Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World
Book of the week
One day about a year ago, Paul Shapiro, a longtime vegan, ate—and savored—his first forkful of foie gras. And “this small act was a big deal,” said Barbara King in NPR.org, because the duck liver had been produced not in the traditional way but had been grown from starter cells taken from a duck in a pain-free biopsy procedure. “As I let the fatty liver melt on my tongue,” Shapiro writes, the foie gras “brought me an amount of pleasure I was a little embarrassed to admit.” The former Humane Society executive has now written a book that lays out how many companies are suddenly closing in on bringing such lab-grown, slaughter-free animal products to market. “It’s an incredibly promising and hopeful message.”
Clean Meat “advocates without overselling, anticipating our uneasiness with a process that many will at first glance reject as ‘unnatural,’” said Matthew Scully in The Wall Street Journal. Though Shapiro’s passion is to see an end to the abuses that livestock suffer in today’s factory farms, he also highlights potential knock-on benefits, including a massive reduction in the amount of land and energy used to produce animal protein, a major decline in fecal-borne food contaminants, and a civilization-altering shift in humanity’s relationship with the natural world. Of course, though five years have already passed since a Dutch university produced the first lab-grown burger, daunting obstacles remain. The infrastructure needed to produce such burgers on a mass scale doesn’t exist, and no one has come up with a way to grow anything but ground meat. But Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and other big investors are betting that will change. Even ground-beef giant Cargill has gotten into the game.
That may well give readers pause, said James McWilliams in Pacific Standard. Lab-grown meat, given the big investments it requires, could give big multinationals even more control of the agricultural industry than they enjoy today. Still, it’ll be consumers who ultimately will determine whether tomorrow’s meat comes from a farm or a petri dish. Shapiro, “a fair-minded and knowledgeable guide,” mentions surveys showing that consumers hate the idea of synthetically generated meat, but he believes they can be fairly easily converted. People eat hot dogs without knowing what’s in them, he argues, so how hard could it be to get them to embrace lab-grown burgers? That sounds totally rational. “But as anyone who spends any time thinking or writing about food knows, rational is the last quality to describe our approach to eating.” ■