Ever since Robert Malthus published his essay on the Principle of Population, humanity has worried that our population would eventually outstrip our resources.
Written during George Washington’s Presidency when less than a billion people existed on Earth, Malthusianism postulates that population growth is exponential while the growth of the food supply and other resources is linear, making a future crisis inescapable.
So it’s no wonder that science fiction became rife with examples of high-tech fixes for our future food supplies, supplies that would never run out.
From the everlasting meal-in-a-pill theme, that actually began at the time of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, to vats of modified soy flavored and formed into every possible food product, to shelves of genetically-modified organisms designed for a changing environment and long shelf lives, to the horrible secret of Soylent Green, we have struggled with the inevitability of too many people on Earth.
My favorite was Larry Niven’s Bandersnatchi, the brontosaurus-sized single-celled organisms genetically-designed to feed the civilizations of Known Space by scooping and eating mutated yeast out of shallow ocean-like yeast colonies on thousands of planets. With chromosomes as thick as a human finger, Bandersnatchi could never mutate away from being food.
But such futuristic food is closer, and better, than any of these fictions. It’s called Cultivated Meat, and circumvents the actual raising of land animals and fish to go right to making the meat directly – from stem cells grown in vats. Yes, we do have to have the vats.
Avant Meats out of Hong Kong is pushing fast on this method to produce fish protein using new technologies that allow large scale cultivation of animal cells, in their entirety, in an economically and environmentally sustainable way. No pollutants with the same nutritional value as ordinary meat.
In cultivated meat production, animal stem cells are combined with nutrients, salts, pH buffers, and growth factor and left to multiply in the containers.
Cultivated meats solve numerous problems. We know how harsh grazing animals are on the environment. We know how much water it takes to make a single steak – 2,400 gallons per pound. A pound of meat emits over 20 lbs of CO2 in its creation. Forests are still being razed to make way for grazing cattle.
Cultivated meat requires only a precent of the water and emits a percent of the CO2 of ordinary meat. And if non-]fossil fuel, like nuclear or hydro, is used to power this process, it becomes as green as we can get it.
Also, many people no longer like the idea of slaughtering living beings, regardless of them being bred over millennia specifically for this purpose.
The global fish meat market is estimated to reach US$206 billion by 2026. Each year, 2.7 trillion fish are caught from the wild, with a further hundred billion fish or so killed on commercial farms. These numbers will continue to grow while the available stocks will continue to fall. 90% of the world’s fish stocks are now fully exploited or depleted.
The most successful societies always seemed to have better protein sources than those they subjugated. Meaning more meat. But raising actual cows, fish and other herds took more and more land and water. Cultivated meats is an obvious answer. Plant-based protein is great, but there are some nutrients that can only come from actual meat, like Vitamin B12, Vitamin D3, Creatine, Carnosine and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA).
We have moved forward on other strategies, including making fake meat that actually tastes and feels like real meat, and changing cow and sheep grazing to be “regenerative”, meaning net zero carbon.
Impossible Foods seems to have done the impossible and created plant-based meat that really can fool anyone, and uses 87% less water, 96% less land, emits 89% fewer greenhouse gases, and produces 92% less aquatic pollutants.
Regenerative grazing is based on emulating the natural life cycle of migrating ungulate herds like cows. Rotating the herds between a series of fenced-off paddocks allows for periods of intense grazing, where the soil is disturbed and the animals’ manure is naturally deposited and incorporated, followed by fallow periods with no grazing where the land is given time to rest and regenerate.
But cultivated meat presents the most radical departure from the norm with the least impact on the environment. Avant Meats isn’t the only trail-blazer. Memphis Meats, Artemys Foods, Future Meat Technologies, SuperMeat and others are also focused on having these products provide the meat requirements of the world’s soon-to-be 10 billion people.
It will change things forever. Just like good science fiction always foretells.