Redefine Meat’s CEO Eshchar Ben-Shitrit said in an interview for The Guardian that he’s “had vegans complaining that this is too much like meat. Personally, I don’t eat meat. I think it’s wrong to kill animals and eat them. But in order to get the flexitarian, it’s better to disregard the opinion of the vegan.” And that’s Redefine Meat’s leading goal: make a plant-based meat product go mainstream.
Using a unique combination of advanced research into the texture and taste of meat, combined with machine-learning-optimized 3D printing that attempts to recreate the experience of meat at the microscopic level, Redefine Meat is claiming to have finally created the vegetarian meat product that looks and tastes like the real thing. To prove it, they’ve brought their product onto the market in several cities around the world, featured at first-class restaurants where award-winning chefs and food critics can take a stab at the new cuts.
One barbecue aficionado and chef said: “I judge on taste, texture and appearance – I’ve had so many bland and dull plant products. Then suddenly this came along and I was marking them 9s and 10s.” And his acclaim has been echoed by many.
Of course, the question is: could this upset the meat industry? Others in the vegetarian “meat” market have attempted to “steak” this claim before, but none have quite hit the mark, though Beyond Meat has managed to spread its reach pretty far, being found in more market chains around the United States over the last few years. Better yet, the question might be, why should this upset the meat market?
Quick personal aside: I’m not vegetarian. I don’t have an ethical problem with eating meat… but I do have an ethical problem with how we eat meat. Once upon a time, meat held a smaller portion size at the average table, but that portion has grown exponentially. Between 1961 and 2018, annual meat production increased by over 30 million tonnes, an increase of 184%. According to the USDA, the average American consumed around 144 pounds of meat in the year 2017. Or, as the Hobbits might say, “one gross.”
The meat industry is known for its horrible raising practices, cramming thousands of animals into terrible conditions. While “ethical meat” has become more accessible of late, it often comes with rising costs that the poorer two-thirds of the country couldn’t afford.
The environmental impact of meat is even worse, and releases so much methane into the atmosphere that it accounts for more annual climate change than the entire worldwide transportation industry! More than eighty percent of all water use in the United States goes to agriculture with the bulk of what’s produced actually used to feed livestock.
These figures are indisputable, as is the obvious solution: meat production and consumption needs to drastically fall if the world is to meet its positively vital climate change goals. And that’s where Redefine Meat’s incredible innovation comes back in.
Right now, this will likely be nothing more than a fad for a small and wealthy elite. Redfine Meat’s product is slated to cost roughly the same as actual meat dishes, making it something widely inaccessible. In order for this to become something that challenges the meat industry, it will need to undercut the price of traditional meat, thereby reaching the lowest-income households with ease.
But this is certainly an incredible step forward toward an era where the production of meat in the world drops and tasty food alternatives rise to take its place. This would, hopefully, return power to local farmers, bringing meat production back to the sustainable, local level. This is better for small family farms, better for the animals, and better for the world.
As a science fiction geek, there’s no way I could write this article without at least jovially pointing out that this innovation finally takes us in the direction of Star Trek’s “replicator” technology. The idea there, of course, is fictional transformation of one type of matter into another—not realistic at the moment. But, if the technology to 3D print foods could eventually become available at the individual level, and a 3D food printer could become a staple of the average kitchen, the impact on the world would be extraordinary.
There are so many amazing things that 3D printing can offer the average person. Until now, printing food that’s appetizing, let alone could replicate the flavor and texture of known foods, has been beyond the abilities of the industry. But this step forward highlights how quickly the technology is developing, as well as how much potential this particular tech has at solving real world problems. All it needs is to become more widespread and for other entities to work at bringing their own innovations to the field. Once that happens, once competition and new advances push down the prices, 3D printed food could be a real revolution in how we think about what’s on our plate… and how it gets there.
It’s Thursday, and that means it’s free PC game day over at the Epic Games Store!