Commentary: Culinary fantasyland

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This is getting ridiculous.

Last year, this column has covered the way-too-dramatic-for-its-actual-impact media hype over the launch “world’s first in-vitro hamburger.” The cost of that test-tube hunk of globular protein: about $350,000.

But we were assured by the scientist dabbling in this new technology that “costs will come down” once mass production begins.

Which is like saying that saying, “Your sunburn pain will subside once you put on a shirt.”

Both statements, while true, completely ignore the fact that a conscious choice created the “situation” that time ultimately resolves. It’s not fair to call it “progress” when the starting point was the creation of a ridiculously expensive food product—or a decision to spend six hours sunbathing in August—and then crowing about the fact that at some future point in time, the situation is better than when you started.

The “genius” behind this idea that meat and poultry can be replaced by cultured protoplasm cooked up in giant test tubes in some industrial warehouse, and that process would somehow be more energy efficient than cows grazing on grass (that grows for free) is Dr. Mark Post of Maastricht University in Holland.

On his website, Culturedmeat.net, Post had the nerve to proclaim that this sci-fi-worthy experiment was in response to the “critical food shortages: facing the world, and that his “cultured beef” represents “the crucial first step in finding a sustainable alternative to meat production.”

Wanna know what the next step is? A fake “cookbook” for fake in-vitro cultured meat.

Koert van Mensvoort, who heads up the Next Nature Lab at Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands, is using the one-year anniversary of Post’s six-figure fake burger media fest to tout the launch of what his marketing people are cleverly positioning as “the world’s first cookbook for lab-grown food.”

Not because no one came up with that bright idea before, mind you, but because no one was even thinking about eating “lab-grown food.”

Yuck.

This so-called cookbook, as the publicity blurb explains, “Aims to move beyond in-vitro meat as an inferior fake-meat replacement, to explore its creative prospects and visualize what in-vitro meat products might be on our plate one day.”

Let’s get one thing straight: In-vitro meat, which is a tasteless, whitish blob of protein grown on laboratory media, is an inferior fake-meat replacement.

The reason this scheme has gotten any serious traction at all is because a couple of hotshot tech billionaires—including Google co-founder Serge Brin—are throwing money at it, and because plenty of PETA types are wetting their pants over the prospect of being able to stick to their “just leave animals alone” mantra and have meat-like products on the menu again.

Only the (allegedly) edible stuff van Mensvoort is touting ain’t meat.

Can’t cook it, can’t eat it

Here’s the blurb the publishers of The In Vitro Meat Cookbook are dangling as your incentive to fork over the $40 list price: “This cookbook features dozens of recipes that are delicious, uncanny, funny and inspiring. Think of meat paint, revived dodo wings, meat ice cream, cannibal snacks, steaks knitted like scarves and see-through sushi grown under perfectly controlled conditions. Though you can’t cook these recipes just yet, they’ve all been developed with strict culinary rigor and will provide abundant food for thought and discussion.”

No—not discussion. Dismissal.

Pursuing this technology is an interesting pastime for these scientists, and a great gig if you’ve got some deep pockets underwriting your lab experiments and your media tours.

Nice work if you can get it.

But even van Mensvoort himself acknowledges in the book’s preface that in-vitro meat is still in the” early stages of development.”

Yeah, and colonizing the planet Mars is also in “the early stages of development.”

I don’t care if mass production drives down the price of an in-vitro burger—or see-through sushi or dodo wings or any other ridiculous creation—to the proverbial 99 cents apiece.

Of all the priorities that need to be addressed to ramp up global food production while protecting the essential resources necessary to sustain agricultural productivity, this one’s not even in the top 200.

It’s the equivalent of sinking multi-millions into developing a car body made of biodegradable materials, while ignoring the problems related to powering the cars themselves with non-renewable fossil fuels.

By the way? Growing this in-vitro stuff requires using cellular material from actual beef, pork or chicken substrates. So for any would-be vegans out there thinking about someday enjoying an “in-vitro burger,” guess again.

If it’s made with meat, it becomes meat.

So even if this stuff eventually reaches the marketplace, you’re still stuck with eating formulated soyburgers at your next cookout.

Bon appetit.


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