Food may be the final frontier in environmental sustainability — specifically meat from animals. Meat production entails a huge environmental cost (let alone the morality concerns). Raising animals for slaughter involves significant agricultural production to produce the feed, which also causes pollution from fertilizers and energy inputs. And livestock like cows produces a lot of methane, which is a super-potent greenhouse gas.
That’s why a number of startups are looking at ways to produce meat from cells and other biological inputs, rather than from the animals themselves. Basically that means mimicking the natural process of producing meat from feed but not in an animal body.
I know it may sound weird, but if the food tastes good and isn’t bad for you, it would be a huge environmental — and economic — win.
And that’s because people are eating a lot meat, especially poultry, as the Wall Street Journal details:
U.S. consumers ate an average of 90.9 pounds of chicken apiece in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That is nearly as much as beef and pork combined.
World-wide, about 61 billion chickens are raised for meat annually. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has projected that chicken—relatively cheap to produce and with few religious and cultural barriers—will soar past pork as the world’s most-consumed meat by 2020.
Duck is relevant for a different reason. China, which tops the list in global consumption, consumes 2.7 million metric tons of duck meat annually, nearly 10 times the next-largest consumer, France, according to data from the International Poultry Council. The average Chinese consumer eats 4.5 pounds a year.
Now a new startup in the Bay Area appears to have developed a decent lab-produced chicken strip:
On Tuesday, Memphis Meats invited a handful of taste-testers to a San Francisco kitchen and cooked and served their chicken strip, along with a piece of duck prepared à l’orange style.
Some who sampled the strip—breaded, deep fried and spongier than a whole chicken breast—said it nearly nailed the flavor of the traditional variety. Their verdict: They would eat it again.
And not just environmentalists are taking notice. Cutting out the animal part of the equation could allow big meat companies to save a huge amount of money.
If entrepreneurs and scientists can figure this out, they will have done the planet (and many animals) a huge service.