In his article “Fifty Years Hence” (1931), Winston Churchill—yes, that Winston Churchill—writes:
Up till recent times the production of food has been the prime struggle of man. That war is won. There is no doubt that the civilized races can produce or procure all the food they require … We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium. Synthetic food will, of course, also be used in the future … The new foods will from the outset be practically indistinguishable from the natural products, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation.
83 years on, we still haven’t quite achieved Churchill’s vision—but we’re closer than we’ve ever been in the past. National Geographic reported last week on the growing movement towards developing a sustainable, affordable method of producing cultured meat—meat grown in a laboratory using animal muscle cells. It sounds gross, but is it really any less gross than eating animal corpses in the first place?
Last year, The Guardian’s Alok Jha created a six-minute documentary on the past, present, and plausible future of lab-grown beef. What he found was a surprising amount of consensus (even the cattle farmer merely said that he didn’t expect lab-grown beef to catch on within ten years):
In a recent issue of Trends in Biotechnology, two Dutch scholars—ethicist Cor van der Weele and bioprocess engineer Johannes Tramper—suggest some ways we might get past the ick factor of cultured meat (meeting the live animal it’s cultured from, for example). The cost factor might be a little tougher (at AU$240/pound, cultured meat is absurdly expensive), but as the process is perfected and made more efficient, the cost will almost inevitably drop to levels comparable to that of conventional meat. For those of us who like the taste of meat but hate the idea of killing animals to get it, this may provide a way to have our cow and eat it, too.