The Corner

No Lab Steaks

A reader from Abilene, Texas writes:

Back on the lab steak thing again huh? By the way, lets not call them that. Makes the pooch nervous. How about laboratory steaks.

Anyhow, this is an interesting topic. Problem with your thinking lies on the economics side of things more than the biological/technical challenge. Most of the beef we eat is available because cattle are very adept at converting grass (something humans don’t digest well) into protein and fat (which you and me obviously do digest well). Contrary to general perception, cattle attain most of their weight not by being fed corn in a feedlot, but by grazing on ground which is, generally speaking, not arable (i.e. farmable). They are fed in feedlots only during their, shall we say, golden months. The industry works this way because it utilizes resources (range grass) that are renewable, cheap, and not otherwise useful. The feedlot part of the cycle illustrates the irony that faces cattlemen. Wholly grass fed beef is lean and nutritious. But what fat there is, is brownish in color and doesn’t taste all that great. By contrast, corn fed beef shows nice white colored fat layers that look wholesome (but are no more so) to the shopper down at the Piggly Wiggly. Ultimately, the undeniable truth that screams from the marketplace is…people like the taste of fat! They say they want lean and healthy, but they absolutely don’t. And they won’t buy it. So the industry gives them exactly what they want.

Thus, cattle are grown for the most part on grass that grows in inaccessible, non-farmable rangeland up until about three months before dinner. At that point, they go to the feedlot to fatten up with nice white layers of corn induced heart attack. A good and decent system if you ask me.

Now, back to laboratory steaks. If science could deliver meat grown without

the requirement of an actual whole cow, it would still require raw materials. Unfortunately, it would be hard to imagine a method of harvesting the raw material (grass) that makes meat on any kind of scale that would be nearly as efficient as the good ole cow scrounging for grass between the rocks, cactus and brush of the western range. Something after all, is being loaded into the back end of the replicator down on the engineering deck, and I don’t think any of us want to know what it is.

And finally, what does everyone have against cows anyway?

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