Four years ago I reserved a restaurant table for January 8, 2028 (this is not a typo, …twenty eight!) at Bistro In Vitro. The restaurant plans to open its doors on January 2, 2028 so this was the first available Saturday for a family dinner. You may think I’m crazy, but when you try to book a table now, it is already fully booked for the first 20 months and the next available seats are in August 2029.
What makes this restaurant so special? It was announced at the launch of the “In Vitro Meat Cookbook”, an award winning publication of Next Nature Network that contained the results of a design contest for the application of lab-grown meat. This may sound exotic, and indeed it is, but raising cattle for meat production is one of the most polluting, energy inefficient and unethical ways of producing food and in the long run unsustainable to feed an increasingly affluent world population. Is there a more sustainable alternative (besides everyone becoming vegetarian)?
The design contest was a call for proposals with the following brief: if we can grow meat in vitro, completely uncoupled from animals except for some stem cells to start the culture, what sort of dishes could you come up with. The result was a hilarious series of cooking recipes, some really novel ideas and some gross dishes (the book is still for sale, links below). The book contains thought-provoking assays from scientists, philosophers and chefs and aims to inspire an educated debate. One hell of a conversation starter for Christmas dinner, not?
The most expensive hamburger ever
“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”
Churchill was ahead of his time when he said that. Change has to begin somewhere and at the start it is the dream of a small number of individuals. In this series of articles I intend to walk you through the embryonic phases of a fundamental change we are going to see in the next 2-4 decades.
One of the pioneers is Prof. Mark Post from the Maastricht University, who began to research the growth of cow muscle cells at microscopic scale. It took several years to get to the stage where he could even contemplate larger scale production. A financial injection from Sergey Brin, one of the Google founders, brought momentum to the project to produce the first in-vitro grown hamburger. It took a massive amount of culture bottles and a fine-tuned mix of chemicals and foetal calf serum to get the cells growing into something that could be described as tiny muscles. After harvesting, all tissue were mixed with red beet extract to get the color resemble more like meat, and squeezed in the well known pattie form. In August 2013 this hamburger was prepared on live BBC-breakfast television and tasted by a culinary journalist, the presenters and Mark Post. “Not bad at all…” was the verdict of the culinary specialist. With a cost price of $ 300,000 we’re not talking MacDonalds here.
Prof. Mark Post in the middle (BBC breakfast)
Now this is a far cry from feeding the world of course. I was very sceptical at the beginning and thought this approach would never be economically feasible, but in my next article I will show some recent developments that made me change my mind. The Bistro In Vitro may even open years ahead of its planning!
By the way, I hope to pay for my dinner in 2028 with 0.002 EOS, drinks included.