Don’t be a chicken – Lab-grown meat has moved from the future to the present. Here is what local restaurant owners have to say about it.
Story By Bailey Gilliam
Whether you’re a meat lover or a vegan, there is growing concern about the environmental impact of the meat industry. But the world is experiencing a food revolution that may eventually change all of that. The Food and Drug Administration has given the green light to three companies to begin producing and selling lab-grown chicken in the U.S. Upside Foods, Good Meat and Joinn Biologics are the first companies aiming to bring no-slaughter protein to the market.
Also referred to as cultivated meat, lab meat is grown in steel tanks using cells from a living animal, fertilized egg or bank of stored cells. In other words, no animals need to be killed. In producing lab-grown meat, the cells are grown in bioreactors similar to those that make beer. That’s where they’re immersed in a carefully regulated nutrient solution that encourages them to grow until they become actual pieces of meat. It is real meat, not “fake meat.” Cell-based meats should not be confused with plant-based meats, such as meat from Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods, which is made with vegetables. What do local restaurants think about it?
While the concept of cultivated meat doesn’t sound pleasant to many people, it is something to consider. These three companies approved in the U.S. aren’t the only ones jumping on the cultivation bandwagon. Over 150 companies are staking a future in the market. For example, Sci-Fi Foods, founded by “burger-obsessed food lovers,” aims to blend cultivated beef with a plant-based recipe to produce a hybrid burger that, they say, will be better for the planet. More and more people are investing in this process because people realize that the environment is in danger. One-third of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions come from food production. Poultry operations are linked to water pollution of oceans and drinking water. Animal feeding operations are a risk factor for the emergence of diseases spread between animals and people.
Cultivated meat can squash health and environmental concerns regarding what’s in your meat or how it’s made. You can grow all the meat you want without raising, transporting and slaughtering billions of animals yearly. Meat can be produced with only half the water, protecting the oceans and drinking water from manure and fertilizer pollution. There’s potential to save millions of acres of land by growing food and restoring biodiversity while eliminating millions of tons of annual CO2 emissions from the atmosphere and cutting the air pollution caused by animal farming in half. As for antibiotics, there’s no need for them since lab-grown meat is produced in sterile labs. Another plus is that there’s no need to use growth-promoting hormones. Clean, safe and humane is the advantage of this technology over conventional ways of raising livestock, which can harbor foodborne pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella.
Companies have gained plenty of investors, including Bill Gates and John Doerr, and are valued at more than a billion dollars. Some of the largest companies involved in traditional meat production, Tyson and Cargill, also have invested. But what about locals?
Here are more thoughts from local restaurants. The reviews were mixed, but anything is possible.
Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks
Owner Andrew Carmines: “I wouldn’t say never. But so far, I haven’t read or heard anything (from those not being paid extremely well) that it’s restaurant ready or a reasonable substitute for the real thing. Journalists have said that texturally it’s pretty weird. I haven’t tasted it, but I think it will probably be a while. I would serve it if my customers said, ‘Hey, this is so good, you should serve it.’ Regarding seafood, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility. In some markets seafood has gotten so expensive that it might catch on quicker. But no way for me right now. I love seafood so much – it’s exactly how Mother Nature intended it. But, hey, if they create a grouper fillet that’s better than one that my boats catch, I’m all for it – if it’s healthy. That’s another thing. But it’s really cool that so many people care about the planet. Regardless of whether or not this gains traction, people are trying to help the earth, and that’s really cool.”
Nunzio Restaurant + Bar
Chef Nunzio Patruno: “I am not familiar with this product. But before we put this on the guest’s plate, the companies need to do a major campaign in the restaurant industry to see if it is suitable to serve. If the large population of diners does not accept it, it is not worth it for us to experiment.”
The G-Free Spot
Chef Nicole Gardner: “So my thoughts… Eeek! I’m a little hippie at heart, so I’m not in love with it, and I’m really a ‘salt of the earth’ kinda gal, which is funny considering I was a chemistry major in college, so I will not be using it personally or in our bakery.”
Charlie’s Coastal Bistro
Owner Margaret Pearman: “Our chef, Joe Castillo, is interested in it, wants to taste it and would like to experiment with it when it becomes commercially available.”
Owner Price Beall: “My preference is to support farmers who grow their crops and raise their animals in a healthy, safe and responsible way. Test tube chicken? No thank you!”