| 3 min read | by Doug Marrin |
Livestock farming is destroying our planet. But in all fairness, everything seems to be destroying our planet these days. Let’s face it, anytime anything on earth does something, something else gets deconstructed in the process, especially in making food. It’s the circle of life and as the bumper sticker says, “shit happens.”
According to shrill extremists and research grant recipients, livestock farming is a major cause of land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, acid rain, coral reef degeneration, deforestation – and of course, climate change. Those damn cows just won’t stop farting.
But don’t weep for the end of meat just yet. The entomologists and entomophiles have risen up to rescue us with a new idea for a meat source. Bug fanatics have been silently waiting for that moment when they could rip open their shirt to reveal cerulean blue tights with a diamond red “S” on the chest and save the day.
Bug meat can be grown large-scale with less impact on earth.
Researchers at Tufts University, writing in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, explain why lab-grown insect meat – fed on plants (instead of rotting corpses), and genetically modified for maximum growth, nutrition and flavor – could be a superior green alternative for high volume, nutritious food production.
Note from up here in the bleachers: put an emphasis on flavor, and appearance.
“Due to the environmental, public health and animal welfare concerns associated with our current livestock system, it is vital to develop more sustainable food production methods,” says lead author Natalie Rubio.
Compared to livestock farming, insect farming has a much lower water and space requirement – think vertical farming – and twice as much of a cricket is edible than of a big-boned, big-bellied cow. Unsurprisingly though, creepy crawlies are proving even harder for consumers to swallow.
Scientist don’t need an animal to make meat
Here’s a little trick science knows how to play: they don’t need the actual living being to grow meat. They can do it in a lab. This approach could be the most efficient of all in terms of water and space. Heck, maybe there’ll come a day when we grow it in our own homes, livestock without the “live” part, not in the way we think of it anyway. That would make for an interesting 4-H fair, and meal decisions.
“What do you want for dinner hon?”
“Dunno. Let me look in the incubator and see what looks good.”
Maybe the scientists could work it out where it comes already cooked and plated. Might as well. Many positives here as long as you don’t mind your plate being a petri dish. The downside is that it would probably burn a lot of fossil fuels to grow meat in the lab – trading farts for fuel.
But maybe we don’t have to throw out the mammalian cells with the agar. Or the other way around, keep the agar and use insect cells – genetically modified for maximum growth, nutrition and flavor. Flavor?
“Compared to cultured mammalian, avian and other vertebrate cells, insect cell cultures require fewer resources and less energy-intensive environmental control, as they have lower glucose requirements and can thrive in a wider range of temperature, pH, oxygen and osmolarity conditions,” reports Rubio.
How will it taste?
The short answer, says Rubio, is that nobody knows.
So, future food production could be a sight to behold: 4-H students walking their humongous crickets around the arena as slobbering bidders with jugs of BBQ and crates of cayenne strain their ears to the auctioneer’s lyrical chant. Suddenly the jittery 500 lb. gryllidae balks and nervously rubs its back legs. BBQ splashes all over the place as the people drop their jugs and slap their hands over their ears in a grimace.
Or maybe their 4-H project ends in a wheelbarrow-sized petri dish being trundled around the arena with a 150-pound glob of something jiggling with each bump.
“Despite this immense potential, cultured insect meat isn’t ready for consumption,” says Rubio. “Research is ongoing to master two key processes: controlling development of insect cells into muscle and fat, and combining these in 3D cultures with a meat-like texture.”
At a Renaissance Festival sometime in the future midwest, people are walking around eating huge, genetically modified grilled cricket drumsticks. Limit one per customer. It only takes one drunken bastard to start rubbing two together and soon everyone’s doing it.
New rules for a new world.