For all its negatives, including its environmental impact and animal cruelty, meat seems to have a taste that can’t be matched. A rich source of protein, vitamins and minerals, meat helps our muscles recover, and our brains develop. Today, all of these functions can be replaced by plant-based alternatives. But for many, the taste of meat is unique enough to overcome any objection to killing.
Of course, meat isn’t just a preference — for many social-economic groups, meat is seen as essential to bolstering a diet poor in many alternatives. This perception is beginning to overturn as plant-based options become more accessible and widely available. Sporting all the taste and flavour of meat, these plant-based goodies should replace the need for meat.
3D printing again promises to make this process cheaper and more accurate shortly. So, whether you’re a meat fanatic or someone with limited financial options, indeed 3D-printed meat should hold all the answers.
3D printing food has been an idea since the early 2000s for dairy and meat-based products. In 2006 Fab@Home became the first multi-material printer to emerge, making 3D printing more complex meals possible. In 2018 Novameat printed the first-ever beef steak, bringing meat into the 3D print realm.
The process involves using plant-based materials broken down to mimic the structure and texture of blood, muscle and fat; printing in rows can even achieve the same look as meat to the naked eye.
However, the high cost of this meat and its competition against other plant-based methods mean that 3D-printed food hasn’t taken the mass market by storm in the last four years. Another objection, strangely enough, has been an aversion to the whole process of printing meat, which seems strange and unfamiliar to those used to eating dead animals.
So can 3D meat overcome these obstacles?
Redefine Meat in Israel attempts to overcome the steep learning curve to get people tasting and purchasing as much 3D-printed meat as possible. A partnership has been struck with importer Giraudi Meats to distribute their product around Europe after a $170 million fundraiser allowed them to establish a headquarters and expand into the Netherlands.
Redefine Meats use a unique blend of soy and pea proteins, chickpeas, beetroot, nutritional yeasts and coconut fat to achieve the texture and taste of real meat. Depending on the demand, their machines are even programmed to adjust for marbling, fat, size, texture and shape. And, without any bones or other unnecessary uglies that go with the meat business, a 3D printer could save a lot on the costs of butchers, farmers and transport.
The current cost of production, however, is around $40 per kilo, meaning that the meat has more or less remained a dish for high-end European restaurants only. But, with a thousand signed up already, Refine Meats feel they’re achieving their goals just by helping cut down on some meat use. As breeding meat animals are responsible for one-third of the planet’s water consumption, take up 45% of the earth’s surface and result in the extension of species and deforestation of many areas, anything suggests Chief Executive Eshchar Ben-Shitrit, is better than nothing.
So will widespread influence ever change?
Predictions are that 3D-printed meat could reach 10% of the meat market, grossing around $140 billion by 2029. The actual figure is highly speculative, as it depends on the inflation rate and a change in attitudes. Much of the market is expected to remain staunchly traditional, although food giant Nestle has successfully introduced plant-based alternatives into all areas of the food sector. However, printed meat might stay that step too far.
The ethical side of 3D meat
For some, particularly strict vegetarians and vegans, the idea that food must mimic meat is disturbing. The detail that goes into creating something as close to natural as possible serves as a reminder of animal products, blood and guts — not something to chow down on.
While each of our Earthans will have to decide for themselves, we see why some might have an aesthetic and moral objection to trying to mimic meat. For those interested, thousands of plant-based recipes deliver just as much flavour, protein and other health benefits without the ‘unnecessary’ window dressing.
3D meat does feel a step in the right direction if it can help change the attitudes of those who can’t get enough of the taste. Hopefully, the price will continue to decrease soon, making this product's market viability more available.
And who knows, the future dinner table will be printed from a garden dreamt up on a computer, sampling all our planet's unique flavours. Of course, the raw materials will still have to be grown — but imagine how much more efficiently we could feed the planet with just a few varieties of soybeans and mushrooms, creating any desire that might tickle our fancy. Mushroom eclair, anyone?
- “New Zealand ranks third in the world for veganism” on NZ Herald. Date Published: 14th January 2019. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3Tx0oVB.
- Koltrowitz, Silke, Marzel, Lee. “Redefine Meat strikes partnership to boost 3D-printed meat sales in Europe” on Reuters. Date Published: 14th October, 2022. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3EnvuKM.
- Shepherd, Sam. “3D Printed Meat: The Future of Commercial Cuisine” on Sourced. Date Published: 14th October, 2022. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3G5FVnC.
About the author - meet Earthan James McCulloch
James is a literary student and environmental enthusiast who likes thinking about the better futures we could have (and those we best avoid). When not playing with other people’s dogs or taking long, mindful walks, he’s usually found reading and writing, often at the local library. You can check him out on his blog for something a little different, where he talks about all things literary or otherwise.