BEYOND THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE: Producing real meat without killing animals.

AuthorDawn, Karen

The question from the audience got a good laugh and prompted a fun jab back from panel moderator Ezra Klein, who called us a "roomful of hippies."

That was last year, in Berkeley. This year's Good Food Conference, held in early September, was across the bay at San Francisco's five-star Palace hotel. When I tried to book a room, prices were more than $600 per night. Winky Smalls and I opted for the nearby Kimpton, known to give five-star service to fur-kids.

The Good Food Conference is put on by the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit group that supports companies trying to replace animal agriculture with truly sustainable meat, dairy, eggs, and seafood production that doesn't involve killing billions of animals per year.

Though the meat industry's dire effect on our planet finally got some attention after the release of the 2014 documentary film Conspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, the mainstream media have largely failed to catch on. Only as the Amazon burns have more outlets picked up on the issue, noting that the fires were started by cattle ranchers clearing land, and by soybean farmers growing crops to feed cattle.

Some people, aware of livestock's contribution to climate change, are moving toward eating "only fish." As whales wash up on beaches with plastic in their stomachs, we ban plastic bags and plastic straws but try to avoid noticing that the animals' stomachs are empty of all but the plastic garbage. Scientists suggest the plastic leaves no room for food.

But even with no plastic in sight, animals that live in our oceans are starving. In a colony of almost 40,000 penguins in Antarctica, all but two chicks starved to death in 2017.

When the explorer Captain John Smith arrived in North America, he saw striped bass so plentiful he mused he could walk across the water "dry-shod" on their backs. Folk lore is similar for spawning Atlantic salmon. That is now hard to imagine, as industrial fishing empties the oceans. Sadly, whales, dolphins, seals, and penguins--unlike us--can t switch to pasta or tofu.

Last year in Berkeley, the conference buzzed about the incredibly meat-like Beyond and Impossible Burgers that were just hitting the market. That Berkeley buzz became a Wall Street cacophony a few months later in May 2019, when Beyond Meat went public and became the "biggest popping U.S. IPO" in almost two decades.

This year, the buzz at the conference was about cell-grown meat. Or cultured meat. Or clean meat. Or even microbrewed meat.

Before we talk about what to call it, let's take a quick look at what it is. Though it may sound like science fiction, it's actually rather like the now common process of growing human skin for burn victims.

As explained at the conference, it begins with taking some cells from an animal.

"Doesn't that hurt the animal?" asked an audience member.

"Not as much as the way we're making meat now," shot back Kris Chatrathi of Black & Veatch, an engineering firm that has taken an interest in cell-based meats.

As of now, the nascent industry has no set standard as to how the base cells are obtained. JUST Inc., a San Francisco-based food manufacturer, has a promotional video that shows its researchers using a discarded chicken feather to grow nuggets. The donor's name is Ian.

One is...

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