Lab grown meat-like substances might just be the killer rogue wave of the future if some of the wealthiest companies and the heart of the Silicon Valley investor community have anything to say about it. Serious money from financial heavyweights like Richard Branson and Bill Gates and the marketing might of food giants like Tyson and Cargill might soon make these products major center-of-the-plate players.
What a growing number of consumers say they want is food that is healthier, grown and processed with fewer chemicals and antibiotics, produced with a smaller environmental footprint and labeling that is completely transparent.
Knowing that terms like 'lab grown meat' are turn offs to the target market of people who want healthier, simpler foods - fewer ingredients, none that can't be pronounced by anyone without a college degree - market research suggested the clever but dishonest euphemism 'clean meat.'
Understanding that all things 'natural' is important, too, the process of culturing these products is now being referred to by a few cognoscenti as 'cellular agriculture.' The term sweeps away the unpleasant and unnatural culinary image of test tubes, glass beakers and mad scientists, replacing it with a more favorable down-on-the-farm feel.
The processors in this business want to replace the mental image of food produced by people wearing lab coats and handling pipettes with a folksy image of horse-back riding cowboys in well-worn Levi's and dusty Stetsons wrangling cattle on the high plains.
By the way, with these products a new breed of faddish dietarians is being birthed. We shall call them neomnivores, renegade vegetarians and vegans who now consume odd foods produced by cellular agriculture. They think it's clean meat they can eat with a clean conscious.
To be painfully honest, "Heavily processed meat-like substance made with several unpronounceable additives for texture and palatability" would be a more honest and transparent label description.
Let's define terms. According to Wikipedia, there are three stages in the production of cultured (AKA "clean") meat.
1. Starter cells
The initial stage of growing cultured meat is to collect cells that have a rapid rate of proliferation. Such cells include embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells, myosatellite cells, or myoblasts. Stem cells proliferate the quickest, but have not yet begun development towards a specific kind of cell, which creates the challenge of splitting the cells and directing them to grow a certain way.
Fully developed muscle cells are ideal in the aspect that they have already finished development as a muscle, but proliferate hardly at all. Therefore, cells such as myoblast cells are often used as they still proliferate at an acceptable rate, but also sufficiently differentiate from other types of cells.
2. Growth medium
The cells are then treated by applying a protein that promotes tissue growth. They are then placed in a culture medium, in a bio-reactor, which is able to supply the cells with the energetic requirements they need.
To culture three-dimensional meat, the cells are grown on a scaffold. The ideal scaffold is edible so the meat does not have to be removed, and periodically moves to stretch the developing muscle, thereby simulating the animal body during normal development.
What is it?
Cellular Agriculture, or Cell-Ag for short, is the science of 'farming' products by growing animal cells harvested from a pig, chicken or cow rather than growing the entire animal. This includes but is not limited to meat, milk, and eggs, as well as leather, silk and rhinoceros horn (?).
TERMINOLOGY TO KNOW
(Courtesy of the Cellular Agriculture Society)
Meat made through cellular agriculture
Leather made through cellular agriculture
A vegetarian or vegan who consumes cellular agriculture products
The practice of consuming cellular agriculture products
The Cellular Agriculture Society explains their existence in part by claiming "The world does not have enough environmental resources to produce for all of the farm animals; there isn’t enough food, water, and land to provide (for) them sustainably."
How serious are producers of lab-grown meat substitutes?
Beyond Meat, one of the major players in meat imitations, is expanding rapidly. Earlier this year they broke ground on a 26,000 square foot facility and they announced the unthinkable: a meatless bacon. Such a thing is an epicureal apostasy; a culinary abomination that should be stamped out immediately.
At the National Restaurant Assn. show in Chicago, Ill., they introduced a breakfast sausage made of pea, mung bean, rice and sunflower protein, with 'flavor notes' of sage and nutmeg. The company claims their new sausage looks, cooks and tastes like traditional pork sausage and contains twice as much protein.
Want a closer look at all the ingredients used for their sausage, chicken or beef analogs? It's much more extensive than that short list shown at the NRA. Most of their products use these ingredients, varying the recipe to fit the day's production run: Water, Pea Protein Isolate, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Refined, Coconut Oil, Cellulose from Bamboo, Natural Flavor, Methylcellulose, Apple Fiber, Salt, Vegetable Extract Blend (Spinach, Broccoli, Carrot, Tomato, Beet, Shiitake Mushroom), Beet Juice (For Color), Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin), Vitamin A (Palmitate), Annatto (For Color).
But most assuredly, "all ingredients from non-GMO sources and are gluten and soy free."
The new product will take its place next to a long list of Beyond Meat products sold in more than 25,000 grocery stores and restaurants. They claim they've sold over 13 million meat-like patties since that product debuted in 2016. With a multi-million dollar cash infusion from some seriously wealthy funders, the company is planning aggressive expansion worldwide, entering more than 50 countries this year.
A spokesperson for the company said "We’re trying to appeal to the carnivores, which is why we’re making products that look, cook and taste just like meat. That’s why we’re selling in the meat case because a carnivore doesn’t want to buy their protein right next to the ice cream. They want to buy it in the sexy butcher case where they’re used to buying their protein."
That 'sexy butcher case' is where I'll continue to buy my protein, of course; foods with single ingredient labels like 'beef.' Keep the pea protein isolate and feed the cellulose from bamboo to the pandas the next time you visit Washington's National Zoo.