Will We Eat Synthetic Meat?

I love eating dead animals: roast pork with crackling, a nice cheese burger, a rare steak lathered in blood, those delicious wrinkled Polish sausages.

Our bodies are fuelled by the flesh of living things. Back in the day, we hunted and killed our own food. The animals we hunted lived full and happy lives. We were close to the act of killing and felt a respect for the animal that sustained us.

Now, we separate the idea of meat from the idea of animals. We sling a packet in our shopping basket and forget. The nutrients in meat are crucial to our health – though many vegans will disagree. And, like vegans, we all know that factory farming is an abomination. Delicious meat, or happy animals? Your choice.

But what if we didn’t have to choose? Enter synthetic meat.

What is meat?

Meat is animal muscle and some internal organs. We chop it up and cook it. The blood makes it juicy. Proteins and fats meld into umami as it’s cooked. Meat is the Sun’s energy captured by plants, eaten by animals.

We butcher those animals for meat and devour the Sun’s glorious rays as food. It is condensed energy, packed with vitamins and nutrients. It’s the fuel your body needs. Nothing satisfies like a chunk of meat.

What’s wrong with eating real meat?

Let’s start with Factory Farming. We’ve all seen the videos of thousands of pallid, daylight-starved chickens. They are shunted around like products on a production line, fed terrible quality food to make them plump and ready to roast.

The more modern and industrial these farms become, the more it feels like we’re building a sci-fi dystopia with the chickens as Katniss Everdeen.

So, what about hunting? Isn’t that more humane? Depending on the method of execution, it’s less brutal. It gives you a respect for the animal you’ve killed. And, hunting is part of humanity’s evolutionary past.

As much as I’d enjoy stalking prey across the rainy savannas of Nottinghamshire, I’m not fussed about doing that for every meal. Some humans don’t want to kill, even in self-defence. We can’t all be running through the hills and valleys, firing composite bows, wetting our arrows with the blood of our prey.

And we’re back to lab-grown meat.

Synthetic Meat Today

Synthetic meat – also known as cultured meat, clean meat or in-vitro meat – is just getting started. Scientists grow it in labs, using tissue engineering. They take single cells from an animal and bathe it in a nutritious goo. They poke and prod the cells, making them divide. The meat grows, free of an animal body, free of suffering

Heston Blumenthal O.B.E., Taste Of London Festival, June 2010, Brian Minkoff

Heston Blumenthal O.B.E., Taste Of London Festival, June 2010, Brian Minkoff

The process is expensive – a single meatball costs more than the average US citizen earns in a year. So, unless you’re a culinary mad scientist like Heston Blumenthal, you probably won’t be getting your hands on any in the next few years.

You might be suspicious of eating lab-grown meat. Will it taste the same? What will the texture be like? Many scientists worry that getting the texture of meat is going to be impossible. We’d have to replicate the structure of organs and muscles. You’re not going to get marbling unless the scientists work something out.

But it’s happening. Some have already started using dissolvable “scaffolds” to grow meat in the shape of specific organs.

But unless they drop the price, I’ll have to start eating insects. Or, become vegan.

Synthetic Meat in the Near Future

In the next 50 to 100 years, the technology will improve. We’ll likely make good quality fake meat and, if the technology works like anything else, it’ll get cheaper and better with each generation. It could even replace those sad packets of meat you get in the supermarket.

The meat would probably still be a little uniform in texture.

What happens to real meat as synth meat replaces it? Maybe it’ll become illegal. Perhaps there will be a black market selling real animal meat to connoisseurs. Underground meat clubs will spring up, catering to the rich. Making things illegal tends to make them sexy and exciting.

Real meat will get expensive, and synth meat will get better and cheaper.

I’m hungry already. Bring me the meaty future.

Synthetic Meat in the Far Future

With time and practice the meat will become near perfect. We might start making mixed meats: half-chicken, half-lamb; three parts pigeon, one part wild boar. We could embed tastes, like adding a natural apple sauce to a joint of pork, or lamp chop that sweats mint sauce. We could even invent meats from animals that never existed.

We could even breed animals that don’t have brains or nervous systems. We could design creatures that cannot suffer, that are not sentient, just meat robots.  We could still eat living meat.

Synth meat will be a normal part of our lives.

Religions and ideologies might grow around the concept of meat. There will be ideological battles: some arguing that synth meat is the only solution; others who worship true meat from a dead animal; and, others still will reject the idea of meat altogether, synthetic or otherwise.

The vegans are here to stay.

How should we deal with Synthetic Meat?

Meat is just matter. We will make synthetic meat. How soon, how economically viable and how well we’ll synthesise real meat is another question. I’m all for it. Give me a fake chicken to shove in the oven. I’ll eat that. So long as the skin gets crispy.

Would you eat a synthetic burger? What about a synthetic steak? What about a whole synthetic chicken?

Will I ever become vegan? I doubt it.

Will we perfect synthetic meat before the chickens rise up in revolution? We’d better.