Few meat eaters disagree with the general unpleasantness of slaughtering animals for food. Hunters, at least responsible ones, take pains to avoid unnecessary suffering. Likewise, there are probably not many who disagree with the arguments made about the unsustainability of the meat industry or about how polluting and detrimental to the environment raising billions of animals for food is.
But despite having concerns for animals, our health, and the health of the environment, most people are simply not willing to give up meat – not because of ignorance or uncaring – but rather because meat, and our traditions of cooking dishes with its tastes and textures is a part of what it means to be human.
If a perfect world – where animal meat could be had without slaughtering and without polluting – could be voted for, it would win in a landslide. We could be on a precipice, however, of entering that perfect world – courtesy of science and technology.
What if a celebrity chef such as Marco Pierre White were to offer you some tasty meat and then after you’d sampled and agreed it was indeed delicious, told you it was 100% plant-based? Would the product suddenly become problematic because it was ‘vegan’? –Unlikely, no?
A somewhat similar scenario occurred in late 2021 when the aforementioned chef White invited a tasting party to his London restaurant. The folks coming were aware that they were going to sample vegan meat, but from the journalist writing the story to barbecue expert Ben Bartlett, people tasting it registered shock or surprise that the products were indeed plant-based.
Tech Behind ‘New Meat’
The tech behind this ‘new meat’ is the reason for the oohs and awws. Never before has a meat substitute been made using such a scientific approach to imitating meat. Animal flesh has layers, and while you’re eating it, you notice different textures and flavors in different layers of the meat.
So, using a 3D printer, tech startups – primarily in Israel – took the same approach: printing a layer of ‘alternative fat’ followed by a bit of ‘alternative muscle’ – all plant-based and therefore vegan, but plant-based formulas designed by chefs, scientists, and even butchers to produce the ‘closest approximation to animal meat that has ever been created.’
The exact formulas are – of course – trade secrets, but Reuters last year listed some of them as including, “a mix of soy and pea protein, chickpeas, beetroot, nutritional yeasts, and coconut fat.” The tech is impressive, but if you apply ‘Moore’s Law,’ it leads to the conclusion that 3D printed vegan meat will only get better tasting and cheaper as time goes by.
That said, it’s hard to imagine how much better this new species of meat substitute could get, considering it’s already bringing down the house. As barbecue expert Ben Bartlett noted in a report in the Guardian, “I judge on taste, texture, and appearance – I’ve had so many bland and dull plant products. Then suddenly this came along and I was marking them 9s and 10s.”
Nines and tens are pretty close to perfect scores. And if these scores hold true when the general public gets a chance to sample it, it could herald the beginning of a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable future while simultaneously slowly beginning to bring down the curtain on the many millennia-long human infatuation with animal meat.
It’s been a great experience, at least from the perspective of us humans. After discovering how to cook animal protein, evolutionary biologists say our brains exploded in size and computing speed, helping push us towards the wheel, writing, and all the other steps required to create what we call civilization.
But any objective person looking at the situation in the 21st century can see we have a problem. Too many people and too small a place, to put it succinctly.
There isn’t enough water, land, and other resources to continue raising enough animals for the meat-intensive diets enjoyed by many today. When the planet hits perhaps 10 billion people in a few decades, this situation will only be significantly exacerbated. –Science and technology to the rescue!
All of the protesting by PETA and all of the finger-wagging from well-intentioned environmentalists has not had a demonstrable overall effect on human meat consumption habits. But a product that tastes 95+% similar to the real deal could be the game-changer that many have been hoping and waiting for.
We can’t ignore our past and we can’t deny the fact that currently, the majority of us enjoy the tastes, flavors, smells, and textures of meat. But neither can we continue producing it sustainably.
This scientifically-created 3D printed alternative meat, offers a best of both worlds solution allowing us to have our cake and eat it too. It’s a remarkable development that everyone – from committed vegans to intransigent lovers of animal protein – should welcome.