Science TEDTalks

Would you eat 3D-printed meat? 7 vegetarians and vegans reflect

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In August, the first lab-grown beefburger was cooked and tasted in London. The verdict? “[It tasted] like an animal protein cake, said Josh Schonwald, author of The Taste of Tomorrow and one of the “lucky” few to taste the $330,000 morsel of petri dish meat.

The future of slaughter-less meat is not far off. In fact, scientists project it could be in the aisles of our supermarkets in 10 to 20 years. Andras Forgacs: Leather and meat without killing animals Andras Forgacs: Leather and meat without killing animals In today’s talk, Andras Forgacs, CEO and co-founder of Modern Meadow, explains the process of biofabrication and asks an interesting question: “What if, instead of starting with a complex, sentient animal, we started with what the tissues are made of, the basic unit of life, the cell?” Biofabrication, he says, signals the rise of a new industry that is both sustainable and humane and could radically change a society and environment shaped by the consumption of animals.

Yet, there are still many questions left unanswered. Would printed meat circumvent religious dietary rulings? Would it be considered Kosher or Halal? PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is positive about the future of lab-grown meat. So much so, it is offering a $1 million dollar reward to the first person to make commercially viable in vitro chicken meat by March 1, 2014.

And how about vegetarians? How might they feel about a new dietary prospect? We asked 7 TED vegetarians to consider the scenario of lab-grown meat. Here are their thoughts:

Amy Short wouldn’t eat printed meat, seeing it as just another processed food product.

“As a 20-year vegan who is not interested in meat and generally avoids meat analogs, I doubt I’d consume 3D printed meat. I’m most interested in whole foods that are true to nature and as unmolested and unmodified as possible.  I avoid processed foods and 3D printed meat is at its core a processed food product.”

Emilie Soffe would consider eating printed meat, and hopes it might stop crazy arguments about food production.

“It can feel overwhelming to look at a machine like factory farming and feel helpless against it. Incredibly smart, compassionate people are still buying into this system and it remains such a fiery, personal issue, as food is wrapped up in difficult things like culture, tradition and personal preference. It would feel much better occupying a world where both sides are satisfied with one system. I don’t have much of a desire to eat meat, anymore, so I don’t know if the introduction of this technology would change my current diet much. Maybe I’d splurge on a good, guilt-free filet mignon every once in a while.”

Morton Bast is a very-nearly-vegetarian who keeps kosher. She can’t wait to see how religion and technology collide.

“I’m waiting for the rabbinic ruling on this one. 10,000 points to the first rabbi hip enough to come out and declare a stance on the theological implications of printed meat. If it’s kosher, I’m in, but something tells me it will be a while. Truthfully, I’m desperately curious about the answer. It’s exhilarating and awesome to watch a concept as futuristic as printed meat come into contact with a concept as old as religious tradition. Reconciling them is awkward, but in a way it captures something deeply important. How do we bring what is comfortable and beloved with us into a world that is unfamiliar and new? This is definitely a match I want courtside seats for!”

Nick Weinberg is a lifelong vegetarian. Printed meat still wouldn’t cut it for him.

“I wouldn’t eat printed meat. My decision to be a vegetarian is not based on the ethical issues that surround it. It has always been the texture of meat and the idea of me actually cutting into it that has creeped me out. I’ve never been one to wear a leather jacket, but I do own a couple pairs of leather/suede shoes. I’d be up for trying printed leather.”

Jordan Reeves thinks he’ll rest a lot more easily when printed meat is a reality.

“I come from Alabama, a land where the standard ‘meat and 3’ is the only available option. The only people who ordered a veggie plate were the little old ladies who ventured out once a week — lunch with their Sunday school class after church, perhaps. We had meat with every meal, and it was also a staple in most of our snack foods. I bled BBQ sauce. Then, about two years ago, I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. I pledged to never, ever eat an animal again. Currently, I spend a large amount of my time and energy to educating myself about vegetarianism and the humane treatment of animals. Not only would this be a cathartic culmination of that scholarship, but it could potentially disrupt the destruction of the environment. I literally lie awake at night worrying about the natural world’s future. I think one of the most detrimental forces to the earth is the factory farming institution. If printed leather became a thing, I could sleep at night!

To her own amazement, lifelong vegetarian Kate Torgovnick thinks she’d try printed meat.

“When I read about Andras Forgacs’ talk in the TEDGlobal program, I thought: ‘this guy is nuts’ and the idea was futuristically creepy. Then I watched the talk and saw that his idea is so much subtler than I first realized. Taking a biopsy of tissue doesn’t harm an animal, reproducing the tissues from it and then growing them en masse creates a material that is in many ways better than the original. If it catches on, this is a way out of the mass raise-and-slaughter paradigm. So I am surprised to say that I would eat printed meat. As weird as it might feel at first, if no animal is harmed in the process, I am fine with it. I have no idea what a real hamburger or bacon tastes like, and would like to be in the know. I’m also curious, can printed meat even be healthier than real meat?

Mark Bogdanoff is a lifelong vegetarian. He says no to printed meat, but he’s happy it’s happening.

“I’ve never intentionally eaten meat and don’t intend to. I do eat vegetarian meats such as veggie burgers or sausages, but not a lot. And, I generally enjoy the alternatives that aren’t even really trying to be meat. I have nothing to measure against so I just go for what’s healthy and tastes good. So, I’m just not that interested in printed meat that’s trying to be real meat. Am I glad it’s starting to exist? Very. I hope it becomes a method by which we can stop killing animals for food.”