Get smarter, faster. Subscribe to our daily newsletter.
Lab-Grown "Clean Meat" is Almost Here. Will You Eat It?
Lab-grown, cultured meats, dairy, and leather will be hitting shelves soon. Paul Shapiro reports on the coming trend in his new book, Clean Meat.
Would you consume artificial frozen water produced by a machine? In 1805 this wasn’t a crazy question. Frederic Tudor wondered why people couldn’t enjoy cold beverages whenever they wanted. Within three decades he became known as the “Ice King,” with humble origins shipping eighty tons of Northeastern winter ice to Martinique in hopes that Caribbean residents would jump all over it.
They didn’t. Frederic’s brother and partner, William, pulled out of the deal. Undeterred, Frederic tried again the following winter. By 1810 he was pulling a profit. In 1847 Tudor shipped 52,000 tons of ice to 28 US cities. He died in 1864 a rich man, which was good timing, as by the turn of the century everyone in America owned an icebox.
Not that “artificial ice” was immediately glamorous. Critics labelled it “unnatural.” Slicing chunks of ice from lakes was the way to go, they said. Never mind the pollutants contained in the water. Machines, by contrast, freeze water that’s been boiled and purified, making it a safer choice. As Paul Shapiro, VP of Policy Engagement for the Humane Society of the United States, recently told me,
Natural ice is actually less safe than artificial life because natural ice had pollutants; it had horse manure from the horses who were dragging the ice out of these lakes. So you ended up having a situation where people shifted over to artificial ice. One hundred plus years later we all have artificial ice makers in our homes. We call them freezers and we hardly think there’s anything unnatural about it at all.
Shapiro isn’t really concerned about ice. He compares this cold evolution to a more recent technological development in his forthcoming book, Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World.
Cue the critics calling it “unnatural.”
And critics are plentiful, which is odd given the strange chemistry passing for food on our supermarket shelves. American cabinets are filled with numerous products containing no actual food ingredients, yet because it arrives in a bright package marked “all natural” we don’t think twice about it. The consequences of this chemistry is known through the many metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, as well as psychological disorders like anxiety and depression, the modern American diet promotes.
Shapiro’s book is a wake-up call informing Americans that not only will lab-grown, cultured meat be healthier—unnecessary antibiotic usage on animals living in crowded, contaminated quarters has made the quality of much of our meat questionable at best—it will also tremendously reduce animal suffering.
Perception is key. While Shapiro cites a 2014 Pew poll stating only 20 percent of Americans would try “clean meat”—which would account for $40 billion annually, no small change—he tells me about a more recent poll stating that number is now closer to two-thirds. Shapiro continues:
Eighty percent of Americans believe that food containing DNA ought to be labeled by mandatory labeling laws. Of course you and I know that virtually everything we’ve ever eaten has DNA in it. But when people hear about the application of science to food they sometimes get a little bit nervous, though that nervousness does not usually translate into actual consumer behavior.
Which is true, given that from my home office window in Los Angeles I see crowded parking lots at McDonald’s and Jack in the Box, both of which contain numerous suspect ingredients consumers pay no attention to. If they actually saw where that meat was sourced they’d likely make better choices, but since those conditions are hidden we pretend they don’t exist.
Shapiro’s book opens the veil behind emerging technologies that will soon be producing consumer-ready cultured meats, dairy products, and leather. Shapiro, a vegan since 1993, has even tasted burgers and foie gras created by these methods—in the name of science. The taste and, importantly, texture are there or close. Prices are dropping as more players enter the industry, whose companies are backed by a variety of billionaires, including Sergey Brin (who funded a $325,000 five-ounce burger patty produced from stem cells from a cow’s shoulder), Bill Gates, and Richard Branson, the latter two who have invested heavily in San Francisco-based Memphis Meats.
Shapiro is well aware of current limitations. Expense is one, though that entry point is shifting as we approach a $10 burger. Choice is another. Ground meat has been the focus, but we’re much further away from a rib eye and loin chop. A big one is comfort. Food is as emotional to people as religion; ensuring this technology is safe and satisfying will take time.
Most importantly to many is ethics. Humans kill an unsustainable number of animals every year, most of which are imprisoned for their entire lives while eating anything but a natural diet—and if their diet is unnatural, how do we think that affects the meat they provide us? While Shapiro is promoting a vegan agenda, he believes the real market for clean meat is carnivores looking to make better decisions about their diets and the planet.
This movement relies on education, which includes understanding how we’ve arrived at where we are now. Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, an animal rights advocate and vegan activist, writes the foreword to Clean Meat. In his first book, Sapiens, Harari speculates that Homo sapiens drove Neanderthals, Denisovans, and other human species clear off the planet. Language and communication skills helped, but our thirst for violence was the motivating factor. That violence manifested in a craving for meat, especially once we understood how fire made the plentiful protein sources more nutritious, tastier, and easier to digest.
It’s easy to romanticize over a peaceful human origins story. Yet it’s not true. We are the most destructive animal in the history of the planet. We’ve clawed and killed our way to the top. What the many inventors and investors featured in Clean Meat remind us of is that we’re not bound to history. We can be better. We can make ethical choices that not only sustain us but sustain the planet and its bountiful diversity. Lab-grown, cultured meat, dairy, and leather is an essential step in that direction.
While we might not understand exactly where that step will lead, Shapiro believes clean meat offers a better foot forward than any we’re currently taking:
We don’t know what some unintended consequences might be but it’s hard to imagine that there will be anything like the tremendous downsides to continuing to raise and slaughter tens of billions of animals for food globally.
One day clean meat will be seem as natural as freezer ice. The sooner, the better.
Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.