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Cultivating the Future: The Weird and Wild World of Cultivated Meat

Ethically, I agree with most of what vegans argue: we can be healthy without meat products, and we owe it to our animal friends to stop enabling factory farms that abuse their livestock. I feel like a hypocrite for loving my cats as much as I do, yet happily tucking into a plate of ribs when it’s on offer.  I try to be ethical in where I source my meat, but I still feel like veganism is the kindest way to exist on this planet.

Then along came ‘cultivated meat’.

Cultivated meat has kind of turned the culinary world upside down and has made me question some of my beliefs about meat production, consumption, and what meat even is.

What is cultivated meat?

Cultivated meat is, essentially, meat that is grown in a lab. Take, for instance, a single chicken, and perform a biopsy to get a sample of cells. Through some complex scientific processes that I won’t bore you with, these chicken cells are put through various beep-boop machines and have a handful of scientists rearrange their particles so that they can multiply outside the chicken’s body. What you get is a growing mass of chicken meat that is fit for consumption… without killing a single chicken.

The first cultivated meat product was created in 2013 and cost $300,000 to produce. However, in the decade since, it has grown exponentially, with 150 cultivated meat companies springing up as of 2022. And, as of June 2023, the US Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture have both given the proverbial ‘all clear’ for two major cultivated meat companies to sell their products in the United States.

Is it ‘good’ for you?

A fair few thought pieces are floating around the internet that are decrying cultivated meat as harmful. Some conspiracy theorists are even pointing to cultivated meat as an example of the government trying to give you cancer or control your mind through something as tasty as chicken nuggets.

This, however, is likely just propaganda from big factory farms that stand to lose profits from cultivated meat. Multiple peer-reviewed journal articles have been published including this one, this one, and this review article, all conclusively declare that lab-grown meat is not harmful. Interestingly, most researchers concluded that based on the sterile conditions of the laboratory, cultivated meat had significantly less risk of becoming infected with Salmonella, E. coli, or Campylobacter. Having suffered from campylobacter in 2008, I am SO on board with this development. Truly. It felt like being ripped apart on the inside.

How Do Vegans Feel About It?

Beyond the debate around the net positives and net negatives, members of the vegan community are torn when it comes to the wider acceptance of cultivated meats and whether these products count as ‘vegan’.

Vegans define themselves as people who do not eat any food that is derived from animals – so by the strictest definition, cultivated meat is an animal by-product and should not be eaten. However, the collective goal of vegans, arguably, is to reduce worldwide consumption of animal products. If a single biopsy from a chicken will save the lives of literally millions of chickens, then there is a clear advantage to accepting and encouraging cultivated meat as a method of reducing harm to animal populations.

Some vegans feel that cultivated meat consumption is still unethical, and a single harmed animal is too many. Others, however, understand the benefits of cultivated meat, including its potential as a source of risk-free protein and nutrition for malnourished populations.

As for me, I’m willing to give it a shot. If I can eat something that is just as delicious but doesn’t come with a side serving of guilt, I’m all for it. What about you? Are you welcoming lab-grown meat onto your plate any time soon?

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Tayla Blaire

Tayla Blaire is a South African writer, teacher, epicurean, and (most importantly) mother to all cats. Tayla has been thinking (and subsequently writing) about food since she was a tiny tot after her mother taught her that measuring ingredients was for the weak. If you’re interested to see what Tayla has whipped up recently, check out her Instagram profile @tayla.blaire to see the recipes that she has lovingly filmed in her very own too-small kitchen.

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