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.
On May 31, the U.S.’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a public hearing to obtain scientific data and information about the safety, manufacturing, product quality, marketing, labelling, and sale of products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived products. At this point, there’s almost no need to ask why. In the U.S., as well as in the U.K. and many other countries, cannabis-related products have flooded the market, making health claims about pain relief, immune function, anxiety, and depression. But it turns out there is little known about how effective these are.
My aim here is not to demonise cannabis Nixon-style but to underline the uncertainty that surrounds it. Understandably, it is difficult to push people to study a substance that until very recently has been almost globally illegal. Even the few studies we’ve had on the topic are outdated, with all the recent developments made in plant-breeding and the changes made in THC concentrations (from the low single digits to more than twenty percent).
From my personal experience, cannabis products seem to work for pain relief and treating anxiety. But I’m not a doctor, and everyone reacts differently to different things. Although it was very necessary, the FDA’s public hearing delivered close to no results and one clear answer: we don’t have enough scientific research to prove the medical benefits of cannabis, and we need to get on it ASAP. What do we have? Testimonies from recreational smokers, cancer patients and new products showing up everywhere—new types of weed, CBD oils, vapes, edibles, creams and more.
When discussing cannabis on a political level, the argument of it being a ‘gateway’ drug is always raised by more conservative voices. And in response to this, there are often two rigid answers: the first one would be that weed has a negative neurological effect on us and pushes people to behave in certain ways, leading them to more serious addictions. The second answer is that, on the contrary, marijuana offers people a safer alternative to other ‘stronger’ drugs, keeping them away from opioids and stimulants. And here again, both answers sound too short-sighted, and I can’t help but feel like we’re missing years of research on a variety of participants to really assert anything.
During the FDA’s hearing, acting commissioner and director of the National Cancer Institute Dr. Ned Sharpless said, “When hemp was removed as a controlled substance, this lack of research, and therefore evidence, to support CBD’s broader use in FDA-regulated products, including in foods and dietary supplements, has resulted in unique complexities for its regulation, including many unanswered questions related to its safety”. And this raises another issue—how exactly are we going to regulate something that has recently become legal in some countries when we don’t even know its long-term effects?
For now, all these questions are left with no answers. We’re only a bit over a decade into the widespread recreational use of marijuana, meaning the data we actually have are pretty messy and vague. The same issue will probably show up in a few years, this time concerning e-cigarettes and vapes. The only certainty I have to offer is that, yes, we need more scientific research on cannabis-derived products. Until then, nothing can be said for sure, not that it matters most of the time. What’s important to remember is how many deaths marijuana has caused: zero, nada, unlike many other drugs, and let’s be honest here, who doesn’t like to spark up after a long day? Junk food clogs your arteries and yet you’ll see me eating chicken nuggets like they’re going out of fashion. I’ll leave you with my hypocritical advice: consume everything in moderation—chicken nuggets and weed included.