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Cultured Meat: Will It Have A Place On Your Menu?

cultured meat meatball

Memphis Meats’ meatballs look and taste like the real thing, but are made from cultured meat.
© Memphis Meats

Memphis Meats wants you to eat meat without having to slaughter animals. The San Francisco company is already growing real meat—cultured meat—in small quantities using cells from cows, pigs, and chickens. The company’s first products—hot dogs, sausages, burgers, and meatballs—will be developed using recipes perfected over a half century by award-winning chefs. The founders expect to have products to market in less than five years.

“This is absolutely the future of meat,” said Memphis Meats CEO Uma Valeti, M.D. “We plan to do to animal agriculture what the car did to the horse and buggy. Cultured meat will completely replace the status quo and make raising animals to eat them simply unthinkable.”

Valeti, a cardiologist who trained at the Mayo Clinic, is associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota and president of the Twin Cities American Heart Association. Valeti founded Memphis Meats with Nicholas Genovese, Ph.D., a stem cell biologist, and Will Clem, Ph.D., a biomedical engineer who owns a chain of barbeque restaurants in Memphis, Tennessee. The mouthwatering reputation of Memphis barbeque inspired the company’s name.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who provided $330,000 to fund the world’s first cultured hamburger, describes cultured meat as a technology with “the capability to transform how we view our world.”

Explains Bruce Friedrich, executive director of The Good Food Institute, “Cultured meat is sustainable, creates far fewer greenhouse gases than conventional meat, is safer, and doesn’t harm animals. For people who want to eat meat, cultured meat is the future.”

While generating one calorie from beef requires 23 calories in feed, Memphis Meats plans to produce a calorie of meat from just three calories in inputs. The company’s products will be free of antibiotics, fecal matter, pathogens, and other contaminants found in conventional meat.

The question is, will people eat it? Of course, some people will eat anything. From snails to crickets, and many other things we won’t mention now, just about every living thing on Earth is on someone’s menu somewhere. However, some consumers are more choosy about what they eat and why. This is particularly true of vegans.

It might seem that meat grown in a bio-reactor would be the ideal product for vegans, but that depends on the vegan, on their personal reasons for not eating meat. If their reason is simply to avoid killing animals, then cultured meat may be acceptable, assuming that no animals are sacrificed or made to suffer anywhere along the production chain. But to others, the term “vegan” means much more than just not killing animals; it encompasses every aspect of a plant-based lifestyle. And since cultured meat is not purely plant-based, it would be unacceptable and unpalatable, regardless of how good it may taste.

Regarding taste, look at it this way … If you don’t eat broccoli because you don’t like the way it tastes, do you really care whether it’s organically grown or not? No, because you’re not going to eat it anyway. Some vegans are likely to view cultured meat the same way; they don’t like the taste of meat, so they’re not going to eat it regardless of where it comes from or how it’s raised or grown. For them, there are enough mouth-watering plant-based alternatives to satisfy even the most discerning palate.

While it may not meet (no pun intended) with everyone’s approval, given our expanding population and dwindling resources, if we can feed people with fewer inputs and without the need to kill billions of animals, it’s likely we’re going to see cultured meat on at least some dinner plates before too long.