Lab-grown meat forces Buddhists to re-evaluate vegetarianism

Adam Novak
4 min readApr 21, 2022


Imagine a Buddhist monk sitting at the dinner table and chowing down on a juicy, char-grilled burger. This spectacle can only exist in our imaginations, since most Buddhist traditions urge their adherents to abstain from eating meat. But with the growing promise of lab-grown meat, traditional perspectives on vegetarianism are being challenged.

As someone who lived at a Vipassana meditation center for three months, I can speak on Buddhism from the viewpoint of Vipassana, a subset of Buddhism which originated from Burma and heavily emphasizes meditation. According to the Buddhist teachings emphasized in Vipassana, meat is not consumed primarily because of the principle of no-harm.

Buddhist philosophies adhere strongly to the principle of no-harm — that you should do your best not to hurt any being. Whether that being be a fellow human, an elephant, or even a grasshopper, it should not be harmed under any circumstances. This principle therefore also applies within the context of diets and meat-eating. Just as Buddhists are asked to choose escorting a grasshopper from their house over killing it, so are they asked to choose tofu over chicken. Even if a Buddhist does not kill the animal themselves, the act of choosing a meat dish is effectively adding to the demand for meat and asking someone else to kill an animal. While there are exceptions to this reasoning — like if meat is eaten from an animal which dies on its own — today, almost all the meat we eat comes from livestock which is deliberately killed. Buddhists apply this understanding — that in most cases, one cannot eat meat without someone causing harm to an animal — as the primary basis for vegetarianism.

But if you could eat meat without causing harm to an animal, would the vegetarian principle still hold? Lab-grown meats offer just this — an alternative form of meat which does not require an animal to be killed. Lab-grown meat is made from early-stage stem cells of organisms which are cultivated into a larger piece of meat within special biochemical environments. The end product is a piece of meat that looks and tastes identical to what we eat today.

With lab-grown meat, not only are animals not killed, but they’re also not harmed. The company Mosa Meat explains how they take a “0.5 gram cell sample under anesthesia” with a “standardized veterinary procedure” and as a result, “no animal is harmed” in the process. Some companies can even cultivate poultry just with the cells from a chicken’s feather. Thanks to lab-grown meat, just as we take our dog to the vet or pick up a feather off the ground, so too can we enjoy a chicken parm without a guilty conscience.

So long as these claims are true, it seems that Buddhists could eat lab-grown meat while staying true to the tenet of no-harm. Of course, there are still concerns over the living conditions those animals are raised in. Death is not the only point of suffering — many animals go through serious mental and physical distress through modern industrial livestock farms. In theory, lab-grown meat might still require animals to be raised in factory farms if its demand grows high enough. However, the chances of this are slim given promises from companies like Upside Foods that “the cells from a single chicken allow us to cultivate the same amount of poultry that ordinarily would come from hundreds of thousands of traditionally farmed birds.” Even with Upside’s optimistic claims, the living conditions for the animals should be continually re-evaluated before a definitive verdict on whether Buddhists can eat lab-grown meat is reached.

While lab-grown meat is still about a decade away from landing on our grocery store shelves, there’s another urgent animal welfare issue that Buddhists tend to overlook. Many Buddhist traditions, such as Vipassana, allow dairy to be eaten by their adherents. Yet now that most of the animal products we eat in the United States are sourced from industrial farms, raising cows for dairy has become a harmful process. Many of these industrial farms create seriously unpleasant conditions for cows: mothers are removed from their children immediately after giving birth and then spend each day producing milk incessantly in stressful, tight coops, often standing in their own feces and building up untreated bodily injuries. The harms of industrial dairy are now well-documented and widely known.

An industrial dairy farm. Source: Bloomberg

If Buddhists adhere to the principle of no-harm, and industrial dairy practices empirically cause harm to cows, then shouldn’t dairy products also be forbidden from a Buddhist diet? Why do some monasteries like Vipassana Meditation Centers still provide milk and yogurt for student meals when most milk and yogurt products made today involve the suffering of cows?

The advent of lab-grown meat forces Buddhists to rethink the existing vegetarian philosophy. Perhaps Buddhists should be allowed to eat meat so long as it was grown in an animal-friendly lab. More importantly, perhaps Buddhists should be prohibited from eating dairy so long as it was sourced from an industrial farm.



Adam Novak

Monastic Living | Language Learning | Responsible Technology