"Future Flesh" is squatting on your plate. Are you nervous? Stab it with a fork. Sniff it. Bite! Chew, swallow. Congratulations! Relax and ruminate now because you're digesting a muscular invention that will massively impact the planet.
In-Vitro Meat -- aka tank steak, sci fi sausage, petri pork, beaker bacon, Frankenburger, vat-grown veal, laboratory lamb, synthetic shmeat, trans-ham, factory filet, test tube tuna, cultured chicken, or any other moniker that can seduce the shopper's stomach -- will appear in 3-10 years as a cheaper, healthier, "greener" protein that's easily manufactured in a metropolis. Its entree will be enormous; not just food-huge like curry rippling through London in the 1970's or colonized tomatoes teaming up with pasta in early 1800's Italy. No. Bigger. In-Vitro Meat will be socially transformative, like automobiles, cinema, vaccines.
H+ previously discussed In-Vitro Meat, as have numerous other publications [see references at the end of this article]. Science pundits examined its microbiological struggles in Dutch labs and at New Harvest, a Baltimore non-profit. Squeamish reporters wasted ink on its "yucky" and "unnatural" creation, while others wondered if its "vegan" or not (PETA supports it but many members complain). This article jumps past artificial tissue issues; anticipating success, I optimistically envision Eight Ways In-Vitro Meat Will Change Our Lives.
1. Bye-Bye Ranches.
When In-Vitro Meat (IVM) is cheaper than meat-on-the-hoof-or-claw, no one will buy the undercut opponent. Slow-grown red meat & poultry will vanish from the marketplace, similar to whale oil's flame out when kerosene outshone it in the 1870's. Predictors believe that IVM will sell for half the cost of its murdered rivals. This will grind the $2 trillion global live-meat industry to a halt (500 billion pounds of meat are gobbled annually; this is expected to double by 2050). Bloody sentimentality will keep the slaughterhouses briefly busy as ranchers quick-kill their inventory before it becomes worthless, but soon Wall Street will be awash in unwanted pork bellies.
Special Note: IVM sales will be aided by continued outbreaks of filthy over-crowded farm animal diseases like swine flu, Mad Cow, avian flu, tuberculosis, brucellosis, and other animal-to-human plagues. Public hysteria will demand pre-emptive annihilation of the enormous herds and flocks where deadly pathogens form, after safe IVM protein is available.
2. Urban Cowboys.
Today's gentle drift into urbanization will suddenly accelerate as unemployed livestock workers relocate and retrain for city occupations. Rural real estate values will plummet as vast tracts of ranch land are abandoned and sold for a pittance (70% of arable land in the world is currently used for livestock, 26% of the total land surface, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization). New use for ex-ranch land? Inexpensive vacation homes; reforested parks; fields of green products like hemp or bamboo. Hot new city job? Techies and designers for In-Vitro Meat factories.
3. Healthier Humans.
In-Vitro Meat will be 100% muscle. It will eliminate the artery-clogging saturated fat that kills us. Instead, heart-healthy Omega-3 (salmon oil) will be added. IVM will also contain no hormones, salmonella, e. coli, campylobacter, mercury, dioxin, or antibiotics that infect primitive meat. I've noted above that IVM will reduce influenza, brucellosis, TB, and Mad Cow Disease. Starvation and kwashiokor (protein deficiency) will be conquered when compact IVM kits are delivered to famine-plagued nations. The globe's water crises will be partially alleviated, due to our inheritance of the 8% of the H2O supply that was previously gulped down by livestock and their food crops. We won't even choke to death because IVM contains no malicious bones or gristle. (Although Hall of Fame slugger Jimmy Foxx choked to death on a chicken bone, about 90% of meat victims are murdered by steak).
4. Healthier Planet.
Today's meat industry is a brutal fart in the face of Gaia. A recent Worldwatch Institute report ("Livestock and Climate Change") accuses the world's 1.5 billion livestock of responsibility for 51% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Statistics are truly shitty: cattle crap 130 times more volume than a human, creating 64 million tons of sewage in the United States that's often flushed down the Mississippi River to kill fish and coral in the Gulf of Mexico. Pigs are equally putrid. There's a hog farm in Utah that oozes a bigger turd total than the entire city of Los Angeles. Livestock burps and farts are equally odious and ozone-destroying. 68% of the ammonia in the world is caused by livestock (creating acid rain), 65% of the nitrous oxide, 37% of the methane, 9% of the CO2, plus 100 other polluting gases. Big meat animals waste valuable land -- 80% of Amazon deforestation is for beef ranching, clear-cutting a Belgium-sized patch every year. Water is prodigiously gulped -- 15,000 liters of H20 produces just one kilogram of beef. 40% of the world's cereals are devoured by livestock. This scenario is clearly unsustainable, and In-Vitro Meat is the sensible alternative. (Although skeptics warn that IVM factories will produce their own emissions, research indicates that pollution will be reduced by at least 80%.) Once we get over the fact that IVM is oddly disembodied, we'll be thankful that it doesn't shit, burp, fart, eat, over graze, drink, bleed, or scream in pain.
5. Economic Upheaval.
The switch to In-Vitro Meat will pummel the finances of nations that survive on live animal industries. Many of the world leaders in massacred meat (USA, China, Brazil) have diversified incomes, but Argentina will bellow when its delicious beef is defeated. New Zealand will bleat when its lamb sales are shorn. And ocean-harvesting Vietnam and Iceland will have to fish for new vocations. Industries peripherally dependent on meat sales, like leather, dairy and wool, will also be slaughtered. Hide and leather-exporting nations like Pakistan and Kenya will be whipped, but South Korea will profit on its sales of "Koskin" and other synthetic leathers. Huge plantations of livestock crops (soybeans & corn) in Brazil, USA, Argentina, and China can be replaced with wool substitutes like sisal. Smaller nations that excel in food processing will thrive because they'll export IVM instead of importing tonnage of frozen meat. Look for economic upticks in The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, France, and especially Japan, who's currently one of the globe's largest importers of beef.
6: Exotic & Kinky Cuisine.
In-Vitro Meat will be fashioned from any creature, not just domestics that were affordable to farm. Yes, ANY ANIMAL, even rare beasts like snow leopard, or Komodo Dragon. We will want to taste them all. Some researchers believe we will also be able to create IVM using the DNA of extinct beasts -- obviously, "DinoBurgers" will be served at every six-year-old boy's birthday party.
Humans are animals, so every hipster will try Cannibalism. Perhaps we'll just eat people we don't like, as author Iain M. Banks predicted in his short story, "The State of the Art" with diners feasting on "Stewed Idi Amin." But I imagine passionate lovers literally eating each other, growing sausages from their co-mingled tissues overnight in tabletop appliances similar to bread-making machines. And of course, masturbatory gourmands will simply gobble their own meat.
The convenience of buying In-Vitro Meat fresh from the neighborhood factory will inspire urbanites to demand local vegetables and fruits. This will be accomplished with "vertical farming" -- building gigantic urban multi-level greenhouses that utilize hydroponics and interior grow-lights to create bug-free, dirt-free, quick-growing super veggies and fruit (from dwarf trees), delicious side dishes with IVM. No longer will old food arrive via long polluting transports from the hinterlands. Every metro dweller will purchase fresh meat and crispy plants within walking distance. The success of FarmScrapers will cripple rural agriculture and enhance urbanization.
8. We Stop the Shame.
In-Vitro Meat will squelch the subliminal guilt that sensitive people feel when they sit down for a carnivorous meal. Forty billion animals are killed per year in the United States alone; one million chickens per hour. I list this last even though it's the top priority for vegetarians, because they represent only 1-2% of the population, but still... IVM is a huge step forward in "Abolitionism" -- the elimination of suffering in all sentient creatures. Peter Singer, founding father of Animal Liberation, supports IVM. So does every European veggie group I contacted: VEBU (Vegetarian Federation of Germany), EVA (Ethical Vegetarian Alternative of Belgium), and the Dutch Vegetarian Society. And PETA, mentioned earlier, offers $1 million to anyone who can market a competitive IVM product by 2012.
My final prediction is this: In-Vitro Meat relishes success first in Europe, partly because its "greener," but mostly they already eat "yucky" delicacies like snails, smoked eel, blood pudding, pig's head cheese, and haggis (sheep's stomach stuffed with oatmeal). In the USA, IVM will initially invade the market in Spam cans and Hot Dogs, shapes that salivating shoppers are sold on as mysterious & artificial, but edible & absolutely American.
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