The Linger Effect

Am I the only one who thinks it weird that the combustion engine, which was designed to displace and replace horses, is still measured in horsepower? More remarkable still, the next-generation electric cars also measure their output in horsepower. Will flying cars, when they arrive, be rated by horsepower, maybe Pegasus-Power? 


Horses were once ubiquitous; as precombustion-engine cities grew, so did the number of horses require for transport of all kinds. Farmers committed vast areas around cities to growing horse food, which had to be harvested and transported by still more horses. All that water, hay, and oats passing through the digestive tracts of over a hundred thousand horses in a city like New York produced more than 2 million pounds of manure a day, along with 25 thousand gushing gallons of urine. Horse manure was piled up to four stories high in vacant lots. Flies abounded, disease rampaged, and the dust blown from these piles coated everything outside and inside.  Dinner plates were laid on tables upside-down to avoid a dusting of dehydrated horse poop — city dwellers, often in their evening suits and dresses, negotiated streets reeking with fresh and stale horse excretions with raised hems and careful steps. 


The combustion engine liberated cities from horses, and equally importantly, it released horses from cities. While it seems contrary to our experience, the air became fresher, the streets cleaner, and the city more sanitary. It is interesting to note that electric vehicles hold out the same promise.  Still, as if we’re still stuck in 1897, horsepower as a measure still lingers. 


How does this relate to consumer package goods, circa 2021? Well, the idea that cow’s milk is the nutritional gold standard for humans also still lingers in some consumers’ memories yet is as antiquated a measurement as horsepower.  The gold standard for calves is cows’ milk, just as the mother’s milk is the gold standard for her baby, be they mother elephants, whales, or humans.   


Whole industries are developing around the lingering effect. Laboratory concocted “meat” is one of these. They anticipate the idea that animal flesh is a vital protein source and will be as durable as the term horsepower. However, the horse has already bolted, plant-based food choices and protein sources are off and running. 


Millions are enjoying the adventure of new foods. Vegetarians, vegans, reducetarians, and foodies of all kinds are creating interesting, nutritious, tasty meals – they are not longing for, or referencing back to, flesh and blood; they seek instead fresh, clean-ingredient, natural foods from plants.  


Maybe it’s because horses can’t fly that NASA has abandoned horsepower; they rate rocket power in millions of pounds of thrust. The investors in Lab-meat are rating that opportunity in billions of dollars of profit. They are betting the concept has the horsepower, or pounds of thrust, to overcome its Dr. Frankenstein style lab origins. It is alive; it is alive! 


But is this lab-flesh alive in any sense? Is it fully animal, fully plant-based, or just the undead? If you prod it, does it twitch? Is it bovine, equine, canine or porcupine – all we know so far is it’s clandestine?  


Our current food all originates with life from the natural world.  Foods labeled plant-based are clearly and exclusively from plants.  What is the correct category for mystery lab flesh? Before galloping along and putting this gift horse in our mouths, we at least want to know, is it horse?  Does the concept make good horse sense? Or is it simply a Trojan horse masquerading under the plant-based banner?