Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World

Read in Dec 2018
Book by Paul Shapiro published in 2018

I try my best to write a short summary/review of the books I read, and this is one of them. I typically publish them on Goodreads, but also sync them to here.

Growing meat outside of an animal has always seemed like dark magic to me. I wanted to develop my understanding of this rapidly developing field. Agricultural reform is a large part of mitigating climate change, but pushing people to stop eating meat is not going to work. So, just like we are building electric cars that'll be cheaper, faster, and better than those powered by gas—we need to do the same for meat.

The technology to grow tissue artificially is much further along than I thought. It was pioneered in the medical field to grow e.g. livers, and a couple of people in the medical field independently made the observation: "If we're trying to do this for complex human issue, why not for animals and meat?" Especially since a kidney is much more complex than ground beef.

Imagine taking a biopsy from a cow, ladling it with nutritious jelly and mounting it on an artificial skeleton in a sterile environment. That's, grossly simplified, the process. It turns out to work. For the time being, it remains expensive (this is party why some companies are starting upmarket, with e.g. foie gras). It's interesting that depending on the motivation, companies in the space focus on different types of clean meats. For example, those optimizing for animal welfare are starting with chickens. Those most concerned about climate change are attacking artificial beef. There are players all over this space, whether in milk, eggs, chicken, turkey, or narwhals (if we can replicate any flavour, you can eat as much ortolan meat as you want!). The toughest thing is to convince consumers. Everyone in the space knows public acceptance is going to be the largest hurdle, not technology. That's why it needs to be tastier and cheaper first.

An interesting analogy from this book is that we can compare this to how we used to hunt the planet dry from whales for whale fat for lamps. Then, one day, someone figured out to how to extract kerosene from oil and the industry rapidly declined. Today, it'd seem bonkers to us that a beluga would have to die to light your condo. Many of the players in this budding industry think we'll look at animal slaughter the same way in a few decades (not even hipsters are burning whale oil for light!).

Interesting topic, but the big thing I was missing were more in-depth explanations of how all this works. The author is more focused on the business and the stories. Due to the low information density, this was a really quick audiobook on 2x speed without losing much.