Like the majority of people on Earth, a lot of us love meat. Steaks, hamburgers, sausages, pastrami, chicken wings – you name it. If it walked the Earth as a cow, chicken, sheep or turkey at one point, most people would eat it. Millions enjoy meat grilled, smoked, sous vide, fried, dried, and seared, the cornucopia of flavors savory tastes that make me salivate from fresh, hot meat. It’s like an online casino South Africa in the mouth and all the slotmachines are ringing triple sevens. Or something like that anyway.
It’s built into human evolution to like meat, despite what some vegans would have us believe. Cooked meats are highly nutritious, an abundant source of proteins, and energy-dense and it’s plausible that cooked meats are part of what gave humans the ability to evolve such advanced brains (our brains require an enormous amount of fuel, i.e., food, to work properly. At least compared to other animals).
The concept of veganism, or at least vegetarianism, has been around for centuries. In fact, it’s possible that eschewing meats dates back even as early as ancient Greece, with renounced historical figures such as Pythagoras and Plato refusing to eat meat (although evidence for the former’s diet is debatable). In some research for this article, I found a slew of websites that touted famous figures like Mahatama Gandhi, Mary Shelly, and Albert Einstien as vegans. The idea is to promote how cool and amazing a person you’ll be if you give up your meat.
There are a number of reasons vegans give for giving up meat. In ye olden times (a couple years ago), the number one reason given was animal cruelty. Most vegans abhor the idea of harming animals, and fair enough. The idea of chopping up Bessie and throwing her onto the grill can be unsettling in our relatively violence-free world. Regardless, most people’s reaction to that position is, “Fine. More for us, then.”
More recently, however, the reason touted for giving up steak is Global Warming. You see, the mass farming of cows causes an increase in greenhouse gases. In other words, farts. That has helped lead to the development of lab-grown meats.
Real change, for the better, almost always comes in the form of inventing something new, rather than the banning or destruction of the old or the status quo. In short, it’s a lot easier to criticize than to fix, but the latter is far more useful. I believe this to be true about air travel, cars, and I’m starting to come around to the idea that it might apply to meat as well, strangely enough.
The first lab meats were grown in Petri dishes nearly twenty years ago, and the first demonstration of its taste was made in 2013 with the world’s first lab-grown hamburger. At that time, such a burger could be bought and eaten for a mere 250,000 Euros. Since then, tremendous progress has been made in the industry of lab-grown meats, and the price for that same burger has dropped to a mere 9 Euros (about $10), slightly cheaper than a Kosher hamburger.
Speaking of which, an Israeli research team did a blind taste test experiment, and the testers reported that the fake meat tasted on par with the real deal. Quote: “volunteers tasted the product after cooking and noted its meaty flavor and sensorial attributes, achieving the goal of replicating the sensation and texture of a meat bite.”
Which is the most boring way of saying that it tasted good.
The exact process of making such meats differ from company to company, but the idea is that stem cells are taken from a live animal, such as a cow, and are mixed with some sort of protein-based feed that acts as a growth medium. With some Breaking Bad-Esque chemistry wizardry, this somehow produces meat that looks and tastes similar to (or at least in part with) the real deal.
However, why is anyone bothering to invest in such technology when we have perfectly good meat? While the animal cruelty argument often gets brushed off in the face of a good, juicy steak, most meat-eaters probably aren’t too fussed about where the meat itself actually originates/ If it looks like a steak, smells like a steak, and tastes like a steak, then who cares?
Veganism, as it is traditionally touted, only has inferior imitators like tofu, which makes it very unappealing for meat lovers. Plus, a number of vegans say that even if there were fake meats with zero animals hurt, they wouldn’t eat it anyway at this point.
This is where lab-grown meats can have the advantage – they actually taste good. If it can be customized to be healthier and made cost-effective to be competitive with traditional meats, I can see these meats actually pushing good ol’ fashioned beef off the market.
There are a number of more palatable (pardon the pun) advantages to lab-grown meats, too. They can be made healthier and customized since they’re literally being grown from goop and paste. Leaner, more consistent cuts. Or fattier. They can even be printed in specialized 3d-printers, which KFC is already experimenting with right now. Ever wanted a steak cut into the shape of a Henry Cavill riding a velociraptor? It could be a reality.
A study on the environmental effects of cultured meats reports that Lab-Grown Meats require 7-45% less energy, 99% less land, and 82-96% less water- per kilo of meat.
This means that, at this point, Lab-Grown Meats’ main disadvantage is its cost. However, even this is likely to even further decrease with time, as companies like KFC and Aleph Farms ramp up their production facilities. Remember, the cost is made from supply and demand, and if companies can start mass-producing (hence, vastly increasing their supply), the price will drop.
The last hurdle preventing the expansion of lab-grown meats is regulatory bodies. Red tape, as usual. In fact, the only country that has so far approved the sale of such meats is Singapore, strangely enough. However, there is more than enough money in this industry to lobby for its legalization.
What is the world coming to?
So, will Lab-Grown Meats will take off as a widely consumed product? It is quite possible. In fact, it may even be probable. If Lab-Grown Meats live up to the promises the companies investing them claim, they’ll be healthier, just as tasty, and quite possibly cheaper than regularly ol’ meats. They’ll require fewer resources to produce and be far less impact on the environment, which is still a good thing, regardless of where someone lines up on the climate change issue.
As far as my meat loving heart- er, stomach goes, it’s ultimately going to come down to the taste. Does its delectability make your mouth salivate, as one is bathed in its aromas? Within a decade (and possibly much sooner), it could be the meat of the future today!