Where should beef grow? In a lab, or in a pasture? (Make mine with plants, please!)
Today the world's first stem cell burger will be eaten in London (right about now, as a matter of fact). The €250,000 project was bankrolled by Google's Sergey Brin, who funded the Maastricht lab that produced the cow muscle fibers used in the burger. That pricetag is only the beginning: other labs will undoubtedly need to be funded and much further research and testing done before anythiing truly resembling and tasting like meat will be available.
For someone who consumes a plant-based diet, the idea of eating a cruelty-free piece of meat is a yawner. I'm perfectly happy with my diet the way it is, with plenty of meat substitutes available without the high pricetag. The mock meats already available are really, really, good, frankly. I just had a sandwich made from Vegusto deli slices. I'd bet my right arm anyone would find it better than Oscar Meyer bologna or—horrors!—picnic loaf. Other mock meats, available in Europe, the UK, or the US—but rarely all three—are also pretty darn good.
True, they haven't managed to reproduce the gristle in that Salisbury steak you had for dinner last night—but then that's a good thing! One of the last meat meals I remember was smothered steak I was served at a dinner party. I had to figure out a way to unobtrusively spit out the wad of gristle in my mouth. Is it any wonder I became vegetarian shortly afterward?
And then there's the "grisly" aspect of meat: along with all the chemical additives (many of which aren't even included in the label) you're getting blood, feces, bacteria, hormones, antibiotics, and years' worth of toxins the animal has breathed or injested during its lifetime. Every time I'd drive past a pasture full of cows next to an interstate, I'd wonder just how healthy their meat or milk was, after they breathed in all those petrol fumes day in day out for seven or eight years. The ammonia in the so-called "pink slime" that MacDonald's packages as burgers is the least of your worries.
And we know how many of you were grossed out by pink slime—I read all about it, admittedly with some schadenfreude, on my Facebook timeline for months. Mass producing animals for food is inherently an unsavory prospect. And worse, the run-off from factory farms affects nearby vegetable farms, too. So even if you eat only plants, you're at risk of ingesting some deadly pathogen from the factory farm upstream from the spinach field where your salad was grown.
So is test tube meat any worse than what you find in the meat aisle at your supermarket? It can't possibly be any grosser, in my book.
Yet I don't have any plans to eat test tube meat. I'd eagerly consume Beyond Meat, a non-meat "meat" currently sold in the US, if it ever became widely available. I've had Gardein before, and Quorn (made from mycoprotein) and my kids grew up eating Morningstar Farms products instead of bacon. I use soy crumbles instead of hamburger meat in dishes and eat Linda McCartney Red Onion and Rosemary Sausages on lazy weekend mornings. There are so many mock meats I have yet to try—why would I bother pining for a test tube burger?
I suspect the percentage of the world's population who want to avoid meat have already figured out a way to do so, and the rest, well, they're not going to be convinced by replica meat that's grown in a lab. Like the saying goes, where there's a will, there's a way. The problem is not lack of ways to go about avoiding meat; the problem is lack of will for most people.
But in the future, the percentage of meat-avoiders will increase, as meat becomes a scarce resource and is carbon-priced out of the range of most people's pocketbooks. With 30% of the world's surface already used as pasture, it's just not possible to feed the world any more meat from animal sources than it already demands.
Maybe some of those would-be meat eaters will turn to test tube meat. But before they do that, they really ought to try a bite of my sandwich...at 33 pence per slice, I'm certain their pocketbooks won't be put off by my deli slices. Or their tastebuds.
UPDATE: The burger has been consumed! One taster said she "missed salt and pepper." I can relate. This is Britain, remember.