In just a few short weeks, Josh Schonwald is going to London to attend the serving of the first in vitro meat hamburger, grown in a lab in the Netherlands, at a cost of approximately $325,000 US.
Schonwald hopes to have a chance to try the burger.
“Each bite would be more money than I've made in the last two years,” Schonwald jokes. “It's staggering to think about that.”
“I went there with the intent of trying it (in vitro meat),” he says. “That wasn't possible at that point, so it's sort of like a dream come true now that it is finally possible.”
The burger, which was developed by Dr. Mark Post in the Netherlands, was assembled from beef muscle tissue grown in a lab, and will be cooked and eaten in a cook-off event in London, England on August 5.
Schonwald, a journalist from Chicago and author of The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food, first met Dr. Post in the Netherlands in 2009 while doing research for his book.
“I went there with the intent of trying it (in vitro meat)” he says. “That wasn't possible at that point, so it's sort of like a dream come true now.”
In the book, Schonwald describes how population growth and a rising demand for meat, coupled with traditional meat production’s unsustainable use of resources, will force future generations to find a more sustainable source of protein.
“I'm excited about progress in in vitro meat as one of the variety of alternatives to the status quo,” he says. “Conventional meat production is the problem. It is taking up too much land, too much water, and with the current projections of rising meat consumption, it’s unsustainable.”
Schonwald says that while most people view lab-grown meat repulsive, he believes the contrary.
“Invariably you do get this ‘gross,’ ‘yuck’ reaction. The idea of taking a stem cell and putting it in a culture,” he says. “Many people have that reaction, but if you have 90 more seconds, and you can remind them of what we're currently doing, the amount of land, the amount of water, the packing of thousands of animals into these concentrated animal feeding operations, pumping them with antibiotics and growth promoters, you talk about the food born illnesses that are possible, the E coli, then you can quickly change their minds.”
Schonwald, on the other hand, believes that people have the wrong idea about lab-grown meat, and that the positives outweigh the negatives.
“Is this really yucky?” he asks. “A lot of people have said it’s the purest, cleanest meat ever in a lot of ways. Not to mention the animal welfare, the idea that you could eliminate the need to slaughter countless animals.”
Schonwald says that it will take years before researchers are able to bring the price of in vitro meat down to a level that is competitive with conventional meat, but he’s excited about that prospect of a new protein alternative, and being part of its history.
“This will be one small bite for man, one giant bite for mankind,” he says. “I'm excited to do something that helps get people more aware of one possible approach to what is a problem that lies ahead, which is providing a protein alternative for the nine billion people who are projected to be on this planet in 2050.