Pi Attitude Zone: Self-Gratification

When Is A Hamburger Not Hamburger?

Here’s a strange thing.  And it goes straight to the meat of the matter.

As Pi has noted in numerous previous posts, many humans seem to react negatively to the idea of anything “genetically modified”.  Then there was the recent scandal in Europe about ground “beef” in processed meals actually turning out to be horsemeat – cue widespread public disgust. Yet the recent news that cultured artificial meat has been successfully produced in a laboratory did not provoke the widespread revulsion and condemnation that might have been expected.  A lot of people actually rather like the idea. 

What is it about our craving for meat?  And will an advancing scarcity of the stuff eventually start us cheerfully eating an artificial substitute?  If we insist on traditionally-reared natural meat, time is against us.  World demand will rise by 70% in a generation, and the meat supply simply can’t keep growing to keep up.  Over one-third of the world’s accessible land is already grazing livestock, or growing feed crops as fodder for the greedy beasts.

This could explain why a light-bulb lit up over our collective heads when scientist Mark Post of Maastricht University in Holland produced ‘artificial meat’ in his lab.  The product took the form of a 140-gram ‘hamburger’ made from cultured muscle cells, colored with beetroot and saffron and bound together (as many ‘real’ hamburgers are) with breadcrumbs.  The dish cost $330,000 to produce, (though the lettuce, tomato and bun accompaniment came relatively cheap).  But if the idea takes off, prices could be coming down sharply as artificial meat goes into mass production.

What kind of gastronomic experience could consumers expect?  Good enough to overcome our deeply-ingrained aversion to the idea of “messing with Nature”?

Well, for starters, something like 95% of what we assume is a dish’s taste is actually its aroma.  The new lab-meat product, when grilled, apparently smells appetizing and authentic.  The actual taste, according to the experts who tried it, was “rather bland”, and the ‘mouthfeel’ suffered from the fact that there was no added fat.  Fat, we learn, is key to providing a meat dish with sizzle, enhanced aroma, and that indefinable but unmistakable juiciness that meat-eaters crave.

So the search is now on for a way to add fat tissue to the lab-grown muscle fibers that science has already perfected.  Science thinks it will crack that problem in a matter of months.

Zone: Self-Gratification Country: Europe Product – Consumer Products