A meaty issue

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So, if you grow bacteria in a petrie dish, do you grow synthetic hamburger in a meatrie dish? Seriously, though, Monday brought a taste-test for the world’s first synthetic hamburgers, lab-grown meat strands that journalists quickly dubbed the $332,000 hamburger.

That’s how much it cost to develop the synthetic meat that was cooked into burgers and fed to two food experts in London.

Here’s how Britain’s Daily Mail described the laboratory process needed to grow the meat: “The stem cells are cultivated in a nutrient broth, allowing them to proliferate 30-fold. Next they are combined with an elastic collagen and attached to Velcro ‘anchor points’ in a culture dish. Between the anchor points, the cells self-organize into chunks of muscle. Electrical stimulation is then used to make the muscle strips contract and ‘bulk up’ — the laboratory equivalent of working out in a gym.

“Finally thousands of beef strips are minced up, together with 200 pieces of lab-grown animal fat, and moulded into a patty. Around 20,000 meat strands are needed to make one 142-gram burger. Other non-meat ingredients include salt, egg powder and breadcrumbs. Red beetroot juice and saffron are added to provide authentic beef colouring.”

It doesn’t sound very tasty, but then again, neither does the process needed to make traditional hamburger: grow calf into steer in a variety of different circumstances, truck to feedlot, process through the industrial farming and abattoir system, grind various and sundry pieces into a homogenous and luckily less-than-recognizable pinkish substance composed of specific concentrations of muscle meat and fatty tissue.

Spice, grill and enjoy.

Now, we could go off on a riff about how you are what you eat.

One of the benefits of the lab-made hamburger is that it can do what willpower cannot: its meat can be bioengineered to be far healthier than its more traditional cousin, meaning that future trips to the diner can be made to be underhandedly healthy

— as long as you don’t have the onion rings, too.

What is clear is that the pseudo-meat has already sparked interesting debate. While some animal rights activists chalked the meat’s taste-test as a step toward both more ethical dining and fewer environmental effects from factory farming, others say that the new tissue-knitting can’t be considered environmentally friendly until enough analysis has been done on the energy requirements that are involved in large-scale meat manufacture.

Curtailing one type of environmental damage may simply create a different one.

One thing’s for sure: whether it’s cow or chemistry, most people would rather chew with their eyes comfortably closed.

While it’s often attributed to Otto von Bismarck, lawyer-poet John Godfrey Saxe was apparently the first to say, in 1869, that, “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.”

One thing Bismarck is apparently accurately quoted as saying is, “Politics is the art of the possible.”

So, apparently, is the world of the modern hamburger.

Oh, and bon appetit.

Organizations: Daily Mail

Geographic location: Britain

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