humans, animals and the environment:
‘If all Bhikṣus, [do] not wear eastern silk waddings [and] silk clothing, and this land’s [leather] boots [and] shoes, furs [and] down, [or eat and drink] milk, cheese, ghee [and] cream, such Bhikṣus, from [the] world, [will] truly [be] liberated. [Having] repaid past debts, [they will] not wander [through] the three realms. Why [is this] so? [Those] wearing their body parts, [are] all by those conditioned. Like people [who] eat this earth’s hundred grains within, [whose] feet [do] not leave [the] earth. If enabling [their] bodies [and] minds, of all sentient beings’ bodies or body parts, [with] both paths [of] body [and] mind, [to] not wear [and] not eat [them], I say these persons, [will be] those truly liberated.’
Question: Why will cultured (or lab-grown) meat perpetuate imprisonment and exploitation of animals’ lives?
Answer: In the competitive and lucrative meat industry, there will always be experimenting for better chicken DNA and such — to get the illusory ‘better’ or ‘perfect’ chicken taste. Thus, the breeding, imprisonment, exploitation, though hopefully less in volume, will surely continue. Unfortunately, this is the nature of human greed for so-called ‘progress’. (The First Precept is about not killing, but all prohibitive precepts’ essence is about not harming; not just not killing.)
In the West, there are many kinds of actual vegan ‘meats’ in the blooming industry now, though in the East, the Chinese community and others have them for generations already, without need to pluck a single feather from a suffering chicken. It is also scientifically proven to be much healthier (for human, animal and planetary health to consume plant-based whole foods directly, instead of processed foods, be they meat-based or plant-based.)
Update: In 10 June 2022 news in Singapore about a new cultivated chicken facility called ‘Good Meat’, ‘The meat is made from the cells of animals obtained using biopsy and then grown in bioreactors in a growth medium of cell nutrients, including amino acids, carbohydrates, minerals, fats and vitamins, the company said. Animal rights activists have pointed out that the growth medium contains fetal bovine serum (FBS) which is harvested from calf foetuses.’ This meat is not so ethically ‘good’ after all.
How Should All Aspiring For Buddhahood Eat And Drink?
Is Lab-Grown Meat Ethical?