You’ll recall they made a stem cell burger a while back. It was funded by one of the guys from Google taking a break off reading your emails and spying on what you spaff to. He gave a few hundred grand to a couple of mad scientists taking a break off stitching hitchhikers’ mouths to hobos’ bumholes. They did a biopsy on a live cow, took a stem cell or two, whacked it in a Petri dish and grew 20,000 muscle fibres. They smushed them together into a sciency grey paste genetically identical to yer regular beef which, when mixed with a bit of beetroot juice, looked half like a raw burger if you squinted a bit. They did a live taste test on tv this week (Greetings, future nostalgists!) where no one puked and someone said it tasted sort of like meat in a way, kind of. It didn’t have much in the way of seasoning, wasn’t quite juicy enough and didn’t have the fat you get with regular meat grown on cows but the tasters reckoned it had potential.
This spot of present-day future space food raises four issues for us Zero types: what this means for the starving poor; what this means for the environment; what this means for vegetarians; and how soon I can eat it.
At first glance this doesn’t mean much to the starving poor given no one is less well equipped to buy a £200,000 burger than the poor, starving or otherwise. The dark lord of Google and his pals think different, suggesting the world will soon suffer its first Meat War as our lust for beef meets our massive armoury of horrible weapons. With the colossal population boom we’ve got coming and the unlikelihood of everyone taking to tofu they might be right, and the world could soon find itself with a few billion more starving poor. Mr Google, who knows all about your taste for Japanese schoolgirls and/or Ryan Gosling gifs, reckons his grey beetroot paste is the answer, providing meat to anyone who wants it without the need for massive grazing pastures, factory farms or food for livestock. Not everyone agrees with this, obviously, with critics suggesting this is just another chance for the rich West to knacker indigenous farming and livelihoods and wallop developing countries with our over-industrialised monster-food.
What this means for the environment is just as hard to figure. The billions of cows we breed for meat produce tons of methane which knackers the environment; doing away with their flatulence could save the planet. Similarly, it takes a ton of food to feed a cow so we can turn it into food, and all that takes land, energy, water and resources we could save if we were making it in Petri dishes. Environmentally this sounds like a winner but, as with the starving poor, there are downsides to be downsided. Mostly these fit into the What If category that says we shouldn’t dick around with nature, the kind of thing you hear when bigging up organic stuff and slagging off GM food. Given how nature likes to throw tsunamis and volcanoes our way it’s maybe best we tread carefully.
What this means for vegetarians is down to the individual, resting on how big an issue a live biopsy is for them and how they feel about eating meat even if it’s never really been alive to get killed. The Vegetarian Society isn’t much into it, saying it’s pointless going “to this much trouble and expense to replace a foodstuff that we simply do not need.” Its solution, you’ll be surprised to hear, is for us all to go vegetarian. PETA has been less clear on the issue, chaining four topless women to a lamp post in Surrey under a banner reading “Tits ahoy!” Still, vegetarians want to see a world where not a single animal is hurt or killed or mistreated for food. Whether we get there because the world suddenly goes mad for tempeh or because we get these stem cells figured will matter more to some than others.
All of which brings us to the most important issue: what this means for me. I would eat this burger. I would eat it with my mouth. I hate being vegetarian. I hate the inconvenience every time I leave the house. I hate the underwhelming blandness every time I eat some lousy meat replacement. I hate the effort it takes to learn to cook alternatives and I hate myself for never bothering. I literally cannot wait for these stem cell burgers to hit the market. And I do mean literally: tomorrow afternoon I will enter cryogenic stasis to emerge no earlier than spring 2048. It’s a drastic step, but not one that will in any way affect the regularity of my blog posts.
Photo credit: David Parry/PA