There is no topic people talk about more often than food. Several times a day they snack, snack, eat, and eat. Food is a social event. People sit together at the table, celebrate together, and go out to dinner on first dates. Many a private as well as economic relationship was started at the dining table. People talk about food more often than normal people have sex. Food influences how we feel, how efficient and how healthy we are. And increasingly, whether we can survive on our planet.
For example, 40 percent of agricultural land in the United States is used to grow feed for the animals whose meat we consume. The water consumption, energy use, and waste to raise animals not only causes harm to the environment, but also creates suffering. No wonder more and more people are deciding to do without animal products in part or in whole.
Discussions between vegetarians, vegans and meat eaters can quickly become controversial. It even has an influence on your love life. Dating apps that are only for vegans or vegetarians because they can’t stand the body odor of meat eaters.
There’s a couple on the bus, obviously their first date. He asks her, “Where do you want to go for dinner?” She replies “How about a restaurant with good vegetarian options.” He: “Oh…” She asks him, “So what do you do?” He looks embarrassed, “I’m a butcher…”
This love of animals even goes so far that dog owners feed their dogs a vegan or vegetarian diet because they then “dog” less, i.e. smell like a dog.
However, it wouldn’t be Silicon Valley and technology if there weren’t founders taking on this problem. At UC Berkeley, there is the Alt:Meat Lab, which seeks to train students* to create and collaborate on alternative animal products. In addition to the familiar approaches of using soy, beans, lentils and other plant-based feedstocks to try to produce foods that are as close as possible to meat, milk, yogurt or egg, there are other approaches. For example, upcycling, which uses food waste to produce edible food for people.
Insects of all kinds are also praised by the evangelists of new foods. They are rich in protein and can be produced in a resource-saving way, if it weren’t for the gag reflex that most people experience. But you also get used to such food, as all lovers of Escargots – the French snails – can confirm. And they can actually become delicacies. So, not so long ago, lobsters were called the locusts of the sea. This cheap poor man’s chicken was distributed mainly to prisoners and slaves, where even revolts occurred. These uprisings were so intense that it was agreed that lobster could not be served more than three times a week.
But more interesting may be approach to produce meat from cell cultures. This involves removing a feather, fur hair or muscle tissue from an animal without harming the animal. The resulting cells are then induced to divide in a reactor with appropriate nutrient solution and ideal temperatures, and the result is a mush that does not look very appetizing at first. Further processed and applied to a carrier substance, a variety of possibilities arise.
The German-language TV station Servus TV took me to Silicon Valley to visit two companies and film their products and approaches. I was allowed to guide through the show and taste the food and give my impressions. We went to NotCo in San Francisco and Just in Alameda. While there, I was served the NotMilk (i.e., the non-dairy) and the Not-Burger by Chefs and Culinary Scientists. And at Just, I ate plant-based scrambled eggs and cell-cultured chicken. Here is the post:
Some of these products are already being sold, such as Just chicken in Singapore, NotMilk and liquid egg in the U.S., with more and more products facing the launch hole. For example, Orbillion, a startup founded by Austrian Patricia Bubner, signed delivery contracts in the U.S. and Europe for their soon-to-be-released cell-cultured beef.
And with these products, our way of looking at meat products is also changing. Is one then still vegan or vegetarian if one consumes meat from cell cultures? For some, the reasons for going meatless may have had to do with the animal suffering involved. With others, with sustainability and the high use of resources. And for some/some with the fact that they just don’t like meat flavor or their body can’t tolerate it or makes them uncomfortable.
Anyway, the scene is showing great interest in cell-cultured meat and the possibilities. Because animal suffering and waste of resources is no longer associated with it, and the meat could be changed in taste and adapted for your own body. The future doesn’t have to be meatless for vegetarians and vegans either. Does this put vegetarians and vegans on the list of extinct species? The future will tell.
But just growing meat from cell cultures is boring. Very exciting further possibilities are emerging and they are overturning our previous understanding of food and philosophies. But more about that in the second part.