by Joe Shea
September 10, 2011
2 DEAD, 22 WOUNDED IN FLORIDA NIGHTCLUB RAMPAGE, AND NO SUSPECTS YET
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Anyone who has ever bought an 8-pack of hot dogs for two bucks already knows what they're eating is not "meat" in the strictest sense of the word.
So anyone who has eaten those hot dogs may not be too icked out when they hear Dutch food scientists may have found a way to bioengineer "cultured meat" as a suitable replacement to actual animals.
Cultured meat, sometimes mistakenly called "synthetic meat," is basically meat proteins that have been grown in a lab. Their most recent experiment grew sausages from pig cells fed by horse serum, whatever that is. (And no, I don't want to know.) In fact, they believe they are six months from having sausages that are suitable for consumption by people who are not in prison.
Dr. Mark Post of the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands recently told reporters he believes they can even create a hamburger within a year. However, that will cost over $350,000 to accomplish.
For 350 grand, it had better have bacon on it. And hand fed to me. By Mila Kunis.
This isn't artificial meat though, which is why the tissue engineers - yes, that's what they want you to call them - hate it when people say it's synthetic. Michael Specter, science writer for the New Yorker, once said the phrase "synthetic meat" to a scientist, and she told him, "This isn't synthetic. It's organic. It's meat. It's two meat cells growing to become more meat cells."
Yes, and Frankenstein's non-synthetic monster was created in a lab, and in the end, the villagers chased him down with torches and pitchforks.
But snide comments from misinformed humor columnists aside, this could actually be a great benefit to feeding the world's population, which is expected to hit 9 billion by the year 2050. After all, it really is organic - no vaccinations, no antibiotics, no hormones - so it will satisfy the crunchy granola types who prefer organic food that was killed closer to home.
And since no animals will be harmed in the making of the meat, the vegetarians will finally get to taste this marvelous "bacon" that the rest of the world has been raving about.
Even the fanatical PETA people are on board. Back in 2009, they offered $1 million to the first scientist who could create marketable meat by the year 2012. However, the test tube sausages are six months away from viability, one-fourth of the way into 2012, which means PETA may not pay out.
Many vegetarians are publicly supportive of the efforts, and have even pledged to become consumers once the product is commercially available.
While some of them claim that soy burgers and soy dogs are "just as good" as the real thing - which means we rabidly disagree on the definition of "just as good" - I do have to admit that a soy burger looks remarkably like a bad replica of a post-modern art student's depiction of a hamburger, with only slightly less flavor. But if they can stomach something that would have otherwise been used as an enhanced interrogation device, then I'm sure they can manage test tube hot dogs without too much of a fuss.
Don't expect to be eating lab-grown steak or pork chops any time soon though. Because of the way the meat will be grown, on large slabs hooked up to electrical diodes, this will be used as chopped up meaty bits, in items like hamburgers, beef jerky, hot dogs, and sausages.
This application could at least get rid of some of the stigma and unappetizing-ness of the manufactured meat, which would have to be colored to give it a more meat-like appearance. And fired over a Bunsen burner to give it grill marks. And then sold to someone for five dollars so they can buy me a real hot dog.
I'm sorry, I can't do it. I thought I could get past the idea of experimental edibles, but I keep picturing a slab of meat on a gurney, with Anthony Bourdain thrusting his arms skyward, shouting at the gods to give his creature life, and a rich, smoky flavor.
However, I still have time to get comfortable with the idea. Scientists admit there are some social stigmas attached to the meat - it's not even red; rather, it's white from lack of blood - but they believe it will be at least ten years before it rolls out to the market.
My bigger concern is that it will walk out on its own.
Erik Deckers is a professional blogger, book author, award-winning playwright, travel writer, and humor columnist in Indianapolis, Indiana.