By Cece Cao Chenxi (23A01E) and J. Yoga Lakshmi (23S03Q, Sustainability and Green Tech WEP)
Golden brown, juicy slices of chicken skewered over fragrant couscous, next to crispy fried chicken skin artfully placed over lush Greek salad and succulent slices of chicken provencal in a rich tomato sauce. Is your mouth watering yet?
These are the dishes presented during Good Meat’s tasting session at Huber’s Butchery, a place aptly described as a meat lover’s haven. But don’t let the wide array of meat fool you: none of the chicken used in the dishes is conventional meat.
What does that mean? Instead of your typical farm-to-slaughterhouse pipeline, the chicken in these dishes comes straight from the lab, where they are grown from a single animal cell. With the potential to revolutionise the meat industry as a more ethical, sustainable and possibly even vegetarian-friendly one, we dive deeper into the world of lab-grown meat (better known as cultivated meat) and what it could mean for our future.
Nice to Meat You: First Impressions
With the rise of environmental and ethical consciousness in recent years, meat alternatives have been making a splash on the market, from ‘tofu’ meat to the Impossible Burger. But while plant-based meat erases animals entirely from its production process, cultivated meat is created from a small sample of cells from a living animal, which is then grown into fully-formed cuts of meat without killing the animal.
Essentially, cultivated meat turns the process of obtaining meat into a more ethical practice without compromising the taste and nutritional value of meat. As multiple batches of meat can be grown from a single sample of cells, it is also far more sustainable than conventional meat.
This process certainly seems like a concept straight out of a science fiction show, and so we set out to collect fellow students’ thoughts on cultivated meat through a survey. While many expressed their interest in trying cultivated meat, it is no surprise that quite a few had the impression that the “process is strange” or cultivated meat is “an unfamiliar concept”.
However, cultivated meat is becoming more of a reality than ever. Good Meat is the first brand to sell cultivated meat, and just 2 years ago its cultured chicken meat was approved for Singapore’s market, marking a world’s first and a key milestone for the industry.
To put Good Meat’s cultivated meat to the test, one of us attended the tasting session held by Good Meat as part of the programme.
Surprisingly, the cultivated meat looked and felt just like real meat, with a tender texture as seen in the video. Most impressively, it tasted just like real meat–in fact, it was barely any different from the typical chicken meat you can buy from grocery stores.
But as much as cultivated meat inches closer to making it into our supermarkets, many still express doubts about consuming it in everyday life. How safe is it really? And is it really that much more environmentally friendly than conventional meat?
To (M)eat, or Not to (M)eat
In our interview with Mr Hon Mun Yip, an investor in Good Meat, he admitted that he “[does] not have data to show it is safe to eat”, as the concept of cultivated meat is still relatively new. But with the FDA’s seal of approval and Singapore’s decision to allow the commercial sale of cultivated meat, the general view on the safety of cultivated meat for consumption is more optimistic than ever.
“It is by far the most sustainable way to produce meat for the growing population without depleting our planet’s resources.”Mr Hon Mun Yip
The impact of cultivated meat’s impact on the environment is a more clear-cut answer. Using significantly less water and land as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 87%, cultivated meat is much more environmentally friendly than conventional meat.
Still, a burning question remained in our minds: given the more ethical nature of cultivated meat, where does it lie for vegetarians, specifically those who are vegetarian by choice?
Meating in the Middle: A Vegetarian’s Perspective
For Shwetha Murthy (23A01E), who is vegetarian by choice, her view lies in the ethics of producing meat.
“I feel quite strongly not just about the ethics of killing an animal, but also the nature of factory farming which is quite exploitative,” Shwetha explains. “Even when I shop for eggs, I try to buy cage-free eggs. So if [cultivated meat] has that kind of ethical certification, I would definitely be very intrigued.”
Would she consume it? While many meat-eaters are willing to try cultivated meat, this becomes much more complicated for vegetarians. After all, having been created from an actual animal cell, cultivated meat is still ‘real’ meat at its core.
“It’s a hard question to answer,” Shwetha agrees. “I think since no animals are killed during the process, I would classify it as vegetarian friendly but not explicitly vegetarian.”
Nonetheless, she would “give it a shot” provided the animals used for cultivated meat are treated well. While cultivated meat aims to use fewer animals than livestock farming, some vegetarians are still uncomfortable with the idea of harvesting cells from animals. Ultimately, this boils down to one’s principles and reasons behind vegetarianism–ethicality, environmentalism, and even health problems. For those who are vegetarian due to religious reasons, cultivated meat will likely remain out of the question as well.
That being said, Shwetha suggests that vegetarians are not the target audience for cultivated meat. Instead, its focus remains on meat-eaters who tend to overconsume. Perhaps, cultivated meat can help non-vegetarians transition to a more sustainable, ethical lifestyle without drastically changing their diets.
The Future of Meat?
For now, the only cultivated meat on the market so far is chicken. But according to Mr Hon Mun Yip, pork, seafood, lamb and beef are next in Good Meat’s vision for the future. With expected approval from more countries, and the completion of Asia’s largest cultivated meat facility in Singapore, more cultivated meat will be available in the next few years.
For those worried about affordability, Good Meat is striving to lower the cost of cultivated meat to make it accessible to all. Remember the platter of meat at the start? That cost only $28, with the possibility of cultivated meat becoming cheaper as the technology develops.
So is cultivated meat the future of meat? With so many developments and even more to come, cultivated meat might just be the key to a more sustainable future. And who knows—maybe cultivated meat will soon become the very meat you see on your canteen plates.