Growing meat in a lab to solve the global food crisis?!

Thanks to a scientist in South Carolina, we may soon have something more disturbing to worry about than the recent deregulation of genetically modified alfalfa and the genetically modified fruits and veggies that are increasingly common in the average American’s diet.

drumroll please

Meat that has been created in a laboratory!

Vladimir Mironov — a scientist working for the past 10 years on bioengineering “cultured” meat — thinks meat made in a lab could solve the future world food crisis that’s resulting from diminished land to grow meat the “old-fashioned way.”

Or. Hmmm. I have an idea that could help solve the food crisis. Let’s just stop eating so much meat! Or we could start eating bugs, which are apparently “good to eat and better for the environment.” Um, yeah. Let’s just stick to eating less meat.

Nicolas Genovese — a visiting scholar in cancer cell biology working under a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals three-year grant to run Dr. Mironov’s meat-growing lab — said, “There’s a yuck factor when people find out meat is grown in a lab. They don’t like to associate technology with food. But there are a lot of products that we eat today that are considered natural that are produced in a similar manner.” Genovese references yogurt as well as wine and beer production.

I’m not sure how one can compare yogurt, which is bacterial fermentation of milk — not to mention something I can make in my own kitchen — with bioengineered meat currently created in a lab.

On one hand, we have milk and cultured yeast, which can easily be made into yogurt in your crock pot in your own home — something I’ve done on several occasions. On the other hand, we have meat that comes from a once living, breathing animal. Yet instead of getting it from an animal, we’re talking about creating it in a “carnery.” If Mironov gets his way, he envisions “football field-sized buildings filled with large bioreactors, or bioreactors the size of a coffee machine in grocery stores, to manufacture what he calls ‘charlem’ — ‘Charleston engineered meat.'”

How are these AT ALL the same?

There’s so much that concerns me about all of this, but especially Mironov’s statement, “Genetically modified food is already normal practice and nobody dies.”

Nobody dies. Is that all that matters — that nobody dies? And who’s to say GM food isn’t killing us slowly? How long have we been guinea pigs eating GM foods? Are there any long-term health studies? Considering it has only been available in the United States since the 1990s, I would venture to guess no, though please correct me if I’m wrong.

Linda Johnson — a naturopathic doctor in New Mexico — speaks to the possible issues of consuming GMO food. She points out:

90% of all corn planted in the U.S. is genetically modified. This corn seed is specially made by Monsanto and engineered to ward off root worm by producing its own pesticide, which you then consume.

So you say you don’t eat corn? If you eat animals that eat corn and they managed to force this food on them, you are eating GM food. Specific animal studies showed that when rats were fed this corn, they developed many reactions that included anemia, increased blood sugar levels, kidney inflammation, blood pressure issues, increased white blood cells and more.

It’s very likely these health problems are affecting humans as well. Since the FDA doesn’t think GM food need to be examined for humans to eat safely, it’s been on the market for a long time.

Johnson adds, “European countries feel there is something wrong with this manipulation of food and they don’t allow it in their countries.
… It is not known what the long-term ramifications of eating food daily that has been genetically modified. What are the damaging effects of a newborn ingesting nothing but formula made with GM ingredients? No one knows.”

So why do we allow it here in the United States?

What are your thoughts about lab meat? Would you eat it? Would you feed it to your kids? Do you think it’s the answer to the global food crisis? Are there positives to this I’m missing? Enlighten me, please.

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Photo credit: Yo My Got

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Can Your Child Identify a Tomato? Teaching Kids About Food

I recently watched a preview from Jamie Oliver’s new show Food Revolution where first grade children were unable to identify fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, etc. While I didn’t find it shocking, I thought it was quite sad. It drives the point home that as a society we are, as Oliver points out in his TED talk (which is absolutely worth 20 minutes of your time), very disconnected from our food and where it comes from. Sure, kids eat french fries and ketchup, but do they know they come from potatoes and tomatoes? He also points out that the current generation of children may be the first in two centuries to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Of course after that I had to quiz my five-year-old Ava (to make sure I wasn’t being overly critical) and she knew what everything was except the beet (which we don’t eat because I think they taste like dirt).

Photo credit: Jacki-dee

Ava’s kindergarten class is currently doing a section about food. My daughter already knows a fair bit about what she eats since she’s been gardening with me since before she could walk. We also have friends who have chickens and we frequently visit the farmers’ market. I don’t know what specifically her class is being taught about food, but I imagine it’s pretty light and upbeat (i.e. no information about factory farming, genetically modified organisms, etc.). That’s OK with me though. I feel like you can only give five-year-olds so much information. They have plenty of time to learn more about the current farming practices in the United States when they get older. I have been impressed that they made butter in school by shaking a jar full of cream and will be making applesauce as well, and are even hatching baby chickens in an incubator in the classroom. They also took a field trip to a supermarket. A trip to a community garden would have been nicer, but there’s not much to see at a garden in Colorado in early March. Regardless, I’m glad that her school is teaching young children about food and hope that others around the country are as well.

Earlier this week I finally sat down to watch Food, Inc. for the very first time. My kids, ages three and five, who were not yet in bed sat down too, ready to watch along side me. I had a conversation with myself in my head for a minute. Should I let them watch it? I haven’t yet seen it so I have no idea what to expect. But it’s about food and where food comes from, and that’s educational, right? I decided to turn it on and keep the remote in my hand in case anything looked like it might get too gory or inappropriate for them.

Ava watched it quite intently and asked me several questions. Julian, my 3-year-old, watched bits and pieces while he wasn’t busy playing. Actually, one of the things he started playing (after watching a scene where a factory chicken farmer collects dead chickens was “throw the dead chickens (stuffed animals) into a bucket.” It was rather fascinating to see him reenact that scene.

At one point, I stopped the movie to gauge Ava’s reaction and ask her how watching it made her feel. She replied, “Sad and happy. Sad because people have to eat the chickens. Happy because I’m learning.” That reinforced my decision to let her watch it. I was very happy to hear that learning made her happy.

We ended up watching only half of the movie together before it was time for the kids to go to bed and they missed some of the more gruesome scenes like the lame cows, pig slaughterhouse and the scene of the traditional farmer and his workers killing and processing chickens (which really wasn’t that bad). After seeing it all now though, I think they would have been OK with watching it.

Food, Inc. is rated PG “for some thematic material and disturbing images” and that seems very fair. I wouldn’t let children watch it on their own, but I think if they watch with a parent it’s a great learning opportunity for all parties involved.

This spring we will start getting chickens (to eat) from a local farmer and I think a field trip of sorts to visit the farm and the chickens is in order. We’re also hoping to get chickens or maybe ducks of our own for eggs once we move and have more land. The more I can expose my children to where their food comes from, the better. We’re not perfect. We go out to eat and even eat *gasp* fast food and junk food from time to time, but my kids know what a tomato is, they see me cooking and gardening and help me with those things. All of that, I believe, will help establish healthy patterns that will last a lifetime and will hopefully keep them from becoming a statistic.

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