Who wants an extra helping of test tube meat?

Well, we're growing cows in test tubes now.  Not cows, actually, just muscle tissue grown from stem cells. In London recently, a news conference was conducted in which two food critics were treated to a burger that was created from "cells from a cow ... turned into strips of muscle combined to make a patty."  The reaction?

Upon tasting the burger, Austrian food researcher Ms Ruetzler said: "I was expecting the texture to be more soft... there is quite some intense taste; it's close to meat, but it's not that juicy. The consistency is perfect, but I miss salt and pepper.

Yum. A dried, overcooked-tasting burger that was grown in a petri dish.

This is what we are coming to, I guess.  We are, of course, being sold this monstrosity in the name of science, progress and sustainability.  And it is being sold to us already.  The BBC, the news organization responsible for the story that I am quoting, scarcely tries to do anything but act as a cheerleader for the "technology", claiming that "Researchers say the technology could be a sustainable way of meeting what they say is a growing demand for meat."

For meat?  Remember, this is what we are talking about:

He starts with stem cells extracted from cow muscle tissue. In the laboratory, these are cultured with nutrients and growth-promoting chemicals to help them develop and multiply. Three weeks later, there are more than a million stem cells, which are put into smaller dishes where they coalesce into small strips of muscle about a centimetre long and a few millimetres thick.

These strips are collected into small pellets, which are frozen. When there are enough, they are defrosted and compacted into a patty just before being cooked.

Because the meat is initially white in colour, Helen Breewood - who works with Prof Post - is trying to make the lab-grown muscle look red by adding the naturally-occurring compound myoglobin.

I don't think you get to call this meat. But what if we could move past the "ick" factor, and forget for the moment that what we are talking about here is weird lab-grown frankenmeat.  Let's consider the implications. Where is this taking us?  What is the endpoint here?

Yesterday I was talking to a neighbor of mine, an elderly gentleman who has lived and farmed in the little valley in which I live since the 1940's.  When he started farming with his dad, he planted corn, oats, clover, beans and wheat with a two-row planter, drawn by horses.  Cultivation was also accomplished by horse-drawn plow.  In his teenage years, they got a small tractor that could pull a five row planter, much more quickly than a team.  Farmers farmed 100-300 acres, because that is all they could reasonably do.

This type of agriculture bears almost no resemblance to the ag of today.  Farmers mount gigantic machines and farm thousands of acres. Crops are not rotated and coaxed out of the ground so much as they are technologically commanded to rise.

My point here is not to complain about the current state of things.  Rather, I am trying to illustrate the incredible changes wrought over just a couple of generations. I don't think anyone could have predicted then what has come to be now.  Certainly, there are improvements.  There are also costs. There are far fewer farmers now, and rural places are in some places scarcely inhabited. While the quantity of our food may have risen, and the costs that consumers pay has dropped, there is no question that the quality of our food is greatly diminished.

But the pros and cons of how we've come to be is not what interests me in regards to the Frankenmeat question. What I wonder about is where this is likely to lead. Can we even imagine the changes likely to stem from growing meat in labs rather than in fields?

Perhaps in 50 years the countryside will be completely uninhabited, farmed only by machines that are remotely controlled from some urban hub somewhere.  The great machines will crawl the landscape, which will consist of no animals, only row after row of crops that will provide the raw material for designer foods such as petri burgers or oysters grown in plastic shells.

Is that better?  Is a world in which farmers are replaced by technicians an improvement?

I'd like to get off this train, I think.  No petri dish meat for me, thanks. Please pass me the grass-fed ribeye.