Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Oh, those scientists, with their fake meat

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Well, it's not really fake meat, just... different:

The world's first lab-grown burger has been cooked and eaten at a news conference in London.

Scientists took cells from a cow and, at an institute in the Netherlands, turned them into strips of muscle that they combined to make a patty.

One food expert said it was "close to meat, but not that juicy" and another said it tasted like a real burger.

Researchers say the technology could be a sustainable way of meeting what they say is a growing demand for meat.

The burger was cooked by chef Richard McGeown, from Cornwall, and tasted by food critics Hanni Ruetzler and Josh Schonwald.

As one who does not eat red meat -- I call myself a flexitarian -- I really want this to work. Not just for myself, of course, but as a way to deal with the problem of hunger and food shortage worldwide.

Actually, I don't really want to eat lab-grown meat. At least I don't think I do -- maybe. And so this isn't so much about people like me, or about vegetarians/vegans, or whatever. There are ample other choices for us. Sure, if they could "grow" beef that really tastes and smells and feels like beef, then fine, it might be a worthwhile option. But it really doesn't seem all that appetizing:

Upon tasting the burger, Austrian food researcher Ms Ruetzler said: "I was expecting the texture to be more soft... there is quite some intense taste; it's close to meat, but it's not that juicy. The consistency is perfect, but I miss salt and pepper.

"This is meat to me. It's not falling apart."

Food writer Mr Schonwald said: "The mouthfeel is like meat. I miss the fat, there's a leanness to it, but the general bite feels like a hamburger.

"What was consistently different was flavour."

Prof Mark Post, of Maastricht University, the scientist behind the burger, remarked: "It's a very good start."

Yes, and very encouraging. Again, to the extent this can help combat hunger and provide nourishing food to those who need it, I'm all for it. And I do want it to work -- for that, as well as to help combat the problem of animal cruelty in the food industry. I'd much rather have meat grown in a lab than acquired through the appalling mass slaughter of animals that is the current way of doing things.

It will take a while -- to get the product right, which might be easy enough, then to change people's minds, a much harder task -- but it's well worth it.

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