Once upon a time, a juicy steak, hamburger, or roast beef were staples on the family dinner table.
Red meat was cheap and plentiful, with the local Australian beef industry turning out great quality meat in large quantities. But in the last fifty years, a growing demand from international buyers for our meat has meant a rising cost for the best cuts back home; whilst at the same time, a greater awareness of the destructive environmental costs of cattle farming has also seen a decrease in meat consumption.
People love red meat, but are looking for a healthier, cost-effective, sustainable alternative. Forget tasteless veggie patties or suspicious tofu meat replacements: scientists have actually figured out how to ‘grow’ their own lab-grown meat. It’s called ‘3D printed meat’, and might just be the solution to the global crisis. Here’s everything you need to know.
What is ‘3D printed’ meat?
3D printed meat is grown from beef stem cells that are then created into a 3D substance via a printer. 3D printers create objects by printing layers vertically to create a solid, three-dimensional structure using a variety of mediums. You can print in 3D using everything from plastic, metal, ceramics, or in this case, meat.
It looks, smells, cooks, and tastes like actual meat. However, don’t go expecting your 3D printed steak to have quite the same chewy texture as a steak – most 3D printed meat is quite soft, with a texture that’s more similar to minced beef.
Is it the same as artificial meat?
Don’t get 3D printed meat confused with plant-based meat alternatives. In recent months, there has been a lot of media hype about plant-based hamburger alternatives that look and ‘bleeds’ like minced beef.
Whilst this is a great alternative to commercially farmed beef, they don’t actually contain any meat by-product. Plant products such as beetroot are used to give the ‘bleeding’ effect, whilst the actual burger is created from items such as mushrooms, soybeans, and fat solids.
According to one ‘fake meat’ producer, Impossible Foods, the production of their signature burger requires only one-12th of the land, one-ninth of the water, and generates one-quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions that ‘real’ meat does.
So – a great meat alternative, but definitely not the same as 3D printed meat as they contain no animal products.
Who will be eating 3D printed meat?
At this stage, not many – lab grown meat is still being perfected. You can’t buy 3D printed meat in Australia, but experts are meeting at a levy board conference in Australia later this year to discuss the commercial sale of lab-grown meat.
Canberra-based science writer and author Julian Cribb thinks that it could be in local stores in just over a decade from now.
“I expect cultured meat to be available in 10-15 years,” says Cribb. “It is likely to catch on as it will be cheaper, use far fewer resources such as water, land, nutrients and pesticides, and can in theory be tailored to the precise dietary requirements of the individual. Synthetic clothing is already universal and food is likely to follow.”
Looking into the future, and a research paper from Meat Livestock Australia notes that the softer texture of the 3D printed meat could make it a low cost and easily digestible option for the elderly or disabled.
“We believe the biggest opportunity is for people who have trouble consuming a full bodied steak, the aged and disabled, who can’t eat highly textured and highly interconnective muscle foods,” said Sean Starling of Meat Livestock Australia.
What’s wrong with ‘normal’ meat?
The driving factors behind the production of lab-grown or 3D printed meat is sustainability. By the year 2050, the world’s population is set a record 9.6 billion people. That means that the demand for basic food items such as meat is growing by the day, and will one day exceed the possibilities of traditional farming methods.
Factory farming in the sprawling estates (particularly in Australian and America) is not only responsible for mass deforestation, but also creates huge amounts of methane and carbon monoxide which is a major cause of global warming. In fact, livestock and their by-products account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
Co-founder of Modern Meadow artificial leather company Andras Forgacs criticised the overall cost of traditional livestock practices, saying “if you look at the resource intensity of everything that goes into a hamburger, it is an environmental train wreck.”
Ethically speaking, the ability to replicate biomatter from organic meat means less slaughtering of animals, as well as the ability to regulate humane and sustainable farming practices.
But will people want to eat it?
As the world learns to recalibrate to growing population levels and sustainable living, the ‘mental hurdles’ of a new way of life can be difficult to overcome. For example, smaller property sizes, increased produce costs, condensed urban centres and non-traditional working arrangements are all pushing the limits of how we thought we would live our lives.
But food is another matter altogether. With the organic food movement (and vegan/sustainable food movements) gathering pace around the world, the concept of eating something grown in a laboratory isn’t exactly that attractive.
Certainly, taste tests have been wildly successful, with participants being unable to taste the difference between lab-grown meat, and the real deal. But, as a recent survey by Global Meat News is any indicator, it might be a little harder to convince the general public. When asked if they’d eat 3D printed meat, only 34% of the survey respondents replied in the affirmative; 41% said “no,” and 26% weren’t sure.
For the hospitality industry, the question of how you source your produce, and what stance you take on sustainable options like 3D printed meat will come down to several considerations, particularly that of your target demographic.
But however you decide to approach the situation, it’s crucial that you start to consider how to make your venue more sustainable.
Before you jump onto the latest trend bandwagon there are a few questions you need to ask. Profitable Hospitality is here to help you ask the right questions to keep your business profitable. Become a member today to read our exclusive member-only article ‘Food and drink trends: Figuring out what’s going to work for you’. View our subscription options here.