Ironically, the same night that I attended the Robert Mondavi Institute’s virtual forum titled “Growing Real Beef Without the Moo: The Future of the Cultured Meat Industry,” my dinner plans included cooking ground beef to serve with a pasta dish I was making. After spending the night learning about cultured beef, I was about to cook conventional beef, and I could not look at it the same way. I now had a deeper appreciation for the meat in front of me and a new education on the growing food demands our world is facing.
The solution to the growing food demand? Cultured meat.
In the forum, Dr. David Block, a former professor of mine, detailed his research delving into the engineering of cultured meat. But first, for the people in the audience who had never even heard of cultured meat (like me!), he explained the process. Cultured meat begins with cells from a cow. These are grown in a fermenter to a larger scale, differentiated to mimic the ratio of muscle and fat and connective tissue cells in conventional beef, and then created into unstructured beef like a hamburger patty or 3-D printed into structured meat like a steak.
Cultured meat is the solution to an issue: the world’s food demands are expected to grow by 60% in order to sustain the growing population (compared to the demand in 2005). As the population increases, so will the need for protein sources. Cultured meat is a viable opportunity to grow the current food supply and feed the world. He also detailed his NSF-funded grant to work on the research needed to expand the niche industry of cultured meat. The grant represents the convergence of disciplines, allowing scientists from diverse backgrounds to unite in order to collaborate and solve a pressing issue.
This research is so much more than a niche academic venture in a science lab; it is a science-based approach to solve an issue relevant to every single person on the planet: hunger.
The more I learned about cultured meat, the more I wanted to try it! Thankfully, there are more than 60 companies universally working to bring cultured meat to consumers. One of those companies—that was actually the first in the world—is Memphis Meats in Berkeley, California.
Vice President of Product and Regulation of Memphis Meats, Dr. Eric Schulz, also spoke at the forum, demonstrating how a real company is working to bring cell-based meat to the market.
Dr. Schulz brings his background in fields such as molecular biology, genetic engineering, scientific policy, and biotechnology to Memphis Meats and applies his knowledge to help lead the creation of cell-based meat products like beef, poultry, and seafood. Dr. Schulz referred to himself as a “meat designer,” and when he displayed two photos of raw chicken and asked the audience which image was of a cell-based meat created by Memphis Meats and which was of a conventionally farmed chicken, I honestly could not tell the difference!
I think it could be really easy to shy away from cultured meat because it is different than the meat that we are used to eating, but I also think that it is an excellent opportunity for the world to adapt to changing conditions. It is also a chance for home chefs and restaurant chefs alike to experiment with new foods. Because cultured meats are created to be similar to conventional meat, I can’t wait to conduct my own test to see if I can taste and see the differences and identify which is which.
Unfortunately, I will have to wait before I can try cultured meats. The process of creating cultured meats is expensive, and subsequently cultured meats are not yet affordable for the average consumer. It will require some patience to wait and see whether this new technology will work economically, but I am going to remain hopeful. Until then, it looks like I’m stuck with conventional meat.
The speakers of the forum don’t believe that conventional cattle farming will become irrelevant because of cultured meat, but it will be supplemented by this new type of meat. To me, the niche of cultured meat is an example of humans coming together to help other humans and using science to solve real-world problems in unconventional ways.
Kendal Koorenny is a senior at UC Davis, where she is majoring in viticulture and enology and minoring in professional writing. She adores food, wine, and science and writing about it all! When she is not in class or working, you can find Kendal reading a book or in her kitchen crafting a new cocktail recipe.