We’re moving closer to that Brave New World envisioned in many sci-fi books, one where all food is artificially generated in laboratories. This week the first lab-grown hamburger was consumed at a press conference in London.
The hamburger was created by taking stem cells from a cow, cultivating them in a laboratory, and growing them into strips of muscle that were then combined into a hamburger patty — with a little color manipulation to give it the red hues that people expect from a burger. The burger was cooked, appetizingly presented with bun, fresh tomato, and lettuce, and eaten. One sampler said it had “intense taste,” “the consistency is perfect,” and “it’s close to meat, but it’s not that juicy.” Another consumer said “[t]he mouthfeel is like meat,” and “the general bite feels like a hamburger,” but “[w]hat was consistently different was flavour.”
We’re still a long way from artificially produced meat being sold at the neighborhood grocery store. The process used to make the single patty was laborious; significant improvements, and mass production, would be needed to make the fake meat competitive from a pricing standpoint.
With the number of people in the world, the increasing demand for meat, and the ethical and environmental aspects of producing meat the “old-fashioned way,” with penned animals and slaughterhouses, it’s inevitable that we’ll move in the direction of mass-produced fake meat. We’ve apparently even developed the vocabulary to be used in testing such products: who ever heard of describing the “mouthfeel” of a real piece of meat? I have no doubt, though, that if fake meat becomes broadly available and is competitively priced, consumers will accept the “mouthfeel” of the product. We already eat a lot of fake, chemically created food, why should meat be any different? Just melt some cheese on it the next time.