Modern science tries to grow meat
Meat has always been a straightforward means of sustenance.
In fact, little has changed since those good olâ caveman days, when crude-but-effective spears fashioned out of nothing more than a sturdy hardwood log and sharpened flint were used to bring down buffalo, goat or other animals of choice.
Nowadays, we raise the animals in sheds.
The spears and cavemen have been replaced by bolt-guns and underpaid workers.
But the principle remains the same: Find animal, kill said animal, butcher, enjoy.
Believe it or not, this might soon be the âold-schoolâ way of harvesting meat.
Thatâs because a scientist working at the Medical University of South Carolina has made new strides toward growing muscular tissue in a laboratory environment.
Of course by âmuscular tissue,â I mean meat.
Yes, the kind of meat that you sprinkle with salt and throw on the grill.
According to Reuters, the project is being run out of a small lab and helmed by one man, Dr. Vladimir Mironov, with a radical new solution to the problem of sustaining meat production worldwide.
Mironov is one of the few scientists around the world that is working on bioengineering âculturedâ meat.
With the help of cancer biology scholar Nicholas Genovese, Mironov is attempting to grow slabs of meat in a controlled setting.
In essence, this involves taking embryonic muscle cells, called âmyoblasts,â bathing them in a nutrient broth and setting up some sort of foundational âscaffoldingâ for the cells to grow into. Â Mironov has used myoblasts from turkey and used a bovine serum as the growing agent, with chitosan to serve as the supporting polymer.
With luck, these minimalistic elements will grow into muscle tissue that we could eat, but with a few more modifications to make it taste more like old-fashioned meat.
âHow do you want it to taste?â Mironov said to Reuters. âYou want a little bit of fat, you want pork, you want lamb? We design exactly what you want. We can design texture.â
Mironov and Genovese see this âculturedâ meat as a means of curbing the unsustainable use of land for cattle farming, which is a growing problem, as well as the enormous quantities of grain and green matter needed to feed cattle.
And on top of it all, Genovese noted that lab-grown meat could be even cheaper than the âheavily-subsidizedâ factory meat we consume today.
Yet the project has run into some problems, most notably the issue of financing.
âBringing any new technology on the market, [on] average, costs $1 billion,â Mironov said. âWe donât even have $1 million.â
Although the process of âculturedâ meat is growing, no pun intended, in the Netherlands, no major U.S. organization has stepped up to provide long-term funding.
Maybe itâs because the entire process is a little frightening.
âThereâs a yuck factor when people find out meat is grown in a lab,â Genovese said.
Yeah, thatâs for sure.
A warehouse full of bioreactors growing what Mironov calls âcharlemâ â âCharleston engineered meatâ â doesnât pique my appetite much.
In fact, it sounds more like one of those awful, early morning SyFy channel movies.
Lab-grown meat is a concept that should scare the hell out of any foodie, meat-eating or otherwise.
Food is something that has developed over the decades with long-running traditions and mutual respect for the product.
Even todayâs most progressive cuisine is crafted by the people who care deeply about the conditions lived by their lamb, the simple patience behind a perfectly ripe tomato and the waters that a fish lived in.
Food, in the eyes of many who love to eat, is about having a connection to the bounty of nature.
But Mironov insists that his creation âwill be functional, natural, designed food.â
âGrowingâ meat would yield some benefits such as less animal killing, less land waste and smaller carbon footprints.
But letâs get one thing straight. You canât use the adjectives ânaturalâ and âdesignedâ in the same sentence.
A piece of steak, injected strategically with fat and grown to emulate textures, prodded and observed by scientists, seems far from natural.
Not to mention that the complex flavor of meats is determined by the raising of the cattle and what theyâve been fed.
Could charlem taste the same? I find it hard to believe.
Looking forward in order to combat potential crises is an important task, and Mironovâs innovation is admirable.
Still, we shouldnât be trying to solve our problems with âmoreâ and âcheaperâ as buzzwords, as with lab-grown meat. Â Look at what weâve grown already, thanks to the rise of âmoreâ and âcheaper:â a profit-chasing meat industry, indifferent to both the welfare of the animal and the consumer.
Weâll have to wait and see what becomes of Mironovâs new technology.
But if worst comes to worst, I guess raising a hog in my backyard wouldnât be so bad.
Eddie Kim is a sophomore majoring in print journalism. His column, âFood As Life,â runs Thursdays.
Eddie Kim is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalims. His column, âFood As Life,â runs Thursdays.