Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
3 Dec

In Vitro Meat

When Winston Churchill, in the 1932 essay “Fifty Years Hence,” mused that “we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium,” he may have been more prescient than credited. Alexis Carrel had already been keeping a cultured chunk of chicken heart “alive” in a Pyrex flask for the past twenty years by feeding it nutrients (though Carrel was only interested in whether cell death was inevitable, not whether meat could be grown in a lab for human consumption). Sci-fi author Frederik Pohl was one man who took the idea of in vitro meat seriously enough to write about it – in the novel The Space Merchants, where cultured meat is the primary source of protein. That was science fiction, sure, but most good sci-fi is borne of the author’s honest opinion of what the future might hold and it’s usually inspired by the scientific advancements of the day. And sometimes, science fiction comes true. Like this time.

Dutch scientists were able to grow pork in a lab test tube. They extracted myoblast cells from the muscle of a living pig, incubated them in a piglet fetus-blood-nutrient solution, and got “a soggy form of pork.” No one’s tried the “pork” due to lab rules, but it’s derived from the same myoblast cells that generate muscle in response to tissue damage in an actual animal – ideally, this would taste exactly like pork muscle meat. They’ve even got plans to “exercise” the tissue, which could conceivably do away with the sogginess and provide a meatier chewing experience.

The Dutch scientists weren’t the first; four years ago, a research paper detailed plans to engineer in vitro meat on a massive, industrial scale, and others have been trying in vain for years to produce a decent lab-grown steak. The soggy pork is perhaps the closest they’ve gotten. Every researcher runs into a couple basic issues. First, there are generally two accepted methods for growing in vitro meat: the generation of either loose muscle cells or structured, “real” muscle. The latter is the ideal path, because it might make cohesive cuts of meat possible, but it’s also the most challenging. Real muscle growth depends on perfusion, or the delivery of arterial blood bearing nutrients to biological tissue, and a similar system might be required for “real” lab grown muscle. Until then, only thin sheets of muscle meat have been grown. These can be compressed into meat sheets or ground up, but a three-dimensional, juicy rare steak is still far off. The easy way out is to grow loose muscle cells, but unless you’re prepared for a future of unrecognizable meat products, you might want to wait for that soggy pork to firm up.

Where do I stand on the idea of in vitro meat? Well, I’m more than a little skeptical as you might imagine. Natural animal reproduction already does a pretty good job at growing meat, and major deviations from the natural order have a spotty track record. Big Pharma, for example, represents one big attempt after another to replace the natural order. It gets things right from time to time – I won’t argue against that – but it also creates unnecessary products that purport to protect patients from conditions that could otherwise be handled through lifestyle modifications. Both Big Pharma and the in vitro meat researchers are trying to understand incredibly complicated physiological processes that took millions of years to develop naturally. The vast interplay between hormones, nutrients, and environmental factors (including exercise, diet, and drugs) in the human body is difficult – if not impossible – to parse, but that’s exactly what medicine tries to do. When you take a drug, you’ve got to hope pharmacists took every possible factor into account. They can make educated guesses, and they’re often right, but not always. Statins, as prescribed, do a helluva job at lowering cholesterol (a pretty pointless gesture, but they do what they say they’ll do – note that they don’t promise reductions in actual heart disease), but they do so by interrupting the same passages used by other important bodily players – like CoQ10. It’s a complex thing, the human body.

Animal bodies are no different, and a steak isn’t just a matrix of muscle cells. It’s got fat (several kinds!), blood vessels, collagen, and different textures (which depend on the activity level of the animal; the lab meat cubes better have access to treadmills). Nutrients have to be shuttled in and waste out (grass-fed in vitro meat?). If you want a real steak with a bloody center, how is that achieved in the lab? Blood pockets? What’s the blood made of? What if I want a cowboy ribeye, bone-in – are they trying to grow bone, too? And I worry about the saturated fat content. One scientist mentioned replacing the Omega 6s with Omega 3s, which sounds promising, but I can only think the next step is to replace the saturated fats with even more Omega 3s (or, shudder, canola oil). Will it even taste the same?

At the same time, I remain open-minded. If they’re able to grow meat with perfect Omega 3/Omega 6 ratios, no hormones, no antibiotics, on a “diet” that recreates real grassy pasture, that tastes like meat, has the same texture as meat, the same saturated fat content as meat – I might be convinced to give it a shot. And if it’s cheaper than grass-fed meat, easier on the environment than industrial farming, and easy to produce on a mass scale without sacrificing quality, why wouldn’t I support it? Remember: I don’t glorify the ancestral, natural ways because they are ancestral and natural. It’s just that paying attention to evolution and being wary of modern “improvements” has paid off. The Primal Blueprint works. If in vitro meat works (and it’s proven beyond a doubt that it’s identical to real meat – a tall order, I grant you), why shouldn’t we give it a shot?

Still, I can’t help but doubt it. It’s not so much that I’m wary of processed food, because perfect in vitro meat that recreates actual meat is theoretically different than HFCS, boxed goods, and industrial vegetable oils, and it has the potential to revolutionize food (you mean I get to eat a black panther steak? Sign me up!); it’s that following the natural order has been so good to me. I eat according to human evolution, I exercise in accordance with my body’s design, and things have generally worked out well. Eating real steak raised the way it was intended to live has also worked out okay. I’ll keep my real meat for now and watch warily from the sidelines, curious and always skeptical.

Both Pohl and Churchill were undoubtedly inspired by Carrel’s experiment, but the prevailing public opinion was that the decades-old chicken heart was an abomination. It still lived when Carrel died, 28 years later, but the experiment was soon halted. If it weren’t for the negative public reaction, that chicken heart might still be pumping today. I suspect the initial public reaction to in vitro meat would be pretty similar, but what do you think?

Would you eat in vitro meat, provided it was completely identical to pastured, organic meat?

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If no, what would it take to convince you? Anything? Is there any possible scenario in which in vitro meat is a good thing for this world? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Are you for real? Seriously…

    Jeremy wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  2. I’m sorry. It’s just creepy.

    Diana Renata wrote on December 3rd, 2009
    • Creepy indeed, Diana. Gut reaction is I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

      Mark Sisson wrote on December 3rd, 2009
      • Personally I wouldn’t touch the meat. But another thing has just occurred to me. Does this mean that we could grow our own muscle and have it transplanted at a later date? Maybe a set of biceps or a rectus abdominus for example? I’ll be surprised if that hasn’t been thought of yet. Not that I’d be interested of course, I much prefer the natural method. But I can see the attraction for some people of going under the knife as an easy option. If they are willing to put silicon in there bodies, then the prospect of having their own home grown muscle would be much more appealing.

        Paul wrote on December 4th, 2009
      • Not natural+ Laboratory= Red Flags

        Al wrote on December 6th, 2009
    • I couldn’t agree more. Creep-tastic!

      Jason wrote on December 4th, 2009
  3. Mark, I know this is off topic, but I noticed you will be at Catalyst Athletics on Sunday night, then Diablo CF on Monday. Any other dates in Northern Cali in the upcoming weeks? Thanks

    Danny wrote on December 3rd, 2009
    • Danny, just those dates for now.

      Mark Sisson wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  4. Where do I stand on the idea of in vitro meat? Well, I’m more than a little skeptical as you might imagine.

    “Skeptical” isn’t the word that comes to mind for me… “disgusted”? Yeah, that comes closer!

    I just think of all the times Man has tried to duplicate what Nature has already perfected… and I think we should just let Nature do its job. There are just so many factors that a lab can’t even touch, no matter how hard they try…

    Besides, isn’t grass-fed meat expensive enough as it is? I can’t imagine test-tube meat being any better, on any front (cost, taste, nutrient value, environmental impact, etc.).

    Adam Kayce wrote on December 3rd, 2009
    • Theoretically, it could be cheaper because cattle require a lot of grazing land to produce mean. Granted, I think I would let other people experiment with this for a couple of decades before I gave it a try.

      Jon wrote on December 3rd, 2009
    • I’m especially worried about environmental impact. I can’t imagine that growing 500 lbs of meat in a lab is less damaging to the environment than raising a cow on pasture – and with actual cattle you have potential for milk, as well as byproducts like blood, bone and manure for use as fertilizer and skin for use as clothing. The cow wins out, methinks.

      I tend to think (or is it hope?) that in vitro meat and hydroponic farms are a futuristic fantasy that will never come to pass.

      Icarus wrote on December 5th, 2009
      • It’s important to think in terms of the energy cycle. Essentially all food energy comes from the sun. If the sun shines on a path of land over several months, delivering 1000 calories of energy, a plant will soak up something like 30 calories of that solar energy and turn it into chemical energy (i.e., things that can be burned for energy: wood, carbs, fat, protein, etc.).

        If cattle then eat these plants, they transform this 30 calories into about 3 calories of energy. Therefore, when you eat 3 calories worth of meat, you are “eating” 1000 calories worth of sunlight, but if you eat 3 calories worth of plants, you are “eating” just 100 calories of sunlight.

        If meat could be grown in a lab, it might be possible to improve the efficiency, since the meat would not be part of a living organism that ran around using up a lot of the solar energy that it “ate” before we could eat it. Still, I wouldn’t want to eat this chemist’s meat until millions of other people had done so for decades with no ill effects.

        Jon wrote on December 6th, 2009
  5. Even holding true to the evolutionary theory, which I do not personally accept, the prospect of lab produced meat seems to fly in the face of what drives the developement of our species. Will you be happy to sit in a lounger when they invent an artificial form of excersize?

    chute wrote on December 3rd, 2009
    • “evolutionary theory, which I do not personally accept”

      Excuse my rudeness, but why are you here? Mark’s whole philosophy on exercise, diet, and lifestyle are all based on the fact that humans HAVE evolved this way for 100,000+ years.

      Mike wrote on December 3rd, 2009
      • This site offers a dearth of good information, whether or not you accept evolutionary theory. Don’t be a hater!

        Kristin J wrote on December 3rd, 2009
        • I’ll second that, Kristin. You don’t have to accept evolution to gain the amazing health benefits of The Primal Blueprint. We’re all here to learn, to question, to grow, and to be healthier, happier people. I don’t care what your background, the more the merrier.

          Mark Sisson wrote on December 3rd, 2009
        • Not being a hater. I’m just wondering why someone who is most likely very set in their religious beliefs (which even though I am not, I can respect it, as my parents are both traditional Catholics) is on a blog where evolution is talked about on a weekly (or daily on the forum) basis.

          Mike wrote on December 3rd, 2009
        • Hi Kristin,
          A minor point–I think you meant “plethora”, not “dearth”, above. These antonyms are sometimes confused.

          Cheers!

          Ed wrote on December 3rd, 2009
      • I won’t presume to respond for chute, but as one who also does not recognize evolution as fact but gets this RSS feed daily, I thought I’d share why I personally see no disconnect.

        From a strict Biblical perspective, humankind has been making bad decisions since Eve listened to the wrong advisor and ate from the tree, Adam followed without questioning and then pushed Eve under the bus, figuratively speaking, when he was asked about it by God. All manner of bad things followed, including death (and the poor health that leads to death). I’ll stop here to avoid starting a religious debate :-). My point is there’s no reason to think those poor decisions don’t flow over into food, exercise and lifestyle, any more than poor decisions by post-Grok peoples would have. Anyone,regardless of how they think the world and mankind got started, can try out the Primal lifestyle and recognize that it works – as it has for my husband and me for almost a year now. The theory on why it works doesn’t really matter to me – the how, the fact that it does, and learning how to make it work better do. Hence, the reason I’m here …

        SG wrote on December 3rd, 2009
        • Thanks for the response! I, personally, am a huge fan of the “why?” and ask it often about everything, which is why I didn’t quite understand chute being here. The way you put it, though, makes sense!

          To each his own. Cheers! :)

          Mike wrote on December 3rd, 2009
        • if adam and eve created the first baby and he was white, where do black people come from?

          brad taylor wrote on January 24th, 2012
      • I rescind my hater comment. I see where you were coming from now. These darn blogs aren’t very good at conveying intent :)

        Kristin J wrote on December 3rd, 2009
        • You should read “The greatest show on Earth” by Richard Dawkins. It talks about how Evolution is a fact, provides evidence to it, and how it is not merely a “hypothesis” to evaluate truth falsehood. Evolution is real and anyone who tries to find evidence against it, fails to do so. Every time.

          Jeromie wrote on December 4th, 2009
    • “Will you be happy to sit in a lounger when they invent an artificial form of excersize?”

      You haven’t been following the news. Artificial exercise already exists! (google “exercise in a pill”)

      Jon wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  6. The principal benefit of this kind of research is creating transplant tissue and organs for humans. Lost a leg? Liver given out? No problem we’ll just grow you a new one.

    Whilst we are a long way from that, simple things have already been tried. I believe replacement bladder wall tissue but I couldn’t find the link.

    As for the meat; I think I’ll pass. If the want people interested they should never have used the phrase “soggy pork”.

    P.S. Love the site. Is the book available in Australia? Haven’t seen it in any bookstores here.

    PeterB wrote on December 3rd, 2009
    • You can order the book on

      http://www.primalblueprint.com/

      We’ll ship anywhere in the world.

      The book is on many bookstore shelves here in the states. I don’t think we have worldwide distribution… Yet! Cheers!

      Mark Sisson wrote on December 3rd, 2009
      • Thanks. Just ordered my copy!

        PeterB wrote on December 3rd, 2009
        • Thanks for the order and enjoy the book, PeterB!

          Mark Sisson wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  7. I hope that the purpose of this experiment was not to produce meat for consumption. Sure, this technology could be transferred to regrowing human organs in the future, but if the purpose was to produce food, there is a serious problem with the distribution of research grants. It not only worries me, it sickens me to my stomach.

    From a scientific perspective though, this is amazing progress. (I just threw up a little)

    Sam wrote on December 3rd, 2009
    • What, you don’t fancy soggy pork, Sam? ;)

      Mark Sisson wrote on December 3rd, 2009
      • Not quite Mark, haha. Maybe if it was a matter of life and death :p .

        Sam wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  8. At one time, I would have been all for it.

    Now, not so much. Not at all, in fact, unless the alternative was soy-based faux-food.

    gcb wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  9. I’d say that I too am “open-minded” about this, but not very hopeful. Open-minded because if they were to do it right and create a meat product that (1) mimics nature and (2) is easy/easier on the environment than traditional farming, then they’ll have gone a long way toward providing what could be a low cost and very healthy way to feed the billions of people on the planet without tons upon tons of grains and the ecological stress that goes with that.

    My lack of hope comes from the fact that they’re more likely to aim for a low fat meat product because it’s “healthier” than natural meats.

    Dan wrote on December 3rd, 2009
    • Feeding billions of people surely will require tons upon tons of whatever the stuff is made of.

      Everything comes from the good mother earth.

      Al wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  10. Mmm… sheet meat. Uh, no thanks.

    In vitro anything raises my suspicions. There are things that can’t be quantified or measured. I wouldn’t care if they could run down the nutrient list and produce something that had the same attributes of the real deal. There are just too many things that we just don’t have the knowledge on to start trying to duplicate mother nature. We’re just wee, little peons in this game.

    I’m with you on the fallout we endure from messing with the natural order of this great, big ball we live on. Blah, count me out.

    Tara wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  11. Mike, because I believe when it comes to diet and excersize, the theories of what man was “created” to do or “evolved” to do (depending on your perspective)doesnt change what is profitable for man to do. I dont come here for theology, just advice from a learned man on whats good for my body.

    chute wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  12. Creepy?Maybe.Stupid?Of course.For those in the creepy camp how do you feel about killing,gutting,skinning, and cutting your own real meat?

    OLDDUDE wrote on December 3rd, 2009
    • I just gutted an elk and can’t wait for that organic, grass-fed goodness to get dry-aged and in my freezer. I even kept the heart and liver (his liver weighed at least 10 lbs) for some good organ meats. Yes, field dressing an animal is a little bloody, but “cultured meat” is just plain creepy.

      For the record, I let a professional game processor cut/grind the meat. I don’t have those skills.

      Jason wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  13. If we can recreate the nutrient concentrations of the blood and plasma of a grass-fed hervivore, I’m *ALL OVER* those meat sheets.

    SerialSinner wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  14. If it was proven to be impossible to devise a test that could distinguish in vitro meat from real grass-fed beef, I would consider it.

    Given the “starter culture” method, I’m assuming that the meat would be cloned, which raises an additional set of questions. For instance, what if all the meat we consumed came from the DNA of only 100 animals, or 10, or fewer? Would this impact our immune systems? What about our overall health?

    Kristin J wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  15. Would you eat in vitro meat, provided it was completely identical to pastured, organic meat?

    In theory yes, can theory be perfectly put into practice? In this case I think no. We humans are smart but in practice we are are imperfect. No way we make it identical no matter how careful we are. We need to recognize where our possible limitations are when we attempt to “play God (nature)”.

    Michael wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  16. Hmmm … Next time, forget Noah’s Ark.

    All we’ll need is Noah’s Hydroponic Lab.

    Jim Purdy wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  17. Speaking of creating low fat meat… have you seen the new low fat avacodoes? They are bred to have less fat in them. They are also about 2-3 times the size of the others. I havn’t had one, and I’m not either. Who wants and avacodo with less fat besides those who aren’t clued in? Like my classical-trainned cook cousin says “fat is flavor”. And as it turns out, a lot of other good things too.

    Dave, RN wrote on December 3rd, 2009
    • Dammit, the high fat content is why avocados taste good. Reminds me of Texas A&M, I think, breeding a jalapeno pepper without heat.

      jamesf3i wrote on December 4th, 2009
  18. Well said Chute, I second that – and many thanks to the wise man for sharing his knowledge!

    In vitro meat…. that’s weird stuff though….

    Cajsa wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  19. So, what would they call this stuff?

    N-Meat-Ro?

    Meat-us (from Fetus)?

    I know they can grow ears from mouse parts for soldiers injured in the Gulf, but eating meat like this doesn’t seem natural.

    I’ll pass.

    Jeff P wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  20. I can’t even finish reading this!

    Katie wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  21. Provided it had the same taste and nutirional profile as the types of “natural” meat I already find acceptable, I would absolutely eat in vitro meat.

    Man survives by the use of his mind. Even the most basic things like hunting, cleaning, and cooking meat are for humans conceptual activities. Unlike animals we are not equipped with the physical characteristics necessary to acquire food. Our minds are our claws and our fangs. We have to understand things abstractly, and then do things like adjust our behavior, camoflauge ourselves, or build weapons in order to hunt. I see growing meat in vitro as just the most advanced example of man using his mind in service of his survival.

    Grant wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  22. I would be quite concerned that the test tube meat would have some subtle differences we didn’t know about that would adversely affect our health and well being.

    Bob wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  23. I dont want to get way off topic but the subject does bring up the benefits of local grown sustainable meats as opposed to mass produced corporate foods. I think laboratory produced meat would fall in the latter category. Just a different type of stockyard if you will.It may be cleaner and environmentally less intrusive, but still mass produced by a corporation which by default means my health will be weighed against profitibilty and return on the research and shareholder expectations. I’d rather kill it myself or atleast know the guy who raised it and killed it for me.

    chute wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  24. I love Katie’s comment above. I think it nicely illustrates the gut reaction of disgust. I know I feel it, too. The poll seems to be showing that though there is both a good constituency of those that find this appalling, abhorrent, and just plain gross (among other reasons to not be interested in consuming in vitro meat) and those that, under perfect conditions, wouldn’t have a problem with franken franks – the good meat is good meat crowd.

    Mark Sisson wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  25. Noting could convince me to eat test tube meat, nothing. Why can’t people just stop messing with nature?

    kateri wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  26. Mark, exactly why are you the least bit concerned about saturated fat? It is much better for you than unsaturated fats, especially those derived from vegetable sources.

    TX CHL Instructor wrote on December 3rd, 2009
    • I think you misinterpreted what I said above. I’m a sat fat lover. I’d be concerned those in control of the meat would cut out the sat fat.

      Mark Sisson wrote on December 3rd, 2009
      • I’d be extremely surprised if they left the sat fats in, since one of the primary talking points for in meatro (heh heh) is that it could be grown to have a “healthier” nutrition profile. Presumably, this means that every cut will taste like beef round and skinless chicken breast. Yet another reason to skip this latest (albeit thankfully far off) franken food concept.

        Icarus wrote on December 5th, 2009
  27. I don’t consider the nutritional benefits of local/”real” foods and the economic benefits of corporate/”fake” foods to be mutually exclusive.

    I think that if not for massive government distortions of the food production market and not to mention scientific research (which work symbiotically to make one another worse every day), it would be perfectly possible for high-quality “real” food to be mass-produced.

    Growing food in vitro (assuming all of the scientific/nutiritional complications could be overcome) would just be the next step beyond that already far-off step.

    Grant wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  28. I’m all for it. And that’s not because I’m Dutch myself.

    One of the scientists who worked on it just appeared on a popular television show here in the Netherlands. His name is Mark Post, and he’s a vascular biologist at the University of Eindhoven. In the interview he indicated that the technology is obviously far from ready for real world applications, and that a lot of research and funds would still be required to possibly reach that point. Fortunately, if/when they do get there the technology could be used not only or necessarily to produce meat for consumption; it might be especially useful to replace or renew human organs when needed, for example.

    pieterfromholland wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  29. Breaking News…..”We have developed a viable in vitro meat product”
    McDonalds Executive…” What can we add to make it cheaper and last for years”

    :)

    Ric wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  30. If you could grow meat this way it would give people even less reason to look after the environment.

    Phil wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  31. If you grow human organs this way it would also give people even less reason to look after themselves through adequate diet and exercise.

    Phil wrote on December 3rd, 2009
    • There are a lot of things that cause organ damage besides not eating right and taking care of ourselves. What about toxins? We are creating more and more each day and what about birth defects? What about injuries? What about the government and nutrition establishment advising people to eat foods that are damaging to the body, like grains?

      I think growing human organs is great. We have these giant complex brains, using them to save and extend life is a good thing not in same category as “exercise in a pill”.

      thecarla wrote on December 4th, 2009
  32. Know what this post brings to mind???

    Soylent Green is PEOPLE!!!

    Geoff wrote on December 3rd, 2009
    • best comment ever.

      Liana wrote on December 3rd, 2009
    • Uh boy. I had said I would eat the in vitro meat if it was a complete meat but this SOYLENT GREEN comment just made me change my mind.

      Mark, I retract my ‘yes’ vote.

      Nope, in vitro meat ain’t gonna make it to my grill.

      jamesf3i wrote on December 4th, 2009
  33. I wonder what this meat would cost, particularly if it actually did meet Primal standards.

    Aside from the “ick” factor, my distrust of governments comes into play; I can’t imagine that this process would be free from government meddling. Who knows what the result of that would be.

    Someone once said, “I’d rather trust a cow than a chemist”. I’m still pretty much in that camp.

    alpowolf wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  34. Mark, regarding the following excerpt from the blog post:

    “And if it’s cheaper than grass-fed meat, easier on the environment than industrial farming, and easy to produce on a mass scale without sacrificing quality, why wouldn’t I support it? Remember: I don’t glorify the ancestral, natural ways because they are ancestral and natural.”

    Can’t the same argument be made in favor of more traditional veganism? Livestock use something like 10 times the crop land per calorie as plant-based food because they need to run around, stay warm, and generally keep their bodies working, wasting many of the calories from the plants they ate.

    What if a vegan diet were devised that supplied a primal balance of nutrients? Are you open to the possibility that there’s a way to mix nutritional yeast, algae, and vegetables to achieve a primal nutrient balance? More to the point, what can’t you get from vegetables, yeast, and algae, aside from the taste of meat?

    Jon wrote on December 3rd, 2009
    • BTW, I didn’t mean you’d be restricted to just yeast, algae, and veggies, but yeast is almost all protein and supplies lots of B vitamins (usually supplied by meat), and some algae is rich in long-chain omega-3s, solving a couple of the obvious deficiencies of a vegan diet relative to a primal one (plus palm/coconut oil and other nuts for plenty of fat). It is already clear that some vegans are able to thrive quite well, with long, healthy lives, and probably with 75% less impact on the environment than meat-eaters like me have. Just a thought.

      Jon wrote on December 3rd, 2009
    • Actually, livestock only use 10 times the cropland per calorie as plant-based food when livestock is fed industrially produced grain. When livestock is raised entirely on pasture, the per-calorie cost is almost even.

      As a second point, pastured animals can graze on land unavailable for row crops thereby increasing the food-producing land. And even better than that, the livestock grazing and pooping on pasture will almost always increase the amount of topsoil on that pasture where the same amount of plant-based calories from row-crops will dramatically reduce the total topsoil.

      Modern agriculture is the enemy that you and I should both be upset about. Humanely raised and slaughtered animals, their flesh, and their excretions can be essential parts of a sustainable human-friendly ecosystem.

      Ross wrote on December 4th, 2009
      • What’s your source on the grazing stat?

        I think I remember something in the Omnivore’s Dilemma about grazing cattle using slightly less land than grain-fed cattle, but still there was a large factor difference between eating plant-fed livestock and eating the plants directly. This seems like common sense to me because you’re cutting one step out of the food chain. Humans can’t derive energy from the cellulose, like cattle, but we can grow different crops that have a greater percentage of human-available calories.

        I agree poop makes good fertilizer, but if you’re trying to extract the maximum number of calories from cropland while building up the soil, you probably would not want to eat the livestock that are doing the fertilizing, because this would require the raising of even more cattle than you would need just to fertilize the soil.

        Your point about raising livestock on marginal land is valid, though the hope would be that eventually the soil would be built up so the land would become fully arable.

        Jon wrote on December 5th, 2009
        • Unfortunately, I don’t think you’ll want to read my reference. It’s “The Vegetarian Myth” by Lierre Keith. The Polyphase Farm (the same farm in Omnivore’s Dilemma) is indeed the counter-example and they put down about 1″ of new topsoil on their pasture every year with minimal external fertilizer. Polyphase and other similarly integrated farms also produce meat that on a per-calorie basis is only 5% more expensive when measured by fresh water consumption and 10% more expensive when measured by land area.

          Almost all of the statistics that are part and parcel of the veg*n talking points are based on CAFO-produced (industrial) meat. This blog and forum are populated by people who understand the problem of CAFO-produced meat but who see the solution to almost all of the problems as: pastured animals and animal products.

          I’m a hunter as well as a buyer of pasture raised meat. I have no problem with the circle of life (it involves death) and my part in it. I do try to make my contribution involve as little cruelty as possible, but as a hunter, I know for a fact that skillful killing is not cruel.

          Ross Bagley wrote on December 6th, 2009
        • @Ross, I’m neither a vegan nor a vegetarian. In fact, I believe I eat more meat than the average American. However, my principle reason for doing so is to help ensure health.

          My understanding from the OD is that Polyface is only more efficient in terms of calories per acre compared to *grain-fed cattle*. Even then, they are similar. The key advantage of pastured beef is soil erosion does not occur and the cattle are healthier. Every source I’ve seen online quotes a ratio of at least 5:1 for plant calories per acre compared to animal calories per acre, and this agrees with common sense. Actually, I found one source that claimed we could produce over 100x as many calories per acre if there were a way to convert electricity from solar panels into edible calories (100x compared to sugar, and probable 1000x compared to meat).

          If you have a specific source that claims otherwise, please provide a citation.

          Jon wrote on December 7th, 2009
        • Even a cursory counting of the eggs, chickens, pigs, and cows slaughtered each year on Polyface Farm puts the farm within a 10% caloric yield per acre of modern row crops (and within 5% for fresh water consumption, largely because water consumed by pastured animals hydrates the animal and then irrigates/fertilizes the pasture).

          The numbers are found in the already mentioned “The Vegetarian Myth” by Lierre Keith. My copy is on loan, so I can’t look up her numbers, but you could give Joel Saladin a call and ask him.

          A few questions I have: are you including modern fertilizer in your crop density numbers? Almost all of the available numbers do exactly that, and that spells trouble for the medium term economics of row crops. Second question: have you ever looked at calories per unit of topsoil lost? Topsoil is an extremely important renewable resource that is in increasingly short supply and is probably the first limiting factor in the sustainability of modern agriculture. If you’re not including that in your vegetable vs. meat analysis, you’re not measuring enough.

          Finally, I don’t accept your implied assertion that we should be maximizing food production to the exclusion of other concerns. Within sustainable and ethical food production constraints (which I feel are more important), even if we do want to maximize calories produced, I believe that Joel Saladin clearly demonstrates that animals and animal products are essential and central parts of any sustainable process.

          Meat isn’t just healthy for you, it’s healthy for the planet and our future on it.

          Ross wrote on December 7th, 2009
        • I’m assuming the plants are grown organically and sustainably because every credible source I’ve seen suggests that yield does not need to be sacrificed to produce food in this manner as long as the farmer knows how to farm in this way (as opposed to the mindless till, dump-seed, dump-fertilizer, dump pesticide process).

          I want maximum *sustainable* food production per acre of farm/ranch because holding everything else equal (this includes public health) this enables us to protect more of our disappearing wilderness. It’s also a more conservative approach to the environment I think. With more wild areas, common sense suggests that our impact on the environment will be lower and we will be at a lower risk of sudden environmental catastrophe.

          If you could show me that dedicating land exclusively to the production of animals for consumption yields a higher number of calories per acre-year than when it’s used primarily for plant production (with minimal animal use to ensure fertile topsoil), then I would be all for a nearly totally carnivorous diet. However, I think the burden of proof is on you because common sense and my cursory googling both support my current belief that using land primarily to produce vegan calories is a more efficient use of the land.

          Jon wrote on December 9th, 2009
    • The chief environmental problem is overpopulation, period. Producing more food, as veganism promises to do (and I don’t doubt it), would only exacerbate that problem. Humans are like any other animal: increase food supply and you will see an increase in population. In the opposite direction, population CANNOT outstrip food supply. So reduce food production drastically and you will reduce both the number of people and the impact of their food. Unpleasant? Perhaps, but the vegan “solution” is pie-in-the-sky when it promises to INCREASE food supply… which just adds more people.

      Also, nutritional yeast must be supplemented in order for it to contain adequate amounts of vitamin B12, so for all practical purposes that’s not an option. Would you suggest we manufacture it (in labs that are sure to be more eco-friendly than a cow! oh wait) or that we eat our own feces?

      Icarus wrote on December 5th, 2009
      • The question of the size of the population can be separated from how we feed that population. The hope is that the demographics that have exploding populations will soon use family planning to voluntarily control their numbers (this is what happens in all advanced countries on average).

        Holding population fixed, the benefit of a more vegan food supply is that we can restore more areas to their pristine wild condition and generally have a lower impact on the planet.

        Jon wrote on December 6th, 2009
        • “Holding population fixed, the benefit of a more vegan food supply is that we can restore more areas to their pristine wild condition and generally have a lower impact on the planet.”

          Um, I’m sorry but this this statement is categorically false. “Vegan” food supplies are substantially more destructive of natural environments than pastured animals in which all calories taken are either animal flesh or animal excretions.

          You really need to read “The Vegetarian Myth” and soon. Good luck to you. I hope, for the sake of your health and our planet’s future, that you do read Lierre’s book and that you internalize many of the lessons within.

          Ross wrote on December 7th, 2009
        • @Ross

          I’m simply saying there’s less wasted calories when you don’t eat the animals. You can still have them there to fertilize and build the soil. You just need less of them if you’re not going to eat them as well as use them to fertilize the soil.

          Jon wrote on December 12th, 2009
  35. If we did the same thing to meat as we did agriculture, I guess it would make sense. But at the same time, you don’t fight fire with fire.

    Therefore, no. I woudn’t upset the natural order

    Evan Geiger wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  36. Soggy pork … yum yum, where do I sign up? I don’t know, the whole thing just seems kind of Frankenstein-ish to me. I don’t think I’d be able to trust in-vitro meat even were it ‘proven’ to be completely identical in every way to organic, grass-fed meat.

    But who knows? Perhaps it will eventually become inevitable, or even a solution to food supply problems. And the reality is that every new idea is first ridiculed, then accepted, and eventually praised. I know 5 years ago I ridiculed the idea of eating fat to lose fat and now I do nothing but sing the praises of that reality!

    Kat Eden wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  37. Hey, I am a very conservative Catholic, and I am not the least bit offended by talk of “evolution”. I don’t care how long or short the time was to bring us on this wonderful planet. I just know we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”, and we were made to be on top of the food chain!

    Jason, I process my own deer, and have the skills necessary to do a much larger critter, but not the facilities to do our own grass fed steers here in the SC heat. I did de-bone an old cow for my guardian dogs last January, though. They also thrive on primal food.

    I would say no to the fake meat. Haven’t they already tried something like that with “mycoprotein” from fusarium mold? “Quorn”.

    Low fat avacados taste awful…..

    Derrickson wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  38. People have been eating it for years, afterall isn’t that what Spam and Spork is, soggy pork with the soggyness pressed out of it :-)

    JW wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  39. It sounds like a new form of frankenfood.

    I also have feelings against moving away from what is natural. I know you say that you don’t do the primal diet because it’s natural, but to me nature is an important part of it. In my mind, meat comes from living feeling and thinking creatures, and when you eat them you form a relationship with them and what they ate and etc. If you start growing slabs of flesh in a lab then that whole connection is lost. The best meals I’ve ever had were those I caught myself (fish mainly, I haven’t hunted yet) because even though killing the animal is a sad moment for me, there are feelings of gratitude and some other mushy deep feelings I can’t really describe. And then I thought that being primal meant staying connected to our roots and not losing our animal senses (since they are simple things which worked for our ancestors, and should work for us too.)

    Even though innovation does give us new useful things, sometimes it’s best to just stick to the simple things that already work. I usually don’t trust things that try to edit or “improve” upon nature. Honestly, I don’t think nature can be improved upon, it’s so freaking complex, even if we _think_ we understand it, we’ll never understand all of it.

    Liana wrote on December 3rd, 2009
  40. All this modern food makes me wonder whether come 20 years time we will still be able to find real food easily. There is so much FrankenFood which is eaten as a staple by society, makes me think about the demand for rarer varieties of vegetables and fruit.

    Here is to hoping that movements like this will kick up demand and show people what is real…..

    Great post Mark!

    Chris - Zen to Fitness wrote on December 4th, 2009
    • I think as long as people like us still demand real and organically grown foods they’ll still have to provide it. Just in the last few years all the grocery stores carry SO much more organic stuff, and I think that’s totally about what Americans are demanding from them more and more. We just have to keep making our voices heard and stand up for ourselves and our health. And we have to teach our kids to stay away from frankenfoods, too. Because they’re voices will be the ones the country listens to most 20 years from now!

      Robin S. wrote on December 4th, 2009

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