27 June 2011

Mark Post's NASA route to replacing meat, prototype hamburgers in a year

"You know that story, about how NASA spent millions of dollars developing this pen that writes in zero-G? Did you ever read that?"
"You know how the Russians solved the problem?"
"Yeah, they used a pencil."
"Right. A normal wooden pencil. It just seems like Philip takes the NASA route almost every time."

-Aaron and Abe discussing the Space Pen myth in the movie Primer.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mark Post is taking the NASA route to replacing meat and feeding the world's hungry. The Dutch physiologist admits that the problem's a worthy one. In a 2010 Pecha Kucha Night presentation, Post himself explains why he needs to make "the new meat:"

"Cows and pigs are notoriously inefficient in transforming vegetable produce to edible animal proteins. ... They are taking up a lot of, about 70% of all the ariable country. ... So that's no longer sustainable. Especially because of the World Health Organization has predicted that by 2050 meat consumption will be doubled. We need alternatives for the current meat production."

"Only for reasons of environment and sustainability," he adds to a chuckling audience, before continuing.

"You may not know this but a vegetarian with a hummer is more environmentally friendly than a meat eater with a bicycle. Because these animals exhaust a lot of methane, actually 39% of the world production of methane," Post explains. He acknowledges issues of animal welfare and "zoonoses" - illnesses that can be transferred from densely stocked animals to humans. He recognizes that the way we think about food needs to change.

Post's solution involves growing muscle tissue in-vitro, in a laboratory process involving myosatellite stem cell samples. Conservation Magazine reports that the only person who's ever tried one such sample (amusingly, without permission) told Post that the meat was chewy and tasteless. According to a recent article by the Daily Mail, Post believes that he is a year away from an edible hamburger.

The Conservation Magazine article reports Post's claim that Future “in-vitrotarians” may boast similar water and energy savings to vegetarian diets. This raises the question: Why "get used to" frankenburgers, lab chops, and petri-pork in the future when we can enjoy all the same benefits now? Why hire French chefs to make in-vitro meat palatable, as Post suggests at Pecha Kucha, when we already have delicious vegan cuisine? Why spend millions of dollars on a pen that can write in zero-g when you can use a pencil?

Michael Schnier
Michael went vegan in May of 2010 while shopping for his weekly groceries. Michael is a communications studies undergrad at Carleton University and spends too much of his time arguing on the internet. When not butting heads, Michael can be found reading Vertigo comics, listening to the Smiths, and writing bad poetry. Follow Michael on his Tumblr blog.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/elycefeliz