Meat production is not a new thing to Columbia, Missouri. Drive out of town in any direction and you’ll reach a meat processing plant within three hours. Meat in Columbia, however, is different. A lot different.
The average American consumes 200 lbs of meat every year. In order to feed the animals that eventually end up on our dinner plates, we have to devote over 3/4ths of the produce from US farmland to animal fodder. And here’s a statistic that will floor you: a pound of beef “requires 298 square feet of land, 27 pounds of feed, and 211 gallons of water” and that’s not taking the gasoline it takes to ship it all across the nation into account. Considering population growth and the increased demand for meat from developing countries, many scientists have shifted their focus and resources to coming up with viable alternatives that leave a fraction of the carbon footprint.
Ethan Brown is the CEO of Beyond Meat, a company that turns soy and pea protein, along with amaranth, into a viable meat substitute that looks just like chicken. Brown partnered with Fu-Hung Shieh, a food scientist previously employed with Quaker Oats. Shieh uses a fancy-schmancy extruder machine that is responsible for everything from Fruit Loops to cookie dough. Beyond Meat chicken is gaining notice from the likes of Bill Gates and New York Times Best-Selling cookbook authors. You can currently find Beyond Meat products in select Whole Foods.
Only miles away, scientists are growing meat using a 3-D printer and a petri dish. It takes several weeks of printing an embryonic goo and incubating it until 700 beef cells are combined to make a small piece of muscle. This ground-breaking technology, marketed under the clever name Modern Meadow, was the brain child of theoretical physicist Gabor Forgacs, who originally used it to make transplant organs as well as medical research. Modern Meadow still has a considerable way to go to have the capability of producing meat for mass consumption, but for now they’re making a sizeable income manufacturing leather.
Whatever the seemingly outlandish, or slightly gruesome, method of producing alternative-to-meat proteins, they are likely not going away any time soon, and neither is the problem they are trying to fix.