The latest lark in culinary cuisine is artificial meat substitutes. However, the newest addition to the line of lab-grown foods might take you by surprise—because it’s ‘lion meat’. Yes, you read that right folks. It seems that the predators have caught the attention of the fine dining industry. If the concept of tiger tacos interests you, then keep reading, because they could soon be available at your favourite restaurants in the UK.
From a list including lions, tigers and bears (oh my, indeed), at least two of these animals could very well end up taking over menus in restaurants. If the pitched products manage to pass regulatory checks, that is. A menagerie of select choices of meat for dishes we all know and love—think succulent tiger steaks and exotic zebra sushi rolls—will also accompany the possible sale of lab-grown lion meat in the UK. Though there’s one thing we feel the need to clarify: the meats in question do not come from the animals themselves, instead they’re from the cosy confines of laboratories that create them artificially.
The idea is the brainchild of tech startup Primeval Foods. The meat itself is “cultivated” from the self-declared “future of food” company, and though it is climate-friendly, it raises a few eyebrows—along with truckloads of other questions—as to where our meat comes from and whether we should even be eating it at all.
The Independent detailed that Primeval Foods’ goal is to get its meats into “Michelin-starred restaurants in London,” with even bigger plans to “expand on a larger scale, even to local supermarkets.” So mock meats could end up on our shelves, huh? Let’s find out more about them before our local supermarkets start stockpiling these artificial creations.
What is this so-called “cultivated meat” everyone is speaking of? Well, it is a production method that allows companies to make food from any species—you know, minus all the animal slaughter. How, you ask? The answer lies in animal cells, which are directly harvested and allow these companies to replicate “the sensory and nutritional profiles of conventional meat,” according to the Independent. Instead of the bloodshed, cultivated meat producers grow the necessary animal cells directly, which gives them the chance to replicate all the nutritional profiles and the ever so sought-after sensory experiences of eating the real deal.
This concept helps us all dodge the unnecessary process, which is considered barbaric by many, of raising animals for their eventual slaughter. Considered as a more sustainable practice of meat making, these lab-grown creations also aid the effort to conserve our world’s resources by maintaining land and water, “preserving habitat, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and preventing manure pollution and antibiotic overuse,” as the Independent further noted.
However, there are some caveats to this new creation. For one, we don’t know much about the scalability of this fake meat business. As the Independent pointed out, “cultivated meat is not yet produced on an industrial scale.” Along with the “relative uncertainty” that it could actually benefit the planet preservation-wise, in February 2022, the Financial Times reported a “slump” in plant-based sales when company Beyond Meat’s stock plummeted by 11 per cent. The Independent also outlined that, within the last three months of 2021, the company’s losses have amounted to around $80.4 million—more than three times that of the previous year.
On the flip side, scientists do seem to agree that the overall environmental impacts of cultured meat production would be considerably marginal compared to the conventionally-produced ones that is today’s standard. A study, published by ACS Publications in 2011, observed the impacts of cultivated meat and went on to state that its production uses approximately anywhere from seven to 45 per cent less energy than what is used in the production of European meat. The study also concluded that greenhouse gas emissions were 78 to 96 per cent lower, and land usage also managed to get cut down by 99 per cent. Heck, even water usage went down by 82 to 96 per cent. Lab-grown: 1, homegrown: 0.
Primeval Foods and its advocates certainly agree. “People are constantly seeking to discover new foods, new restaurants, new culinary experiences, but the traditional species have reached their limitation on meeting this demand,” said Yilmaz Bora, managing partner for Ace Ventures—which is the London-based venture studio that created Primeval Foods. “It has to go beyond the current beef, chicken, and pork dishes, and it has to come without the expense of nature,” he added.
Furthermore, the company has big plans to host taste testings in the coming months “to give the world a taste of what the next chapter of food would look like,” Bora enthusiastically claimed.
The company thinks its meat could rise above the hit that the food industry has taken in recent years—believing that now is the time to “double down on innovative ideas,” the Independent reported. Not only are the meats in question climate friendly, but Primeval Foods hopes these ‘exotic’ alternatives will also prompt people to explore novel culinary experiences.
So why not be a little adventurous and try a lion burger on your next meal out?
OK, it’s time to address the lab-grown meat in the room. Raise your hand if you’ve heard of or have already engaged in a full-blown discussion about meat (and possibly dairy) that has been grown inside a Petri dish. It seems as though this imminent industry has forever lurked around the corner, but as far as consumers are concerned, has anyone ever even seen a Petri dish steak—let alone nabbed a bite out of one?
Back in 2013, food critics gathered around the world’s first lab-grown burger in a long-anticipated press conference—the burger was paid for by none other than Google co-founder Sergey Brin and cost £215,000 to produce. The reaction to the faux meat was underwhelming to say the least. The food critics reported that the burger tasted “Close to meat, but not that juicy”. And the world’s own fascination with this bizarre concept of a lab-grown slab of meat soon faded too.
But while climate change advocates who had turned to full-blown veganism, sourcing meat locally, or simply limiting their meat consumption to but a few times a month in a bit to reduce their environmental impact, scientists have not ceased to tweak their meat creation.
The technology used to grow food out of Petri dishes is called cellular agriculture. It works by reproducing and multiplying “muscle tissue from a handful of cells taken from an animal. These cells are then nurtured on a scaffold in a bioreactor and fed with a special nutrient broth”, as reported by MIT Technology Review. In theory, meat grown under these conditions is ‘real’ meat on every level—its flesh is red and blood bloody. The only real difference is that it never was a part of an animal, and that’s the truly strange concept to get our heads around.
Many food production industries have a high negative impact on the environment, but few are as palpable as the meat and dairy industries. A recent study shows that the production of meat and dairy takes up 83 percent of global farmland and produces 60 percent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, opting out of consuming products from these industries could be the single most effective way of reducing our environmental impact on a personal and global scale, across both pollution and farmland.
So with that in mind—if meat floats your boat that is—wouldn’t a lab-grown steak which produces 19 percent of Carbon Monoxide for every 20 grams as opposed to its animal meat counterpart at 24 percent make more sense to consume? According to Impossible Foods, a faux meat company using only plant-based ingredients, the 4 percent reduction from real meat to lab meat isn’t good enough.
The company is one of many who entered the scene in recent years as part of a growing group who are trying to reduce the environmental impact of meat even further. According to Impossible Foods and its peers, products that mimic all things meat need only combine a delicate combination of plant-based ingredients and a bit of science to tie them all together in a neat hamburger, bolognese or salami.
Whether it’s plant-based or lab-grown, it’s becoming apparent that in order to seriously reduce our greenhouse emissions and impact on the environment, our consumption relationship with meat (and dairy) will need to change. And fast. What needs to follow is not only alternatives that are truly sustainable but that are healthy and, well, equally delicious.