Homegrown Burger

Does the thought of a barbecue make you ravenously hungry? Imagine a mouth-watering image of beautifully seasoned meat, fresh off a grill or right out of the smoker, a charred texture, intoxicating aroma and deliciously satisfying taste only well-cooked meat provides. Now, imagine if you did not have to kill an animal to get it.

Most Americans follow a diet that includes meat with every meal. There are also vegetarians or vegans who reject meat for a variety of reasons, and their choice is equally valid. Thankfully, recent developments in lab-grown meat will satisfy each group, yet many are still skeptical about it. 

Yes, I understand the hesitation that surfaces with the concept of 'lab-grown.' It draws in concepts like beakers, Petri-dishes and imitation. Several questions arise, like if vegetarians would be okay with it. Could cultured meat be considered kosher or halal? Some scoff at the idea, thinking it exists in the same 'plant-based' spectrum of veggie-burgers or tofu; however, lab-grown meat does not.

First, we need to explain the difference. Plant-based meat, like tofu, has been around for thousands of years. They mainly rely on soybeans, gluten fibers or some alternative vegetarian or vegan option. Lab-grown meat, known as cultured meat, is a form of cellular agriculture that creates artificial tissues from cultured animal cells.

Basically, it is meat down to the molecular level. The only difference is cultured meat uses stem cells and does not require the slaughtering of animals. As a source of protein, there are few things on this planet as delicious as meat. The problem is the inefficient energy requirements of our current production system. It takes ages to raise animals for meat production, and they require more feed intake than the overall output of meat.

There is also the slew of other unpalatable factors that are a part of the current system. Grotesque slaughterhouse methods, apathetic living conditions, growth hormones and the horrific note that 70% of all antibiotics go toward animals, as reported by Lisa Baertlein and Tom Polansek of Reuters. With a lot of potential, the demand for more compassionate options of meat is sure to grow once it becomes globally available.

A major benefit cultured meat has compared to traditional livestock is scalability. Due to the enormous human population, we will have to produce more food over the next few decades than the last few hundred years combined. Right now, livestock is incredibly inefficient and a major issue for the planet. According to a Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations report, livestock accounts for over 14% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Given the human population has doubled in the last 50 years, we have to become more efficient. Cultured meat might be an adequate solution to industry problems. According to New-Harvest.org, a cellular agriculture research institute, the Netherlands kicked off government-funded research on cultured meat in 2005. By August 2013, Dr. Mark Post, a professor at Eindhoven Technical University, was showcasing the first lab-grown burger to the public. The burger was made up of around 20,000 muscle strands and cost roughly €250,000 to produce.

From that moment on, advancements in technology were bound to occur. Silke Koltrowitz and Andrés González with Reuters report cultured meat could hit $9 a patty by 2021. Economies of scale are important to consider, which may lead to cultured sources becoming cheaper than the livestock variety. It makes sense why many would be willing to try cultured options if it winds up cheaper than the slaughtered standard. Soon enough, both will co-exist in the supermarket, but the concept of meat without death is a strong selling point. That said, before the excitement grows, there are a few issues that have not been explored yet.

There is little publicly available scientific data, which causes concern for efficiency metrics. There is also emerging governmental regulation that stands in the way of new cellular agriculture companies. The conventional meat industry does not want cultured meat to be labeled "meat," as it will directly interfere with their business. According to Laurel Handel with Handel Food Law LLC, over 10 states have passed laws prohibiting the label stating "meat" if the food is not derived from animal carcasses. Mississippi's SB 2022 took effect last July and follows similar legislation from other states.  

For me, I am interested enough to try meat that did not require slaughter. There is also the exciting possibility of getting a cheaper, but still good quality, sirloin or an incredible wagyu-beef. Slaughtered meat will not disappear, but a reduction in reliance would leave a fantastic impact on our planet. It is all about options, and I am certain we are all partially curious if it tastes the same. 

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