Lab-grown meat's steady march to your plate
As costs go down and the benefits become more clear, can we afford not to eat lab-grown meat?
- Just a few years ago, the price of a lab-grown hamburger had five figures.
- Today, that price has gone down to just $11.
- Even if it's cheap, tastes the same, and preserves the environment, will people actually eat meat grown in a lab?
As 2018 wraps up, the average American is poised to have eaten 222 pounds of beef over the course of the year. Accomplishing this dubious achievement meant that every American ate the equivalent of 2.4 quarter-pound burgers a day. So, we can safely say that Americans like their beef.
The trouble with this, though, is that raising cows for beef production is expensive. A typical ranching operation (although they can vary wildly) costs about $266,630 per year for a 300-head herd, including feed, rented pastures, machinery, and other costs. You can cut down on costs with a factory-farming model, but the increased risk of disease and pollution, and the reportedly cruel nature of factory farms make this less appealing.
Regardless of how beef cows are raised for farming, the environmental impact of cow herds is still problematic. Cow farts and burps might seem like a ridiculous concern at first blush, but they contributed 119.1 million tons of methane to the atmosphere in 2011. And keep in mind, methane is about 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide when it comes to heating up the planet.
But we love beef! Some people can probably be persuaded to go vegetarian, vegan, or simply stop eating beef, but not nearly enough to make the right kind of impact. This begs the question: can we have our beef and eat it too?
The benefits of a lab-cooked meal
In a future where most of us eat lab-grown beef, one has to wonder what would happen to all of the cow herds we currently have. Image source: pxhere.com
Lab-grown beef may very well be the path forward. In 2008, it was estimated that just half a pound of lab-grown beef would cost $1 million. Then, on August 5, 2013, the first lab-grown hamburger was eaten. It cost $325,000 and took two years to make. Just two years later, the same amount of lab-grown beef costs about $11 to make.
Lab-grown beef checks almost all of the boxes: it doesn't require animal cruelty, and a study in Environmental Science and Technology showed that it could cut emissions from conventionally produced meat by up to 96 percent and cut down on the land use required for meat production by 99 percent. In the U.S., where cow pastures take up 35 percent of available land — that's about 654 million acres — this could be huge. Imagine having 647 million acres for development, housing, national parks, anything at all!
But does lab-grown beef pass the most crucial test? Does it taste like an honest-to-goodness hamburger? After all, if the cost of beef today doesn't have us converting to vegetarianism in droves, why would we change our behavior for yet another food product that doesn't quite pack the same umami punch?
The taste test
Well, the 2013 lab-grown burger apparently tasted a bit dry. One taste-tester described it as tasting "like an animal-protein cake." So, not very appetizing. However, this isn't a fundamental feature of lab-grown meat, it's a technical problem. As our techniques have improved, so has the taste of the burger. Today, you can even buy lab-grown meat yourself. Mosa Meats and Memphis Meats both sell artificial meat, and the latter was even funded by Bill Gates.
But even if lab-grown meat tastes like the real thing, there's still an aversion to the concept. In article for Engadget, one person said "Cultured meat just isn't normal. […] It's not. There are all kinds of technical reasons why this is not normal." Another said she wouldn't eat lab-grown fish because, "It's disgusting."
To be fair, lab-grown meat does conjure up images of tanks full of fleshy material bubbling away, but it's important to remember that physically, lab-grown beef will be indistinguishable from the real thing. Beef and other meats are a material, like any other, and there's no reason why the source of this material should affect its nature. And there's a strong argument to be made that slaughtering cows to harvest their meat is quite a bit nastier than growing meat in a lab — farms are rife with germs that farmers use a panoply of antibiotics to combat them. In a sterile laboratory, this issue wouldn't be present.
How it works
Image source: Shutterstock
Learning how the meat is actually produced may put some people's mind at ease. Lab-grown meat starts by taking a small sample of cells from a living cow, so it's not actually an artificial, synthetic product; it all starts with stem cells from the animal in question. Stem cells differentiate into a variety of cells throughout the body. Most lab-grown meat production uses myosatellite stem cells, which become the various tissues in muscles.
Then, the stem cells are placed in a medium containing a protein that persuades them to turn into muscle tissue rather than anything else, along with the nutrients they need to grow. A cow does the same process, only it eats feedstock and its body turns that into the appropriate nutrients. The sample is placed in a bioreactor similar to those used to make yogurt or beer. A scaffold made out of an edible material is also included to encourage the meat to grow in the right shape.
You let the whole batch cook for a while, and pretty soon, you've got ground beef. The question is, will we eat it?
- Which world leader predicted lab-grown meat in 1931? ›
- Lab-Grown "Clean Meat" is Almost Here. Will You Eat It? - Big Think ›
- Lab-Grown Meat's Main Obstacle is Quickly Disappearing - Big Think ›
- Price of Lab-Grown Burger Falls from $325K to $11.36 ›
What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.
Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
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