The New Omnivore identity and the promotion of animal-free meat, dairy, and eggs

In 2015, Janay Laing launched The New Omnivore, an organization with a mission of promoting animal-free versions of meat, dairy, and eggs and their consumption. A ‘new omnivore’ is also an identity, which they define as:

[s]omeone who desires to eat meat, dairy, and eggs made from plants or biotechnology, so that [she or he] causes less harm to the environment, human health, and animals.

In December, The New Omnivore ran a mini-conference in the Bay area featuring talks by presenters associated with the IndieBio startup accelerator, Gelzen, Hampton Creek, and Clara Foods. In January, they announced ambitious plans for 2016 including a September conference on animal-free foods, educational workshops, and college outreach. Their most recent blog post is an excellent introduction to plant-based butchers.

The New Omnivore in relation to New Harvest, The Good Food Institute, and reducetarianism

The New Omnivore is joining New Harvest and The Good Food Institute in promoting cultured and plant-based meat, dairy, and egg development. From discussion with Janay, I expect New Omnivore to differ somewhat in their approach. While New Harvest and The Good Food Institute focus on technical advances and investment, The New Omnivore will promote a particular identity and will try to inspire a movement around it.

The New Omnivore also differs from mainstream animal protection groups, groups which also champion plant-based and cultured foods, in that the New Omnivore identity is not tied to vegetarianism or veganism.

The new omnivore identity, as defined by The New Omnivore shares, similarities with the reducetarian identity that many activists have been promoting since 2014. Both seek to reduce demand for conventional animal agriculture by changing people’s diets, both are accepting of a wide variety of ideological views, and neither asks for a wholesale elimination of conventional animal products from one’s diet.

The key difference between the new omnivore and reducetarian identities is that the new omnivore is framed positively (i.e., it’s about including particular foods into one’s diet) whereas the reducetarian identity is framed negatively (i.e., it’s about elimination). Besides bringing another voice to the promotion of animal-free foods, this positive framing may be The New Omnivore’s key contribution.

My take on The New Omnivore

Although I understand why some activists are promoting the reducetarian identity, I’ve been suspicious that anyone other than existing activists will find it to be compelling and coherent. Empirical data could persuade me otherwise of course. Although I don’t know if people will like the particular label of ‘new omnivore’, I have a more positive feeling about it as a motivating identity, both for its positive framing and because people seem to develop identities around their positive consumer choices (e.g., eco-friendly, sweatshop-free).

Beyond that, I’m happy that The New Omnivore will try to increase conversation about cultured and plant-based meat, dairy, and eggs. Anecdotally, I’ve found a variety of people to be quite interested in such products and technologies, while sadly being mis- or underinformed. As long as the information provided is honest, accurate, and well-framed, I believe that education will help us get to a future of reduced animal product consumption sooner.

The New Omnivore has particularly ambitious plans for 2016. There are currently just a few people contributing to the project, but I believe they’re motivated and resourceful enough to do a lot this year. Particularly inspiring is the fact that they didn’t start by asking for money! If they can achieve a fraction of what they have set out to do in the year, and I think they will, I expect they will make a positive contribution to the world.