Skip to main content
Move the World.

Will humans still eat once-living animals in 2020? How about 2040? Or 2100? The further into the future I try to imagine humans eating animals, the less likely it seems. And I say this as someone who loves all the meats.

Humans will always need protein. In the U.S., we like to get our protein from animals; commercial operations here processed more than 28 million pounds of red meat and 27 million pounds of poultry in the first six months of 2016, according to the USDA. And the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development projects global demand for animal meat to increase dramatically over the next 10 years.  

But you know what? As much as I love eating animals, I’d forego their flesh entirely if someone came up with an alternative that tasted, say, 75% as good. Deep down, I just want something with protein that tastes good. I don’t really care whether it comes from a dead animal, it’s just that dead animals taste really good.

Thanks to stem cell research and improved plant-based science, that tipping point is coming.

Can plant-based alternatives trick our palates?

While Tofurky may be acceptable to vegetarians and vegans, most soy-based products won’t inspire a carnivore to switch sides. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods think they can win that game with better science and non-soy ingredients. Both companies are Silicon Valley darlings, and both have developed a plant-based burger that looks like meat. Both are even selling the burgers on a very small scale.

You can find the Impossible Foods burger at Momofuku in New York (and only there), where Chef David Chang is figuring out enticing ways to prepare the company’s signature "meat" patty. The renowned chef appears to really like what he’s tasted:

So what makes the Impossible Foods burger so meat-like? The company says its secret ingredient is a molecule called heme, which is found in animal and human blood, as well as plants like soy. But instead of extracting heme from soy, Impossible Foods opted instead to copy the soy heme gene and combine it with yeast, which allows them to make vats of the magical ingredient that lends Impossible burgers their color and flavor. (The rest of the burger comes from potato, coconut oil, and wheat.)

That burger looks amazing, but I’m not going to Momofuku for it. Luckily, Beyond Meat makes something similarly juicy (albeit with pea protein and beet juice) called the Beyond Burger, and you can buy it at select Whole Foods, one of which is just outside D.C. After psyching myself up by reading favorable reviews, I hopped on the Metro and headed to a participating Whole Foods in Maryland, where I learned the burger was sold out.

Dying to eat a giant hunk of fake meat, I got Beyond’s frozen Beast Burger instead. Here it is next to a frozen vegan patty from Trader Joe’s (Beast Burger on the right, obviously):  

burger3

After six minutes per side in a cast iron pan, it looks like this:

burger1

Very burger-like! Here’s a cross-section:

burger2

Slightly less burger-like. And you know what? It’s pretty good! No one would confuse it for a hamburger made from cow meat, but at this point, that might be asking for too much. These are, after all, plant-based. And by my own admission, I’m not looking for a perfect substitute, just an enjoyable one.

It also had a great macronutrient profile: 16 grams of fat, 7 grams of carbs, 23 grams of protein. With the exception of the carbs (four of which were fiber), that’s about the same macro breakdown for an 80-percent lean beef patty. And seeing as pea protein is just as useful to the body as whey protein, Beyond Meat products are a useful substitute on multiple fronts.

But let’s say you want an even meatier meat substitute. Like, a meat substitute that is made of actual meat.

Lab-grown meat is already here

To compete with real meat, we’ll need not one alternative, but an assortment of them. The wildest one is meat grown in a lab using the stem cells of living cows combined with a serum derived from cow fetuses.

A team of researchers at the University of Maastricht first unveiled “cultured meat” in 2013. Reviewers say it tastes pretty dang close to meat. The U.M. team has been working to refine their methods in the years since, and hope to have a product line by the 2020s.

But for that to happen, they’ll need to reduce the cost. The burger U.M. researchers unveiled in 2013 was worth $330,000; lamb meatballs made by the same process earlier this year cost $18,000 a pound. Consumers won’t be able to afford lab meat any time soon. And whether they’ll want to eat it is another question entirely.

Up Next

Uprising
Robots for Autism Teach Human Emotion
Robots for Autism Teach Human Emotion
Uprising
Robots for Autism Teach Human Emotion
Meet the classroom assistant of the future, a robot for autism therapy that’s teaching special needs students about empathy and emotions.

Meet the classroom assistant of the future, a robot for autism therapy that’s teaching special needs students about empathy and emotions.

Dispatches
A New Stem Cell Treatment Can Heal Burns, Bedsores, and Diabetic Ulcers
A New Stem Cell Treatment Can Heal Burns, Bedsores, and Diabetic Ulcers
Dispatches
A New Stem Cell Treatment Can Heal Burns, Bedsores, and Diabetic Ulcers
In addition to healing injuries, the approach could be useful for repairing skin damage, countering the effects of...

In addition to healing injuries, the approach could be useful for repairing skin damage, countering the effects of aging, and modeling skin cancer.

Dispatches
UV Robots Can Sterilize an ICU in 10 Minutes
UV Disinfection Robots
Dispatches
UV Robots Can Sterilize an ICU in 10 Minutes
UV light destroys bacterial DNA from the inside out, eradicating the toughest pathogens in minutes.

UV light destroys bacterial DNA from the inside out, eradicating the toughest pathogens in minutes.

Dispatches
Glowing Cancer Cells Could Find Hidden Tumors (And Replace Mammograms)
Glowing Cancer Cells Could Find Hidden Tumors (And Replace Mammograms)
Dispatches
Glowing Cancer Cells Could Find Hidden Tumors (And Replace Mammograms)
A new pill can make cancer cells glow under infrared light, and it could eliminate for mammograms.

A new pill can make cancer cells glow under infrared light, and it could eliminate for mammograms.

DIY
Treating Diabetes with a DIY Pancreas
Treating Diabetes with a DIY Pancreas
Watch Now
DIY
Treating Diabetes with a DIY Pancreas
A group of coders created an open source, DIY pancreas to help people with diabetes manage their condition.
Watch Now

Diabetes is a high maintenance and high stakes disease requiring constant monitoring and precise decision-making. What if we could outsource that workload to a machine? That’s what one couple decided to do. They made a homemade pancreas that eases the burden of diabetes care… and then released the design to the public for free.

Coded
How an Exiled Cryptographer is Protecting Journalists in His Native Ethiopia
How an Exiled Cryptographer is Protecting Journalists in His Native Ethiopia
Watch Now
Coded
How an Exiled Cryptographer is Protecting Journalists in His Native Ethiopia
An exiled blogger teaches journalists in his native Ethiopia how to avoid capture
Watch Now

In Ethiopia, the main prison is divided into eight zones. Many refer to the rest of the country as “Zone 9.” But Endalk Chala is fighting back. Chala moonlights as an encryption expert, helping bloggers in his native Ethiopia escape capture and torture.

This is Our Superhuman Future
This is Our Superhuman Future
This is Our Superhuman Future
With Thanksgiving winding down, take some time to join us on a journey to the frontier of medical technology.
By Mike Riggs

With Thanksgiving winding down, take some time to join us on a journey to the frontier of medical technology.

The New Space Race
Can We Make It In Space?
Can We Make It In Space?
Watch Now
The New Space Race
Can We Make It In Space?
What if one day, everything in space was made in space? 3D printing may hold the answer.
Watch Now

NASA intern turned Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Jason Dunn, saw what was holding humans back from colonizing outer space...and decided to do something about it. With his company Made in Space’s cutting-edge 3D printer, astronauts can break their reliance on costly resupply missions from Earth and—for the first time ever—build new supplies for themselves in space. Dunn and his team believe their invention will usher in a new...

A Lay Person's Guide to Biohacking
A Lay Person's Guide to Biohacking
A Lay Person's Guide to Biohacking
We're living in a golden age of people exploring high and low tech methods to optimize our bodies.
By Mike Riggs

We're living in a golden age of people exploring high and low tech methods to optimize our bodies.