Can lab-grown meat feed - and save - the world?
With six Oscar nominations - including best picture and actor - “Darkest Hour” is fascinating audiences with its portrayal of Winston Churchill facing history-altering decisions at a turning point in World War Two. In fact, Churchill had been thinking about the future of humanity in rather radical ways for years already.
In 1931, Churchill published an essay, Fifty Years Hence, in which he made predictions about what the world might look like by the 1980s. Among the more stunning: that humans would figure out how to permanently divorce meat production from animal husbandry.
“We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing,” Churchill prophesied, “by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.” Because doing so would free up land that had been used for growing crops to feed farm animals, he concluded, “parks and gardens will cover our pastures and ploughed fields.”
Churchill was a few decades off, but we now have the capacity to do exactly as he foresaw: to grow real meat outside of animals’ bodies.
In recent years, so-called “clean meat” - a term first popularized by the nonprofit Good Food Institute as a nod to both “clean energy” and to the meat’s food safety benefits - has moved out of the realm of science fiction and become scientific fact. The first ”clean burger“ debuted in 2013, thanks in part to research and development funding from Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
Since 2014, I’ve had the good fortune to eat clean beef, duck, fish, chorizo, liver, and yogurt, all of it grown without animals. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, clean meat tastes like meat since, well, that’s exactly what it is.) And I‘m not the only one interested. These products are starting to get serious attention from traditional meat processors, with agribusiness giants Tyson and Cargill investing in Memphis Meats, a clean meat start-up based in San Leandro.
”It’s not a threat to us, it’s an opportunity,” Sonya McCullum Roberts, president of growth ventures at Cargill, recently told Fortune magazine.
To be clear, the clean meat that Churchill envisioned, and that companies like Memphis Meats are beginning to produce, isn’t simply an alternative to meat. It’s actual animal muscle tissue, produced without the living, conscious animal.