Are You Ready For Frankenmeat?

The day is coming when we’ll be throwing a slab of “shmeat” on the barbie.

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Courtesy of Dreamstime

If God didn’t want us to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat?”John Cleese

It takes 20,000 strands of muscle cells from a living cow to create one five-ounce frankenburger. That may sound like a lot, but it’s better than being the burger, which is what happens if a cow doesn’t give up 20,000 strands of muscle cells.

Welcome to the world of Frankenmeat, or what the outside world calls “weird meat.” Weird it may be, but given the choice, most cows would rather surrender some muscle cells than wind up in the meat section of Cosco.

Frankenmeat, shmeat, or sheet meat are all recent twists in providing lab-grown burgers that don’t require any killing. Just don’t expect them to leap from the lab into your frying pan just yet. A lot has to be worked out, like why it costs around $250,000 now, when a Big Mac is only a couple of bucks.

Believe me, when this issue gets solved, McDonalds will be thrilled. Instead of waiting for millions of cows to be butchered, all McDonalds will need is a petri dish, plenty of egg powder and bread crumbs. Not that McDonalds—or any fast food operation—will be out buying petri dishes tomorrow. First, the price of Frankenmeat has to come down. Then it’s a matter of consumer perception.

Our need to gnaw comes from centuries of gnawing. Can anything from a petri dish possibly resemble actual gnawable meat?

Are people ready for petri food? Remember those trays of different coloured pastes in 2001 Space Odyssey? They didn’t go flying around the capsule like a tomahawk ribeye, but it’s still old folk’s food, and we’re really creatures of texture. Our need to gnaw comes from centuries of gnawing. Can anything from a petri dish possibly resemble actual gnawable meat?

According to scientists, all the texture and design of lab-grown meat will one day resemble the real thing. It’s really the “franken” part that causes some discomfort. We’re visualists afterall. Burgers should look like burgers, or at least not look like something out of a lab—which is what Frankenmeat looks like now.

This is a big concern for Mark Post, physiology professor at Maastricht University, who served one of the first Frankenburgers. “For [this] to succeed,” he said, “it has to look, feel and hopefully taste like the real thing.”

Well, sure, we all want the real thing, but fortunately, growing muscle cells allows a certain amount of artistic license, one being you can make it look like part of a cow or any member of the livestock family.

Whether it passes muster with meat enthusiasts is another matter, since they’ve had a lot of experience with meat, and aren’t easily fooled by substitutes calling themselves meat.

Critics still find Frankenmeat a little too “Boys From Brazil” for their tastes.

Plant-based meats, for instance, like veggie burgers, have their fans, but the general public still finds them fishy. Not fishy fishy, but not exactly meaty, either.

You see, plants just don’t have the marbled texture of meats, which may be where Frankenmeats have a distinct advantage. They’re born of the same mothers, so to speak, something meat enthusiasts — and McDonalds — can certainly get behind.

Critics still find Frankenmeat a little too “Boys From Brazil” for their tastes. Replicant burgers aren’t exactly delicious sounding, especially when beet juice and saffron have to be added so the product doesn’t look like an ergonomic pillow.”

Still, that shouldn’t be a major concern. We add colours to foods all the time — including ground beef — but, again, we forgive butchers a lot easier than we do scientists.

Then there are the hardliners, determined to stick to meat. “Why can’t we just take ground beef and form it into broccoli shapes?” someone asked on Reddit. Others agreed, some saying they’ve been forming ground beef into broccoli shapes for years.

The fact still remains that the growing consumption of meat — especially in countries like China and Brazil — just isn’t sustainable. By 2050, we won’t be able to slaughter enough cattle, chicken and pigs to keep up demand. Production of methane alone will become a climate crisis, possibly more so than oil and gas. At least Frankenmeat doesn’t fart a lot (or at all).

There will be certain “hold your nose” advocates, reluctant to trade Whoppers for shmeat.

Hopefully, science and technology will put to bed the queasies experienced by our now meat-loving public. No doubt there’ll still be “hold your nose” advocates, reluctant to trade Whoppers for shmeat. Then again, if the price is right, we’ll eat just about anything McDonalds serves us—including meat.

Eventually, our diets will look more like 2001 Space Odyssey, a nice platter of separate coloured pastes, with only a spoon for silverware, all washed down with a liquid formulated to be anything you want. Directions will simply say, “Use your imagination.”

Cows and other livestock are the big winners here, although even animal activists know there won’t be herds or flocks of anything outside of what we need to harvest stem cells. One cow can product millions of muscle strands. Eventually, even large farms will look like petting zoos.

That’s not to say groups — even PETA — aren’t looking to the future. PETA recently sponsored a $1 million prize for any commercialized venture producing lab-grown chicken meat (that actually tastes like chicken).

Once we have well-hung rabbits, it’s only a matter of time before we’re all bragging about our Frankenmeat, whether it’s on the grill or down our pants.

Then there’s a California-based company called Modern Meadow that’s creating 3-D artificial meat, along with artificial leather cultured from cells. “Meat will take longer than leather,” co-founder, Andras Forgacs admitted, whose father ate a 3-D pork chop, and didn’t have a moment’s indigestion.

NASA is looking at 3-D pizza cutouts, and bioengineers are now growing nerve, heart and other tissues, even developing artificial penis tissue in rabbits. Once we have well-hung rabbits, it’s only a matter of time before we’re all bragging about our Frankenmeat—whether it’s on the grill or down our pants.

A new day is dawning, and we’ll soon be embracing foods that come from a petri dish instead of a farm. Whether we like the taste or texture is irrelevant. We probably won’t like the taste of water, either.

Get it down to $1.99, and I doubt anyone will be holding their noses.

If a 3-D beef melt shows up on the Denny’s menu for $2.99, we’ll eat it. Get it down to $1.99, and I doubt anyone will be holding their noses. Just throw that shmeat on the barbie and call it anything you like.

Robert Cormack is a novelist, journalist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores (now in paperback). Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for more details.

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I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.

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