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February 24, 2012 • Rants and Raves

Scientists Give “Fake Meat” A Whole New Spin

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(image courtesy T Shirt Bordello)

I was a vegetarian for 7 years, so I have eaten my fair share of veggie burgers and fake bacon (actually, fake bacon is why I stopped being a vegetarian, but that’s a whole other story). So the idea of “fake” meat doesn’t bother me most of the time, but this latest news is truly creepy-scientists are working on making “meat” using stem cells and petri dishes.

According to the BBC:

Scientists in the Netherlands hoping to create a more efficient alternative to rearing animals have grown small pieces of beef muscle in a laboratory.
These strips will be mixed with blood and artificially grown fat to produce a hamburger by the autumn.
The stem cells in this particular experiment were harvested from by-products of slaughtered animals but in the future, scientists say, they could be taken from a live animal through biopsy.
One usually assumes the main motivation for vegetarianism – aside from those who practise for religious reasons – is about the welfare of animals. The typical vegetarian forswears meat because animals are killed to get it.
So if the meat does not come from dead animals would there be an ethical problem in eating it if it one day lands on supermarket shelves?
It’s not as simple an equation as that, says Prof Andrew Linzey, director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. He says the burger as currently envisaged isn’t an acceptable substitute for vegetarians, but is still a step forward.

Yea, given the choice between a veggie burger and science project burger, I am all over the veggie option. It isn’t that meat makes me squeamish (I do cook and eat meat regularly these days), but there’s something mostly natural about that process. Sure, I didn’t raise the cow or hunt the turkey, but I know my food came from nature. This is very science fiction, and it makes my skin crawl a bit. It would not surprise me in the least if most vegetarians held a similar attitude. There are more humane ways to be a meat-eater, and plenty of farms and restaurants offer transparency in the treatment of animals and their diet. Sometimes, people simply don’t like how meat proteins make them feel, or they choose to be more plant-based in their diet for health reasons. Where the meat came from is only one consideration out of many.

I just can’t shake thinking about this episode of Dilbert the cartoon series whenever I picture lab grown meat:

Admittedly, even with the more problematic issues of genetically modified plants, I would still pick something that grew out of the ground over something grown in a lab. If my only meat choices were labmeat, I would happily go back to being a vegetarian. There’s just something deeply upsetting and unnatural about removing nature from the act of procuring food.

Would you eat meat grown in a lab? Or is that taking food science too far for you? Let us know in the comments!

4 Responses to " Scientists Give “Fake Meat” A Whole New Spin "

  1. Andrew says:

    I believe that PETA is offering a reward for developing a way to grow meat in a tissue culture like this.

    • Carly Z says:

      Which is just one of the many reasons why I think PETA is an odd organization.
      Speaking personally, I often avoid meat during the week of goal races. It’s not an ethical thing, it’s that I run significantly better on plant-based food and proteins than I do on meat, especially when I am pushing the intensity. The whole covet of “well people only eat vegetarian/become vegetarians is for ethical reasons” is flawed…there are plenty of dietary reasons that have less to do with the animal and more to do with overall health.
      And I stand by my assertion that removing nature from the meat is creepy, even if it really does mimic real meat.

      • Bryan Eley says:

        It’s interesting, isn’t it? In an effort to be more “ethical” we move further away from the jungle, but when raising live animals for food and moving “closer” to the jungle we are told by some we are evil. Curiously enough, there are some lines of research suggesting early human consumption of animals facilitated larger brain development, particularly as it affects the dopamine-dependent areas of the brain related to cognition, memory, etc.

        I’ve always found advocating vegetarianism on the grounds of killing animals be be a peculiar notion, but then my perspective comes from that of a biologist. Since the net balance in eating plant or animal is death, why is death for one life form more acceptable than for another? Why are humans, whom we are told are merely animals with a big ego, held to humanocentric standards of ethics but our fellow animals aren’t? I’m pretty sure spiders don’t go protesting Charlotte’s web at the county fair because she cruelly paralyzed and liquified the innards of a fly whose Musca rights and Habeus Corpus have been violated. 😉 It’s a very schizophrenic notion.

        I should point out that I am in no way opposed to vegetarianism; there are plenty of reasons as Carly pointed for advocating that lifestyle. In general it is healthier (with sufficient variety) and tends to require less resources to produce, distribute and process.

        • Carly Z says:

          Exactly, Bryan! You said it better than me but I agree wholeheartedly.
          If (and that’s a big if, because I really love bacon. And steak.) I ever became a vegetarian again, it would be purely based on how I feel on a plant based diet, not because of an ethical dilemma. You can believe in not being cruel to animals and still be a meat eater; the two are not mutually exclusive.

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