"It isn't just aspiring to be like meat. It is meat. And it is not just the mass market stuff, the patties and nuggets - it's fillets of fish, breasts of chicken and cuts of steak, that blind tasters cannot separate from the real thing."
Hans van Leeuwen - AFR
The Australian Financial Review, this weekend ran a lengthy article entitled This chicken dinner could be a winner. (I think you will be able to read it if you click on the link - you seem to be able to get one 'free' read before you get locked out.) It was all about a recent launch, in a Singapore restaurant, of a manufactured chicken product from an American company called Eat Just, which, interestingly does not seem to have a website, although they have launched a very beautiful site called Good Meat which I suppose is a bit of glossy marketing/propaganda, call it will what you will.
It may be that the actual product is called Good Meat, or maybe it's a sub company, because - the logo shown here is actually even more discreet in that meat is not mentioned and all you get is GOOD plus 'the future of meat is here' and a tiny bit of the beautifully coloured wing feathers of what later is shown as a wild jungle chicken. It's not very clear though - I confess that I rather stupidly thought the orange feathers were carrots at first. But it truly is discreet, and the whole website experience is much the same, although later in the piece you do get to see chickens being raised in barns in massive numbers.
Being an article in a newspaper dedicated to economics, the emphasis is on the potential for the financial success of the companies launching themselves into this space. It focusses on two, although I am sure there are many more.
The first is Eat Just, a Californian company - well both featured companies are - whose founder and CEO is one Josh Tetrick - who, also of course, does not look that old. And he isn't - he is 40. I looked him up on Wikipedia and honestly he sounds like an example that most of could do worse than follow. If you have his obvious talent of course. Good-looking, clever, a football player at high school, although the diagnosis of a heart condition has prevented more of that, as well as many other things. He was a Fulbright Scholar, studied law and African studies, both of which were used by a few years in Africa during which he taught street children and encouraged child prostitutes into schools. He also worked on revising Liberia's investment laws before returning to the US. His African experiences made him think about the future of food and so he founded Hampton Creek with a friend, which became JUST and is now Eat Just. Other articles imply that the company also produces vegan eggs, although these are plant-based. Anyway he does lots of admirable things, indeed has done lots of admirable things, and now is trying to save the animals we eat for food by manufacturing 'real' meat. Plus, of course, he must be a canny businessman.
The other example the article featured was Bluenalu another Californian company but with roots in Hawaii.
This one is all about fish.
"Our logo was designed to demonstrate that we can enjoy great tasting seafood products in a way in which fish can continue to survive and thrive in our oceans. Our logo reinforces this duality – yin and yang" Bluenalu website
On the left is the President and CEO Lou Cooperhouse and there is another Cooperhouse on the team, possibly his son. He has a more academic background, having founded the Rutgers University Food Innovation Centre and also the Food Business Incubation Network. If you read what he says, once again it would seem his mission is to feed the world what they want - fish - indeed threatened species of fish - without killing any fish. But nevertheless 'real' fish. I think at the moment what is produced is a chunk of fish, that can then, of course, be made into various rather more tempting dishes, such as the yellowjacket fish bites shown below.
Not that fish bites are particularly gourmet - a bit like fish fingers I assume, but that's what people want isn't it?
So how are these artificial proteins made? Well let me quote the AFR on this:
"The process involves taking a tissue sample from a live cow, chicken, pig or fish and immersing the stem (or other) cells in a serum or 'growth media', of crucial nutrients. Once the cells start reproducing, the material is transferred into a bioreactor, where it grows exponentially.
The material is then put on a 3D 'scaffolding' that differentiates it into muscle, fat and connective tissue. Muscle and fat fibres are combined to make meat." Hans van Leeuwen - AFR
When people began trying to manufacture protein, they initially used feta bovine serum as the growing medium. That is blood from unborn calves. Not a good thing. Nowadays though it seems that they have a plant based growing medium, so one controversial aspect has been removed.
However, there are those, of course, who disapprove. The greenies view - if you like to phrase it like - that is probably best summed up by Jenny Kleeman in an article she wrote in The Guardian.
"The corporate race for cultured protein rests on a view of human beings as greedy and incapable of change"
"an over-engineered solution to a problem that we can solve by changing our diets"
"If we move into a world where eating meat remains normal but killing animals is taboo, we will become ever more dependent on remote corporations with highly specialised technology to meet our basic needs." Jenny Kleeman
She has a point of course. But then we wouldn't have any of the things we need, and want now without big corporations. So what's new about that? And as I have shown in my intermittent posts on companies, many of those companies were founded by hard-working, poor but immensely talented and driven people. So maybe it's an envy problem. Why couldn't we be the man to have founded Nestlé? - Henri Nestlé if you want to know. Now I believe the world's largest food company - or some such title. Which I must look into some time.
She was almost a little racist too in implying that the company was setting up in Asia - specifically Singapore because they were pretty lax about these things over there. Possibly a slight grain of truth there, or possible not. Many scientific innovations are coming out of Asia these days, and Singapore is probably one of the more rigid over the health and safety of them all. Singapore was chosen by the way because it imports almost all of its food. It is too small to produce its own. By conventional means anyway. It is also an innovator in growing vegetables inside on a huge scale.
Nevertheless if indeed it is possible to manufacture meat and fish on a large scale - this is still some way off as what these companies are doing at the moment is very small scale - then it surely is good for the planet. Agricultural land currently used to produce fodder for the animals can be returned to forest, the erosion and damage to the land of massive herds of animals will cease, their methane emissions too, not to mention the inherent cruelty, barbarism even of some of the conditions in which those animals are kept and killed just to please our taste buds. Good for the world, good for us. Being vegetarian, or even vegan is a worthy thing, and Jenny Kleeman is right about that, but growing crops has its problems and it is much harder to get sufficient protein from plants.
The AFR sees the problems slightly differently of course, with the real problem for them being for the farmers and fishermen of the world.
"The challenge will be the potential political resistance from powerful farming interests. The big food production companies won't stand in the way of disruption - they will buy into the trend. But farmers and fishing fleets could feel the impact." Hans van Leeuwen - AFR
Yes they will but history has shown that one door closes and another opens in terms of opportunity for work.
Honestly I am not quite sure. It's sort of creepy isn't it? But creepy is not the same as cruel, which if I'm honest is what I am every time I eat meat or fish. And yes people will make money out of it. But if you could come up with an idea that makes money and at the same time helps the planet - wouldn't you do the same? And Josh Stetrick, at least, seems to be invested in various philathropic ventures too. The world needs philanthropists.
And here's an interesting fact that almost all the articles I found mentioned - and why wouldn't they? Winston Churchill foresaw this!
“We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat a breast or a wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium… The new foods will be practically indistinguishable from the natural products from the outset, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation.” Winston Churchill
This is what was served in that Singapore restaurant launch. It looks pretty good.