Long Live The New Flesh?

Get ready for In-N-Out Vitro burgers. Several scientists in the Netherlands hope to grow meat in a lab like some odd experiment from a 1980s movie. But it’s not just another weird technological imperative, and it isn’t as scary as some of the other stuff being done to food out there. But the question is:  are you going to eat in vitro beef?

I mean, the ultimate goal behind this meaty marvel isn’t just benign – it’s benevolent. The idea behind in vitro meat is profit-driven, economically viable and even sustainable. The world can’t deal with how much meat we’re eating – it’s just not going to last, especially given the amount of grain it takes to harvest meat and the number of new meat-eaters born every year. This technological advance could feed millions for a fraction of the cost of traditional meat collection.

Once this meat-growing process is perfected, it will be much cheaper to create lab beef than to kill a cow. Also, it doesn’t kill animals – just relies on the building of muscle tissue from previously harvested cells. Even PETA supports it (really). And why wouldn’t they? It’s cutting down on the amount of animals killed for meat, plain and simple. PETA supporters will now be able to have their steak and eat it, too.

But what about life-long vegetarians? Those who stayed away for moral reasons may just be tempted to chow down on that Wagyu lab-beef burger with gorgonzola cheese and sun dried tomato aioli on a multi-grain bun. Those who stayed away for health reasons…well, I don’t know – I’m not a vegetarian. But I imagine if real meat gave them pause, meet made from droppers and test tubes might give them nausea.

Aside from the obvious need to re-name the product (“lab meat” sounds like the term morbid autopsy docs use to refer to their cadavers), the makers of in vitro burgers (also not marketable) have a lot going for them. Sustainability, creativity, a possible $1 million reward from PETA, and motivation to heal the world’s hunger problems.

Yet I’m still skeptical.

I’m all about knowing exactly where my meat comes from – organic, local, etc. – so I’m not sure what to think when I know my cheeseburger originated in a cold, uninviting room lit like a hospital. I just can’t bring myself to believe that science can create a better burger than my agricultural great-great-grandparents could decades ago. I’ve seen Monsanto do things to food in the name of technological progress that are, at best, disgusting, and at worst, immoral. Why should I trust this new flesh? I think I’ll give it a few decades on the market before I start eating these sci-burgers.

Hmm. Sci-burgers. That might be marketable.


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