Amazing that one of the New York Times' most 'all natural, organic only' foodies would devote a column in praise of test tube meat; the kind of curious, chemically-derived, mad-scientist manufactured sustenance that can only come from deep within the most advanced laboratories. None of it can come from contented cattle, allowed to roam freely, eating only the freshest grass until moments before it entered the knocking pen. None if it came from free-roaming chicken flocks, dining on bugs and enjoying dust baths and gloriously carefree days basking in bright sunshine.
Why would he heap praise on such an unlikely product? He suffers from a moral dilemma and needs to apply some artificial salve to his soul. He really would prefer that no animal had to give up its life for his dining pleasure. He's a culinary backslider, though, a closet carnivore who wrote an agonized, "IF only meat weren’t so delicious!"
He's got that part right but he prattles on with some long-dismissed nonsense about how meat reaches his fine China and silver spoon. "Sure," he writes, "meat may pave the way to a heart attack. Yes, factory farms torture animals. Indeed, producing a single hamburger patty requires more water than two weeks of showers."
That hamburger patty, he says, takes 450 gallons of water to reach your plate, the equivalent, according to his math, of 14 showers at 32.15 gallons each. Better data comes from HomeWaterWorks.org and they think he's spending way to much time on his morning routine, though. They say "In an average home, showers are typically the third largest water use after toilets and clothes washers. The average American shower uses 17.2 gallons and lasts for 8.2 minutes at average flow rate of 2.1 gallons per minute."
If Nick is one of those daily shower guys, he needs to be more ecologically aware and cut his shower time in half.
And then, he goes back to the truth behind his love letter to frankenmeat. "But for those of us who are weak-willed, there’s nothing like a juicy burger."
For those of us with strong wills, there is still nothing like a juicy burger, except may a juicy cheeseburger with a couple strips of bacon on the top.
His comment about veggie burgers tasting of a blend of tofu and cardboard was generous. I've sampled a few and the best part of them was the mustard/ketchup topping. The last one I taste-tested, I gave the highest marks to the pickle slices; crunchy and adding a pleasant tang to a taste-free (tasteless?) slab of an otherwise realistic appearing patty. The bun was pretty good, too.
The current problem is the manufacturers' insistence on trying to pass off whatever it is they're making as an acceptable substitute for beef or chicken. It's not. They might be better off marketing their test tube extrusions as food-like substances with a relatively decent nutritional profile.
"Best used by" dates could be far, far away. Making them part of the food package for the first Mars excursion might give them some veritas. "Best served" suggestions could include 'Tastes best with generous applications of mustard, ketchup and other condiments.'
It will take a long time for frankenmeats to be cost competitive with real meat, even longer before they have any chance of passing the sniff and taste tests.
Kristof got this interesting comment from Joseph D. Puglisi, a Stanford University professor working on meat alternatives: “The true challenge will be to recreate more complex pieces of meat that are the pinnacle of the meat industry. I believe that plausible, good-tasting steaks and pork loins are only a matter of time.”
First, Puglisi will have to work on producing convincing replacements for heavily-flavored products such as jerky and sausages that start with tougher cuts of less naturally flavorful meats. Creating a prime faux filet with the aroma, mouth feel, taste and texture of real beef might have to wait for scientific advancements not yet known to mankind.
Responses to Kristof's musings, most of them from his usual band of merry men who follow him regularly, were almost as bland and boring as today's frankenmeat products.
A dismissive comment stated, "This is yet another step by the industrial food companies to create processed food."
Another person wrote "Hmm ... I'm still wary of various 'substitutes.' Whenever we monkey with Mother Nature (' ... it's not nice to fool') we risk unintended consequences..."
About one of the most popular meat-like products mentioned by Kristof, an interested observer said, "Mock chicken and beef crumbles are triumphs when mixed in other foods (Whole Foods once inadvertently swapped real curried chicken salad with fake curried chicken salad, and no one noticed for two days). But if I were a cow, I might be a bit embarrassed by Beyond Meat’s meatballs and Beast Burger."
And if I were a real meat-eater, which I am, I would be embarrassed if any attempt at mocking Mother Nature was discovered at the center of my plate. If it comes from a cow, I'll call it beef. If it comes from soy or pea protein, I'll pass.