Six Tips for Talking About Clean Meat
Clean meat—meat grown from animal cells without the need for farming and slaughter—isn’t on the market yet. So despite a fair bit of buzz about it, it may be no surprise that Faunalytics’ 2018 study found that only 25% of people were familiar with it. But more and more people are hearing about clean meat for the first time every day, and you might have the privilege—or responsibility!—of being the first one to tell them about it.
Communicating about a brand-new product like clean meat can be difficult. Most of your audience has no preconceived ideas you can counter or build on, leaving you to come up with a strategy from scratch. It’s the mixed blessing of a blank page: fresh and full of opportunities, but providing no guidance about where to go.
Clean meat is exotic and interesting. Starting conversations isn’t likely to be hard, but “to change people’s diets, the exotic must be made familiar” (Duhigg, 2014). Exotic makes people interested, but it doesn’t make them comfortable.
To help you guide others from interested to comfortable, Faunalytics has put together this list of tips, based on our own research and others’. If you have any other suggestions, please add them in the comments!
1. The One-Liner
The first time someone hears about clean meat, they’ll need an explanation of what it is. Think accurate, succinct, and positive. Don’t avoid the subject of where clean meat comes from—after all, that’s what makes it better than conventional meat—but try not to use terms that make it sound like weird science! We suggest something like “It’s real meat grown from animal cells, so that people will be able to have meat without the need to raise and slaughter farm animals in the future.” (This is adapted from the line used in our study, which found the highest interest in clean meat of any study to date.)
2. Use the Name “Clean Meat”
Early studies from The Good Food Institute (GFI, 2017) and Animal Charity Evaluators (2017) suggested that “clean meat” is a better name than other contenders like cultured meat and Meat 2.0. It sounds more positive and appealing. When people hear a new term, they immediately think about other things that it reminds them of or that sound similar (Wikipedia overview). “Clean meat” sounds similar to “clean energy,” and comes with similar environmental benefits, as described below.
Some manufacturers may choose other named for their product—for instance, “cell-based meat” has received recent support as a neutral, descriptive alternative. However, as of now, “clean meat” is the only term that has been empirically tested and validated, so we recommend using it over other options.
3. Continuing the Conversation: Benefits
The one-liner isn’t likely to be the end of the conversation, with such an interesting topic. So what next?
If the conversational flow is up to you, talking about the benefits of clean meat is a great next step. (Just remember that if you’re talking to someone one-on-one, you should let the other person shape the conversation and express any concerns.)
There are many benefits to clean meat, so you can tailor how you talk about them to your audience. It will taste exactly the same as conventional meat and provide the same nutrition, it’s better for the environment (it uses less water, less land, and produces fewer greenhouse gases), and it doesn’t require animals to suffer or die.
There are many more details about the benefits at cleanmeat.org. But just a quick mention of the key points is fine—our study mentioned these benefits but didn’t go into great detail. Even with just a quick overview, the majority of our participants agreed that clean meat would be safe, healthy, and more environmentally-friendly than conventional meat. Some still weren’t sure, but very few disagreed.
4. Let People Express their Concerns
Questioning a new technology is normal and good. We want people to be thoughtful consumers! Don’t avoid talking about their concerns: Presenting only the positives of a subject and skimming past worries will make it look like you’re hiding something (O’Keefe, 1999).
Answer the questions you can, but admit when you don’t know. When you’re talking about clean meat, you’re representing it, for better or for worse. You don’t need to be an expert on the subject, but it’s crucial to be a trustworthy source (Assadi & Oleysker, 2006; McGinnies & Ward, 1980).
Concern: “It Just Sounds Weird”
People often get hung up on how clean meat is produced. They may not have specific safety concerns—it just sounds weird.
It doesn’t hurt to agree that it sounds weird at first—in fact, acknowledging the other side could really help, as long as you then go on to explain why it isn’t really weird (Allen, 1991; O’Keefe, 1999). For instance, you can tell them that the science behind clean meat isn’t actually any weirder than the process of fermenting yogurt or beer. Once it’s being produced on a large scale, factories will make it in vats just like for those familiar products.
Concern: “It’s Unnatural”
This close cousin of “it just sounds weird” goes hand in hand with the idea that unnatural is bad. Although this concern about clean meat has been mentioned and researched a lot (e.g., Laestadius, 2015; Verbeke, Marcu, et al., 2015), our study found that only about a third of people (34%) thought that clean meat sounded unnatural at all. So even if you’ve read about this issue, don’t assume a particular person you’re talking to is worried about it! Bringing up issues they haven’t even thought about isn’t likely to help them or you.
If (and only if) the person you’re talking to brings up unnaturalness, our study suggests that the best way to address these concerns is by reminding them about the unnaturalness of conventionally-produced meat. For instance, you could mention the use of antibiotics, hormones, additives, artificial coloring, preservatives, and irradiation. The cramped farming conditions also bear little resemblance to animals’ natural habitats, which increases the risk of contamination, viruses, and bacteria.
Our study also suggests that when people are concerned about the naturalness of clean meat, you shouldn’t try to convince them that it actually is natural or that naturalness isn’t important. At best, these arguments aren’t likely to work. At worst, they could actually backfire and make people less interested in clean meat. Avoid that kind of argument.
5. Talk About the Growing Interest in Clean Meat
Humans are social animals. We use information about what other people do to decide what we should do (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955). As a result, we tend to be more trusting of things that other people like. We check product reviews, request references from job applicants, and ask our friends what they think of the new restaurant. This is sensible. It saves us some time and mental math as we weigh the pros and cons of trying something new.
Telling people that most people in the U.S. want to try clean meat, as our study showed, gives them a shortcut. If other people have already done the mental math and come out in favor of it, that’s valuable information. Not as solid as if others had tried it and said it was good, but since that isn’t possible yet, this is as good as it gets for now. Mention it if you can.
6. Be Real
There’s a lot of “how to” information in this post. But the best thing you can do for clean meat might be to just be yourself when you’re talking about it. Go over these points and learn what you can, but in the end, you’re not a leaflet, you’re a person! Talk about what makes you excited about clean meat and other people will take their cue from your enthusiasm.