The Future Dreamed of in the Fifties is Nigh

Very few people in Western society deal directly with the animals their food comes from. At the dinner table a few days ago, my family and I were discussing the benefits of raising your own cattle. My dad said he would really like to get a heifer and raise it to eat, just because he can, and the suggestion left my fourteen-year-old sister appalled. “But what if we name it?” she asked, wide-eyed.

If there’s one thing I took away from Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma it was how far removed our society is from the food we eat. Because my generation has grown up with it, we accept this as the way things are. I remember being 12 and absolutely shell-shocked when my father killed a rooster and cooked it for dinner. I remember abhorring the thought of killing a living thing and eating it, an ideology Michael Pollan acknowledges as commonplace in America but inherently absurd. So many people feel this way and don’t even realize it. Due to recent advances in science, however, this ideology is about to become a hot topic.

We’ve all heard it’s coming down the pipe, but a recent NPR article claims that before too long ‘in-vitro meat’ could be available in a grocery store near you.

It sounds so sci-fi but it’s incredibly real and it’s going to wreak all sorts of havoc on our already unstable Western diet. There will be those who embrace it happily for its benefits — feeding more people sustainably with less resources and less space, ending the animal abuse which currently brings us cheap meat — and there will be those who are stalwartly against it — some because of their morals, and some who are just plain stubborn.

Personally, I’m not sure how I feel. One scientist said in the article, “‘This isn’t synthetic. It’s organic. It’s meat. It’s two meat cells growing to become more meat cells.'” That’s all fine and dandy, but what about the flavor? The article claims “there will be no taste differential,” but as a food lover I know that can’t be true, simply because there are already “taste differentials” in traditionally grown meat cells. Grass-fed meat has a different taste than grain-fed meat, sirloin steak has a different taste than ribs, and you damned well better believe Angus beef has a different taste than Kobe. This is a whole new industry they’re opening up. I can see the packaging now: “100% imitation grass-fed Angus beef!” Will meat from real animals become a luxury, destined for the kitchens of the rich and famous?

The process of making laboratory meat, although it is definitely happening, is far from mass-production. Currently scientists zap the muscle cells with electricity to stimulate growth and keep them from atrophying, a process that would be very costly on a large scale. But if the problem is in sight, the solution isn’t far off. Brace yourselves, we’re in for a wild ride.

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