A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Coming Soon: Test-Tube Sausages

Scientists meet to discuss new techniques

“We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium. Synthetic food will, of course, also be used in the future. Nor need the pleasures of the table be banished. The new foods will be practically indistinguishable from the natural products from the outset, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation.” Winston Churchill, writing in “Popular Mechanics” in 1932.

Mark Post believes he can produce pork sausages in his laboratory within six months. Hamburger in a year.

Stellan Welin, another researcher at a major conference this week in Sweden, is confident that the sky’s the limit. “I believe we can eat all kinds of previously very rare meat,” he said. That means veal and duck and paté de foie gras, as well as rare meats as currently bought and sold in the illegal wildlife market, and without hurting or killing any animals at all.

That’s because people like Post and Welin are forging ahead in the field of in-vitro meat. And for those who want to eat animal foods but are troubled by all the cruelty that’s involved, this rapidly growing field of research is the new Holy Grail of culinary basics.

Indeed, the race is on to see who can produce the first truly edible test-tube meat. So far, all that’s been produced are pale gray-looking, almost tasteless strips. But it’s early days. Some of the big hurdles have already been overcome, like simply getting from pig stem cells to the gray strips. The cells have to be fed. And since they’re muscles, they need artificial exercise. To get them looking tastily red in color, iron-bearing protein will need to be introduced – probably from blood cells.

At the conference, Welin said that our meat choices are largely governed today by the animals that have proved easy to domesticate, not necessarily those that are the tastiest. With synthetic meat, all of that changes. All you need to get started are some muscle stem cells, which can be obtained relatively easily from rare or exotic animals and certainly without killing any.

(Right now, by contrast, especially in China and other Asian countries, people are killing and eating almost anything they see in the wild that isn’t nailed down.)

Another problem, though, is that you can currently only multiply the original stem cells 20 or maybe 30 times, so you have to go back to a live animal for more. But that may be overcome, too. Dutch scientist Bernard Roelen is trying to identify specific cells that can multiply faster and longer.

It will be years, but probably not decades, before true gourmet meats and fish will be being served at fine restaurants in Paris. But one of the earlier goals of the scientists is to produce food that is palatable and mass produced in a way that can take the place of the enormously destructive farming practices, especially in poorer countries.

If they can do that, they’d be helping to significantly reduce our carbon footprint, greatly cut the amount of water and energy we waste in livestock farming, restore huge tracts of destroyed forest and grass lands, and bring an end the cruelty of factory farming.

Meanwhile, of course, we can all help by switching to an equally nutritious and delicious plant-based diet.

What do you say? Assuming it looks and tastes just the same as meat from a once-living animal, how would you feel about eating in-vitro meat? Let us know in a comment or on Facebook.