It seems that, over the past decades, vegetarianism and veganism have been rapidly gaining grounds on a global scale, for various reasons. On the one hand, some adepts of these dietary lifestyle base their decision on the ethical issues raised by eating animal by-products, be they meat, eggs, or other types or produce. In this sense, a historic strand to this current also emerges and ties the two movements in with several religions from around the world, from Hinduism and Buddhism, to the Muslim faith, and even to the lent periods practiced by Christians (both Catholic as well as Orthodox) and by Mosaic believers.
From an evolutionary and biological perspective, certain vegans and vegetarians believe that eating animal products is not suited for the human metabolism. Even though the human species has been around for an estimated 200,000 years, some adhere to the view that we have been eating meat for far less time (even though recent archeological discoveries point to the fact that humans were eating meat 2.5 million years ago). Last but not least, there are those who choose to stop eating meat, dairy and/or eggs for health reasons, either as a means for combating current afflictions, or as a prophylactic measure.
Recent research, however, stands a chance at refuting at least some of those arguments, it seems. In October 2012, a team of Dutch scientists announced they were en route to creating the world’s first system for mass production of lab meat. This discovery, it has been surmised, could change consumption habits for vegetarians, alter the perception that eco-conscious omnivorous consumers hold on meat, and dramatically affect meat farm yields from around the world.
The recent scientific advances prove that meat can be efficiently created within a laboratory environment. The process, however, sounds anything but appealing, and numerous media pundits are wondering whether such meat production methods could ever convince consumers to switch over to ‘lab-grown’ burgers or steaks. Essentially, the meat is produced by harvesting a small sample of cells from a living animal, then replicating those cells into muscle-like pieces of tissue, which have been tested and confirmed as fully safe for human consumption.
Of course, meat can be consumed in healthful ways at the present moment. This article points to the efficiency of the Weight Watchers dietary lifestyle, which encourages a balanced diet that also includes animal protein in the form of meat and dairy. Weight Watchers can be observed by vegans and vegetarians as well, since its point-based system does not discriminate on the basis of preference, taste, or lifestyle choice. It simply advises against excess of any kind (be it excess consumption of meat or an unjustly elevated intake of protein from soy or legumes) and advocates portion control.
The problem with meat nowadays, however, is that, on the one hand, people tend to up their intake and portion sizes to unhealthy standards. On the other hand, the large part of meat sold for human consumption, to be found in supermarkets around the globe, comes from industrial farms and low welfare animals, oversaturated with antibiotics and various growth hormone supplements.
This being the reality, lab meat might no longer seem like such a questionable alternative. For one thing, should it prove successful, this production method threatens to overtake industrial farms, thus also contributing to the reduction of pollution levels that such facilities generate. Land use, animal feed and greenhouse gas emissions could all be taken out of the equation, if time proves than meat grown in a lab is a viable alternative.
From a dietary point of view, macronutrient analyses highlight the fact that meat grown in a laboratory has higher protein contents than vegetable-based alternatives to meat (think tofu, soy, Quorn, etc.). what now remains to be seen is whether or not the average consumer is ready to embrace this alternative, no matter how viable the tests so far have made it out to be. The research, anonymously funded with $400,000, was conducted by Maastricht University’s Mark Post.
The professor has recently announced he will hold a public tasting, in hopes of generating talks about a means for mass production for his invention. Meanwhile, PETA darling Gabor Forgacs, a researcher with the University of Missouri, is also drawing closer to the goal of producing the world’s first ever life-like tasting lab meat. It remains to be seen how the public will approach this subject and whether or not it will ever warm up to the notion of eating something that ‘grew’ in a lab.