Meat of the Future


   Thanksgiving is over and so are the traditional turkey dinners. We had ours at an old-time pub on Vancouver Island for $ 20 with all the trimmings, including pumpkin pie.  Of course, vegetarians and vegans shun this kind of food but I’m reading that there is hope for them to partake in this time-honoured tradition, not too far in the future.

            It being Thursday evening I was looking forward to meeting my friend Camp for a couple of brews in our pub, located on the waterfront on the traditional territory of the Squamish Nation. Business at the bookstore is slow in these months leading up to the festive season and Camp was already nursing his first pint when I joined him.

            ‘You’re a regular carnivore, aren’t you Camp, a purveyor of fine meats, cold cuts, fowl and fish?’ I said.

            ‘Well yes,’ he said, raising a bushy grey eyebrow. ‘What’s this about. You’re not about to go vegetarian or vegan on me are you,’ he said alarmed.

            ‘No, no such thing,’ I said, calming him down. ‘I love bacon on my burger.’

            ‘So do I but I want my meat without antibiotics and preferably organic or free range, meaning better animal husbandry,’ Camp said.

            ‘You may soon get your wish. Have you heard of ‘Upside Foods’ located in Berkley, California? Some time ago, Upside’s lab technician took a tissue sample from a living chicken and used the biopsy to form a cell-line from which they were able to produce boneless white-meat-chicken that tastes just like the real thing because it is the real thing, only created by novel means instead of slaughter.

            ‘Sounds like something from ‘The Space Merchants’, a dystopian satire by Frederick Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth from 1952. They created ‘Chicken Little’ a grey-brown, rubbery hemisphere, some fifteen yards in diameter. Chicken Little was grown from cultured cells to feed a resource-poor world,’ Camp said.

            I took a swallow from my glass. ‘According to this article, over 100 firms are vying to be first in line to bring cultured meat to a market near you. They are convinced that lab-grown meat will be the new food revolution, bringing vegetarians back into the carnivore fold. Would you buy a cultured steak or chicken breast Camp?’ 

            Camp took a pensive sip from his pint and said:’ Why not?  If the price and the taste and texture are right then I wouldn’t hesitate. It would be the ethical thing to do.’

            ‘Demand for meat and fish is soaring, particularly among the rapidly growing middle classes in parts of the developing world. Old-fashioned meat uses a lot of land and produces gigatons of greenhouse gas and goes through feed lots and slaughter houses. To replace this is a hugely ambitious undertaking.’ 

            ‘I can see that cultured meat might seem artificial and unappetising to some but if it is indistinguishable from real animal meat and has never been part of an animal’s life then it is certainly an attractive and conscionable choice,’ Camp said.

            ‘If people are adaptable about the cruel way food is bread today – as in leaner pork or breast-heavy chickens raised and processed in hurtful factories – then they might also be adaptable to embrace meat from a lab. Upside Foods hopes they will. It is designing its new facility with huge windows to let consumers see as much of the process as possible.’

            ‘Let’s hope they keep making beer the traditional way in this new world,’ Camp said, finishing his pint. When Vicky brought around our second round, right on time, Camp couldn’t stop himself and had to ask: ‘Vicky, would you eat a meat burger created in a lab and not from an animal?’

            Vicky turned and looked Camp squarely in the eye. ‘How do they grow that burger? From thin air? Sounds like a lot of wishful thinking to me. You boys live in a wonderful fantasy world.’

            ‘Smart girl,’ Camp grumbled, when Vicky was out of sight. 

            ‘She’s got a point,’ I said and promised to read up on it and then concentrated on my fresh beer, looking out at the grey world.   

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