June 9, 2013

Coming Soon to a Plate Near You: Lab-Grown Meat.

We are never going to be healthier if we continue to replace real food with processed food.

This week CBCnews reported on the upcoming unveiling of a hamburger patty made from lab-grown meat. The “meat” is being called “schmeat,” and is seemingly the answer to animal activists’ prayers.

The “meat” has been in development for two years, and has cost well over $300,000 to produce. The impetus behind it is to help solve the problems brought on by typical meat production, namely the impacts to the environment and to animals.

Even PETA is on board, with Lindsay Rajt, PETA’s associate director of campaigns stating, “In vitro meat provides a way for people to be able to eat ethically, while still kind of getting that meat fix.”

At first glance it seems like a great idea. Everyone who would like to give up meat for environmental, health or animal welfare reasons—but who just love their meat too much—may soon have a decent replacement. It’s meat without the animal torture or environmental impact; meat without a guilty conscience.

So what’s not to love?

While it seems vegetarians and vegans should rejoice, I’m not quite on board. To me, eating ethically isn’t enough. We also need to be eating for health.

Many of us have read and learned enough to know that if food comes in a package–any package–it’s probably not food. As Michael Pollan advises, if it’s something our grandparents wouldn’t recognize, it’s not food. In that definition, much of what we consume every day couldn’t be classified as food.

Schmeat then, isn’t really food either. It’s just the same processed crap we’ve been eating for the last 50 years.

I get it—it’s pretty amazing technology. We have something that allows us to create meat without an animal. But no one is asking what the consequences of such food will be. How will this patty have the same nutrients as that of one that came from an actual cow? What chemicals will need to be added to it to make it taste like real meat? What exactly will our bodies do with it?

Is this really the direction in which we want be going?

We are never going to be healthier if we continue to replace real food with processed food.

I’m sure I’m breaking some vegetarian code by saying this, but eating meat isn’t the problem here, it’s eating as much meat as we do.

Like good Americans, we like to consume. And meat is no exception. But if we didn’t need to eat so much meat all of the time—if we could go back to having meat a few times a week rather than a few times a day, and enjoying alternative sources of protein, we wouldn’t have the same animal and environmental impacts.

In an article for the New York Times, entitled “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler,” Mark Bittman cites a study done by the University of Chicago that states that “If Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan—a Camry, say—to the ultra-efficient Prius.

So it seems that instead of looking for alternatives so that we can continue to consume at the same (and growing) pace, we should be working toward reducing consumption instead.

But this requires a change on everyone’s part. And it would be uncomfortable—something we aren’t much fans of. (See: prescription drugs.)

While we don’t know the impacts of schmeat, to our bodies or the environment, we do know that reducing consumption of meat will have a positive impact. Schmeat on the other hand, will need to be packaged in something, shipped somewhere and stored somewhere. All of which requires more resources.

Maybe a little discomfort is worth saving the planet—and ourselves.


Bonus: On how to eat.

For more on what’s happening with our food, go here.


Like elephant food on Facebook.

Ed: B. Bemel

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Stephanie Vessely  |  Contribution: 3,200