By Marc Brown
Vat-grown, Cultured, Synthetic: whatever you choose to call it, the concept of a slab of meat produced in a lab might put anyone off their appetite. It’s almost understandable then that this sincerely astounding leap forward in both science and food production has garnered so much resistance. Almost. I believe lab-grown meat is the logical next step in food production.
Initially, the reasons why lab-grown meat could not work were simple: extreme production costs, low yield, and, of course, taste and texture. Just five years ago the cost to produce a single beef patty in-vitro was in the range of about a third of a million dollars; however, today, thanks to increased competition in the market and several large food tech startups jockeying for the top spot in the growing synthetic meat industry, a pound of lab-grown meat costs only about $300. The cost is projected to be as low as $2.30 by 2020. Believe it or not, the cost is actually the least of man-made meat’s worries. Public opinion is not so easy to change.
Anthony Bourdain, world-famous chef and cookbook author, promoted a food-neophobic outlook. In a video interview by Tech Insider posted to YouTube in 2016, Bourdain stated, “… I see it as the enemy…. Anytime you discuss food as sustenance first without any consideration for happiness, joy… magic even.” Bourdain then goes on to list all the parts of the cow we do not use, all the hooves, tongues, and innards that most Westerners just don’t find appetizing. His stance was that we should focus on utilizing all parts of the cow before we move on to seriously considering the petri-dish alternative. I’m curious as to how he planned to warm us all up to intestines and tongues while discounting pure beef cultivated in a sterile lab setting. Bourdain made a great point, however, what about happiness and joy? And the magic of seasoning a carcass before you devour it?
For one thing, lab-grown meat is not only better for the environment than our current methods of meat production, but it also requires absolutely no animal suffering to obtain the alternative. Not only does the environment benefit, but animals and those with dietary restrictions do too. I’m not just talking vegans and vegetarians (although lab-grown meat would be an excellent way to bridge the gap between vegetarians and omnivores), I’m also talking about diabetics, those who struggle with high-cholesterol, and the clinically obese. Meat developed in a lab setting can be closely monitored and altered, anything from iron content to the amount of saturated fat can be controlled. There’s also a notable lack of antibiotics used in the production of synthetic meat. From a utilitarian point of view that sounds like a pretty good deal.
Putting aside the upturned noses and juvenile squeamish reactions from food-neophobes, lab-grown meat is becoming an increasingly popular, cost-effective, environment-friendly alternative, and may even become a staple in some restaurants and homes in the near-future. As with all new things, it will take time for the general public to warm up to the idea of eating something that was never actually “alive” in the first place. However, in the meantime, those with fifteen bucks to spend and an adventurous palate can savor their faux-gras dinner in a upscale setting, guilt and cruelty-free!
Header photo from GeneticLiteracyProject