Discussions of healthy, sustainable eating are becoming more and more frequent in current times. The consumption of meat is a big part of that, and it’s not all that surprising when you release just how much animal product, we consume each and every year. The average American consumes a huge 7,000 animals in their lifetime[1], and the equivalent of 800 hamburgers per year[2]. There are campaigns and programs in place to try to reduce this, of course. Meat-free Mondaysare increasingly popular, and the number of people identifying as vegan in the US has risen by a massive 600% in the last three years[3]. But what if there was another way? Companies such as Memphis Meats and Just say that there is another way. A better, cleaner way, but a way that still allows us to enjoy meat products. How? By growing meat in the laboratory. 

 Sustainable Meat

A spokesman from Memphis Meats explained that “Americans spend roughly $90 billion per year – just on chicken. But while poultry products are delicious and satisfying, the process by which they are made is not. It involves environmental degradation, animal welfare concerns, and public health risks”[4]. Lab grown meat aims to overcome those fewer appealing characters of meat eating. The meat itself is grown from animal cells rather than the actual animal. The cells can even be taken from feathers, so the animal is not harmed in any way, and the meat is not grown into a whole animal, but merely pieces of meat[5]. This process makes use of technology that, while not new, is only now beginning to be used for the production of meat, and it aims to take away the negatives of traditional meat farming. Californian based company Just aims for its products to be cheaper, healthier, and more popular than traditional meat[6], but there are some things standing in their way at the moment. 

 Why It’s Not Quite There Yet

It’s prohibitively expensive for one thing. At the moment, it costs around $9,000 to produce 1lb of meat[7], although it does only use one tenth of the water used in traditional meat production, and one hundredth of the land required[8]. The texture is not quite right either, as one tester explained that “while it seemed spongier than a whole chicken breast, it basically tasted like the real thing”[9], but labs are experimenting with what to feed the animal cells in order to make them grow faster, at a lower cost, and with the best possible flavor and texture. With a bit of trial and error, companies such as Memphis Meats and Just are working their way towards tasty, easy to produce, and low-cost meat. 

 A Good Vegan Alternative?

It can’t even be considered a good vegan or vegetarian alternative, as it uses actual animal cells for its production. That said, it does overcome many of the issues that lead people to choose vegetarianism or veganism in the first place. Environmental degradation is drastically reduced, and obviously, animal cruelty is all but stopped. There are no caged hens or factory-farmed bovine. What’s even better is that health issues with livestock farming are reduced too. There is no bacterial contamination, for example, and we won’t be consuming the antibiotics that factory-farmed animals are fed on a daily basis.

 Fear of Frankenfoods

Isn’t it just another Frankenfood, though? After all the uproar over genetically modified crops from companies such as Monsanto, is it any surprise that some people are having a hard time coming to terms with lab grown meat? It has that air of Frankenfoods about it – unnatural and suspicious. Chef Luciano Visentin argues “God or nature did not create that chicken. That says it all”[10].

And of course, there’s always the question of whether its even actually needed. Plant-based meat alternatives are on the rise, and they’re becoming more and more popular. The Beyond Burger, for example, is now being served in TGI Fridays as well as other restaurants and claims to be “the revolutionary plant-based burger that looks, cooks, and satisfies like beef”. So, it seems that the need for lab-grown meat is not as urgent after all. What’s more, Dana Perls at Friends of the Earth argues “there is no evidence that lab-grown meat is sustainable” anyway[11].

Either way, though, it’s great to see governments and companies around the world as well as in the US taking the issue seriously, and lab-grown meat is still in its early infancy. With time, experimentation, and perhaps a little acceptance, we could see the development of sustainable, healthy, and delicious meat that overcomes all the problems of traditional meat products. Couple that with plant-based alternatives rather than isolating them, and we’ll surely be on to the perfect solution. 

[1]Josh Hafner, 2017, Lab-grown chicken strips, made from animal cells, debuted by startup[online], accessed 12.23.2018

[2]Chase Purdy, 2018, The average American will eat the equivalent of 800 hamburgers in 2018[online], accessed 12.23.2018

[3]Food Revolution Network, 2018, Why the Global Rise in Vegan and Pant-Based Eating Isn’t a Fad[online], accessed 12.23.2018

[4]Josh Hafner, ibid.

[5]Nick Meyer, 2018, Lab-Grown Chicken Nuggets Made From Feathers to Hit Shelves By End of the Year[online], accessed 12.23.2018

[6]Olivia Feld, 2018, The rise of ‘alt meat’. Why our chicken and beef will soon be grown in the laboratory[online], accessed 12.23.2018

[7]Hafner, ibid. 

[8]PETA, 2017, Yes, This is Actual Meat, but No Animal Died for It[online], accessed 23.12.2018

[9]Hafner, ibid. 

[10]Wendy Ryan, 2018, Meat grown in a lab is heading to your plate. Will you take a bite?[online], accessed 12.23.2018

[11]Feld, ibid.