"Frankenburger" made his debut this summer. In case you missed him, he's the $300,000+ petri dish hamburger invented by scientist Mark Post that was recently taste-tested by two volunteers, and Post himself, on television. Frankenburger was created from the stem cells of a live cow. The cells spent three months in a special dish where they were soaked, stimulated, and minced. A few other ingredients, like red beet juice and saffron, were added to give Frankenburger the taste and appearance of the real thing.
Whether you love or hate the idea of chowing down on a test tube burger, you've got to admit that the flashy news story surrounding ol' Frank's inception will help educate the masses about the meat industry. Before Frankenburger hit the public radar, this writer ventures to guess that most folks didn't realize the following:
1. Meat Farming Takes Up Lots of Space.
Approximately 30 percent of the Earth's surface area is taken up by the growth and care of livestock, according to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Association (FAO). That's almost one third of all land. Were it evenly distributed, every third house on your block would become a devoted cow pasture/chicken coop/pig pen. 'Twould be quite difficult to sleep at night.
2. The World is Getting Hungrier
According to the same source, the world is going to need 70 percent more food in 2050, thanks to population growth. This adds up to 200 million more tons of livestock than we're eating now. So instead of every third house on your block becoming a cow pasture/chicken coop/pig pen, it would be more like 2.4 /3 houses on your block all night long with the mooing, squawking, and oinking. Pass the Seconal, please!
3.Meat Farming Hurts the Environment in Weird, Yet Dangerous, Ways
Henning Steinfeld of the FAO reports that livestock contribute significantly to "today's most serious environmental problems." Henning is talking about methane gas emissions (stinky manure and flatulence) and the land degradation that comes from maintaining livestock. Even the non-geeks who read nothing but gibberish just now can appreciate the fact that something bad is going to happen if we keep raising cattle for our own carnivorous pleasure.
Carnivores love their meat, and it's not very likely they're going to be shoving steak or, heaven forbid, bacon aside for the above three reasons any time soon. Post realized this when he invented the Frankenburger. Although Post estimates it could be a decade or more before his petri dish meat is commercially available, that still gives us 27 years before 2050. In the mean time, thanks to this Frankenburger news sensation, information about our environmentally dangerous meat industry will slowly trickle into the world's collective conscience, and that's a good thing.
Photo courtesy of Erik Abderhalden