You have probably seen the video of the cultured meatball (vat meat as I call it) making the rounds on social media. Here is why vat meat is stupid:

One: It fails the environmental test.

The vat meat still requires massive plantations of corn and soy to produce the materials required to grow the vat meat. Muscle fibres are the second most expensive fibre to support calorically next to brain matter. So they are taking the most expensive part of an animal to maintain and grow and doing so artificially. That is going to take a mountain inputs.

Also, the process makes extensive use of energy intensive processes to take base materials (fossil fuels, corn, soy) and convert them into the hundreds of chemicals required to get meat cells to propagate outside of an animal. This is very energy intensive food production, more so than a CFAO and a hell of a lot more than grazing or nature based systems of animal husbandry.

The claim that it will be less environmentally problematic that an CFAO (let alone pasture based livestock raising methods) is empirically false.

It also fails the environmental test because it hyper disconnects a person from the reality of food and the struggle that is life. You can get no further away from the reality of life and death on your dinner plate than this.

Two: It fails the real food test.

This isn’t real food. This is hyper processed industrial caloric substrate. You can not get any more processed a food than this, it is processed from start to finish with heaps of chemicals, fossil fuels, additives, hormones, and flavour additives to make up for the lack of life. (Life, the act of living, is what creates TMAO, which is the number one flavour driver in meats and fish. It is the core of the umami flavour).

In the wild flavour is an indicator of nutritional density. That is why humans and most animals are triggered by flavour and smell so strongly when it comes to food. We are evolved to seek out and eat the highest nutritional density we can get; and in the absence of brix meters and labs to pull apart the chemical compounds in a food the evolved method to do that is taste. And that comes from something living a life with challenges, movement, and variety of diet and experiences.

Vat meat has none of that, so to make it taste like it’s worth eating they have to artificially add chemicals (salt, msg, TMAO substitutes, whatever). I would eat this, probably once or twice, in its non-cuisine form and probably never go back. It would be bland and awful. This isn’t food. It is calories.

Three: it fails the laws of thermodynamics and efficiency test.

Every step you get away from the primary fuel source in the food chain lowers the efficiency. Vat meat is at least 5 steps removed, and in some cases the chemicals needed to make muscle cells grow in a tub of agar are going to be 10+ steps removed.

Set that against a grass fed cow: Sun -> Grass -> Cow

Four: it fails the animal welfare test.

To make vat meat at this time requires stem cells. Those stem cells come from two places: cow fetuses or the stomach lining of a cow (harvested in a fatal manner).

So to get your animal-death-free meat you have to kill fetuses and cows to get the stem cells to build the meat in the vat. That means you also need to keep cattle around as brood stock, either to harvest stomach linings or to use them for invetrofertilization (IVF) fetal culturing processes.

Five: it fails the ethics and morality test.

This is a developed world high tech solution to feeding people. This is a way to create protein that requires a massive amount of technology and social infrastructure. That alone puts it out of reach of 90% of the human species. Economies of scale may bring that down to within reach of 2/5ths of the human population, but that’s it. So ethically it is suspect for the economics alone.

It also fails the question of is it ethical or moral to produce food in a manner so utterly disconnected from the real world mechanics of biology. What we have here is a case of the sciences playing at God in order to solve some moral dilemmas that can be solved in a much easier manner; and in doing so add multitudes of moral and ethical compromises.

It is founded in a materialist industrial capitalist ethic and morality which states that life is nothing more than atoms bouncing about in molecules that we can use and change at our whims and convenience. That is an ethic that also says it is perfectly valid to abort millions of cow lives a year at the fetal stage to get raw materials. It is the ethic that says it is valid to blow up entire mountains to get coal to run the power plants that power the meat vats. It is the ethic that says it is okay to farm BILLIONS of acres of corn and soy, destroying entire ecosystems wholesale (driving species to extinction en masse) to get the components to feed the vat meat to maturity.

None of that seems particularly moral or ethical to me; or to the people promoting this product. Their entire production and supply chain violates their own moral and ethical claims.

BONUS: Six: It fails the economics test.

This is a product of industrial corporate agriculture. Last time I checked that entire economics chain is removed from 99.99% of people as economic beneficiaries. It also is removed from the open economic practices that would let anyone produce or participate in this system of production. The average person on earth, with their $1,500/year income is not going to be able to go out and buy the production chain to become a vat meat grower. With current patent laws and intellectual property laws they never will, even as the cost of production goes down.

But with $1,500/year they can go get a goat. Or a cow. Or some chickens. They can talk to a neighbour and get those creatures pregnant, and then have self sustaining low economic cost meat.

From a venture capital perspective this is billions in RnD and billions in set up that requires the existing industrial and capitalist economics mode to function. A mode that is proving itself caustic to life, and to itself economically.

One thought to “Why Vat Meatballs Are Stupid”

  • Jackie Skrypnek

    I’m way late getting to this blog post of yours, Marcus, but well said! You do a great job of setting out how this lab meat is a bad idea on so many levels, including some I hadn’t thought of like the notion of flavour. Thanks for this!

    Reply

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