Culture

Why Lab-Grown Meat Might Not Be The Mainstream Success We Were Hoping

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How would you feel about eating meat that was grown in a lab?

That’s what a recent report wanted to find out, and what its researchers discovered is that young Australians really aren’t that keen.

Considering Gen Z is often described as being the loudest about climate change and animal welfare, the response could be potentially devastating for the future of sustainable eating.

So, why are young Aussies so against it, and what might it take to get us on board with eating it?

The report was the first ever study exploring attitudes towards cultured meat. It surveyed over 200 young people between the ages 18 to 25 and found that 72% of them were opposed to eating lab-grown meat.

This study has made us question whether or not fake meat is ready for the mainstream, especially given that young people will most likely be one of its largest consumers.

Dr. Diana Bogueva: “There are many concerns that we found in our research, that Generation Z actually worry about. Some of them are related to anticipated taste, disgust, revulsion. Other concerns are about the health and safety – is it safe enough to eat and are they going to have some side effects in a couple of years.”

That’s Dr. Diana Bogueva from the University of Sydney, who co-wrote the report.

She said that some participants had described the idea of lab-grown meat as disgusting and full of chemicals, and that even just thinking about eating it made them feel sick.

Because we haven’t actually tasted or seen this meat outside a lab, Dr. Bogueva argues that young people kind of have every right to be cautious.

She also thinks that just because younger generations seem more open to exploring new food choices, like veganism and plant-based alternatives, we can’t assume that they will embrace every new technology that comes along.

For nearly a decade, scientists have been racing against the ticking time bomb that is climate change, to find new ways to help feed our growing population.

The livestock and agriculture industry is a huge part of that, because it currently produces more greenhouse gas emissions than cars.

The early pioneers (which included people like Bill Gates) helped kick-start an industry of plant-based alternatives.

And now, US start-ups like Beyond Meat – which has an estimated worth of around $11.7 billion US dollars – are trying to make meatless options not just viable but also trendy.

The first lab-grown meat (not just a plant-based alternative) was unveiled by Dutch scientist Dr Mark Post back in 2013.

Aside from the ridiculous cost of a quarter of a million euros to produce it (and its reportedly meatless taste) the patty at least looked real, and this spurred a movement to commercialise the technology.

Today, one patty costs roughly $50 to buy, which scientists promise will come down to $10 by 2021.

While discussions around production costs have raised questions about just how sustainable this fake meat is, Dr. Bogueva found that the most surprising responses to it were far from technology or finance issues – they actually centred on emotional and intellectual appeal.

Daily meat eaters agreed they preferred to eat meat that could be ripped off the bone with their teeth.

One male participant even said, “there is a strict men’s rule saying real men eat meat, not artificial meat and I will stick to this rule”.

Without real blood and juiciness, young males were scared about a loss of masculinity, which Dr. Bogeuva says might have something to do with Australia’s cultural legacy as a meat eating country.

And until farmers switch to sustainable options, she told me many young males will probably continue worrying about betraying the meat industry.

The Takeaway

Dr. Bogueva’s report did find that 28% of young Aussie’s would be prepared to try a lab-grown alternative to meat. And she’s hopeful that with more time and environmental awareness, more people might feel the same.

But until there’s a bit more transparency around these lab-grown meats – like what is going into them, how they taste, and how beneficial they are for our health and the environment – it kind of makes sense that people will be a little hesitant of them.