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I was watching a clip from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Sins of The Father” (S03E17) where Kurn (Worf’s younger brother) says:

“I shall try some of your burned replicated bird meat.”

But just before this, Geordi La Forge states:

“It’s not dead it’s been replicated… And you do understand that we cook most of our food?”

Knowing that Geordi states the bird is not “dead” but it is replicated, could the meal of “burned replicated bird meat” be considered to be vegetarian/vegan? Is the topic of the ethics of replicated meat ever discussed in the Star Trek: The Next Generation or other properties in the Star Trek franchise?

Captain Picard carves into the burned replicated bird meat.


In-universe explanation preferred, but any “behind the scenes” discussions about this will be considered valid as well.

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    The answer depends 100% on your definition of vegetarian. Someone who doesn't eat meat (and considers themselves vegetarian) due to meat protein allergy (yes, such a thing sadly exists) wouldn't care one bit if the meat is replicated or not.
    – Davor
    Jan 24 at 11:51
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    Tempted to migrate this to the Veganism & Vegetarianism SE site :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 24 at 13:48
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    If replicated meat became common in industry, you can guess that a majority of people would eat replicated meat and refuse to eat animal meat, but a minority of people would still eat animal meat and another minority of people would refuse to eat meat not even replicated meat. Words would evolve accordingly. Today we only have words "vegetarian" and "vegan" and we don't even have a word for "not vegetarian", but in reality there exist many more different diets. For instance we don't have a word to distinguish between "eat fish but no other meat" and "don't eat meat at all, not even fish meat"
    – Stef
    Jan 24 at 15:09
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    @Stef - oh, we do. In the software I write, we have a need to specify pretty detailed dietary needs for people. "Eats only fish" vegetarian is pescatarian. And "no meat vegetarian" is lacto-ovo vegetarian. Just so you know I'm not making these things up, here are Wiki links :D en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pescetarianism en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lacto-ovo_vegetarianism
    – Davor
    Jan 24 at 15:45
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    The discussion on types of vegetarianism was interesting but getting rather long and tangential to the actual question at hand. The comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Jan 25 at 11:30

3 Answers 3

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Not sure if this qualifies. But one quote that seems to be at least related is from S01E07, "Lonely Among Us" in which:

Commander Riker makes the statement:

"We no longer enslave animals for food purposes."

The alien Badar N'D'D comments:

"But we have seen Humans eat meat."

Commander Riker goes on to say:

"You've seen something as fresh and tasty as meat, but inorganically materialized, out of patterns used by our transporters."

Thus, I would suggest to your question on ethics, in that time period crew members consider the 'meat' made in replicator as comparable to the type of protein/'meat' we see assembled in an Impossible Burger or a Beyond Burger today. I.e. it is protein. But not from an animal. All the vegetarians I happen to know (admittedly not a scientific sampling LOL) consider those meat alternatives as vegetarian. Thus ethically is is valid to eat.

That would not necessarily apply to those that are vegetarian for health reasons. But your question was on the ethics side.

That said, I would not necessarily consider those on Star Trek: The Next Generation to be vegans either. We saw in at least one instance they ate eggs: S02E13 "Time Squared."

Finally, from an out of universe perspective, in his 1991 Humanist interview Roddenberry states:

"My philosophy about the use of animals has changed. I am not yet a vegetarian, but I don’t feel comfortable as a meat eater knowing a lot of the things that go on to put meat on the table."

Thus, I would suggest Roddenberry looked at replicators as a way to satisfy the desire for a meat like protein without the ethical concerns he felt. I.e. a way to be a vegetarian but still enjoy 'meat'.

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    +1, but I do want to note one important caveat. People who avoid meat (especially red meat) because of allergies to proteins in the meat may not be able to eat replicated meat either if it duplicates the same proteins.
    – DavidW
    Jan 24 at 3:20
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    As a vegetarian, personally, I would be happy to eat lab-grown meat. But I certainly know vegetarians who have said they will not do so, because animals must have been harmed early on in the research required to grow the meat. So the idea that it's fine for vegetarians because any particular given piece of lab-grown meat hasn't directly come from an animal is false.
    – Bob Tway
    Jan 24 at 14:13
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    Do we know if the eggs they eat are from a replicator or from a live animal?
    – Joe W
    Jan 24 at 17:54
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    Doesn't Ben Sikso's dad run a replicator-free restaurant that serves shrimp creole? Jan 24 at 21:52
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    @JoeW Both. Memory Alpha has a page on the subject of scrambled eggs with examples of replicated and real eggs, and some of unknown origin. Specifically, in the TNG episode Time Squared Riker prepares real 'Owon eggs as an omelette, but only Worf found them palatable.
    – RisingZan
    Jan 25 at 19:49
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Is a copy of a steak ethical?

The replicator creates meat out of thin air energy, but where did the pattern for that meat come from?

Two possibilities...

If replicator patterns are programmed...

...replicated meat is like a painting of meat. No animal was harmed in the making of the pattern. There's no ethical issue. It's someone's idea of meat.

Maybe that's why people say replicated food tastes wrong; they've had the real thing.

If replicator patterns are scanned...

...replicated meat is like a photo of meat. While no animal was harmed to make the copy, a real animal was killed for the pattern.

This raises ethical issues similar to using research derived using unethical practices. On the one hand, that replicated meat required an animal to die, and by eating replicated meat you're creating demand for more patterns and more animals to die for those patterns. On the other hand, using the pattern doesn't kill more animals, and probably saves many animals by supplying the demand for meat.


I think it's the case that while replicators can be programmed, the basic patterns are scanned; the programming is like remixing. On the show its often commented that replicated food is molecularly indistinguishable from regular food, but how would they know replicated meat is indistinguishable from real meat if they didn't have real meat to check it against?

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    Actually, considering the scanning capabilities that exist in-universe, it could also be that someone scanned a living animal and simulated killing and cooking its flesh... while the template animal remains alive and well. If you need even more fidelity, just make a transporter duplicate of the animal you want, sans brain, and what's the foul?
    – Matthew
    Jan 26 at 4:31
  • @Matthew How did they write an accurate simulation without killing and cooking some animals to get data for the simulation? "make a transporter duplicate of the animal you want, sans brain" an interesting (if oddly grisly) ethical escape hatch; it's like real life lab grown meat.
    – Schwern
    Jan 26 at 7:34
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    Maybe they cooked an early transporter accident and used that as the model, which is why it tastes a bit odd.
    – Separatrix
    Jan 26 at 9:45
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    Why do scanned replicator patterns require killing the animal? The same universe can transport humans by scanning them and rebuilding them elsewhere. That isn't considered killing humans.
    – Abigail
    Jan 26 at 14:20
  • @Abigail, there is intermittently some hand-waving about a "mind matrix" that suggests that transporters really are transporting and not just building a copy and destroying the original. OTOH, there are transporter "accidents" that make no sense if that's the case. Reality, however, is that the show isn't entirely consistent with its own rules, so... (But in any case, yes, existence of transporters especially suggests some possible "escape hatches" to being able to create "real" meat without "killing" something in the process.)
    – Matthew
    Jan 26 at 17:39
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The original "in-universe" purpose of a transporter was to deliver people from one point to another: they remained alive, therefore by definition they remained meat. Therefore food generated from "patterns used by our transporters" should retain its designation (i.e. meat etc.).

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    But a replicator isn't the same as a transporter, even if it's derived from the same technology. Even if it was, beaming synthetic protein and fat molecules onto a plate in an arrangement that was indistinguishable from a steak wouldn't mean it came from a cow
    – Chris H
    Jan 25 at 6:59
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    This calls into question whether the person being transported is the same person that steps onto the platform. If your bones, protein patterns and emergent conciousness is copied to the planet surface and your original mass is deleted from the platform, is that the same person? Is Thomas Riker as much the real Riker as our real Riker?
    – Jacques
    Jan 25 at 8:59
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    @Jacques when a person is clinical dead, then reanimated, is it still the same person or did the person die and a new person with the same body and memory created? Is the person waking up in the morning really the same person as the person that went to sleep the previous day? It’s even not for sure whether the continuity from the person you were a second ago to your current state is a thing. We pretend that it exist despite all of your body’s atoms get replaced over some years, so we have nothing in common with that person some years ago (except for some patterns)
    – Holger
    Jan 25 at 9:13
  • Regarding the identity of a transported or replicated individual as "original" or not, you might be interested in the recent novel "The Punch Escrow" (goodreads.com/book/show/32446949-the-punch-escrow) by Tal M. Klein, in which that question is a significant plot point.
    – Codex24
    Jan 25 at 18:15
  • @Holger Us humans sure like to ponder these philosophical problems... meanwhile, it seems that nature couldn't care less...
    – Andy
    Jan 26 at 7:32

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