Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Food & Drink

Is Lab-Grown Meat Vegetarian? A Philosophical Debate.

A future where meat is no longer murder -- but still, definitely, meat -- might be closer than most of us realize. For decades, cell biologists have been working on a sustainable solution to the problems plaguing the animal agriculture business that aspires to significantly reduce the industry's carbon footprint, get well ahead of the impending meat scarcity, eliminate animal slaughter entirely, and everything in between. Cultured meat, in-vitro meat, clean meat -- call it what you want, but by harmlessly extracting muscle tissue from live animals, scientists have been able to grow meat in their labs, minus most of what gives Big Meat its bad rap. With so many of the sticky ethical questions seemingly moot in contextualizing lab-grown meat, an interesting question arises: Could vegetarians eat it in good conscience?
Peeking under the hood, the process is much more complicated and lengthy than its elevator pitch outlines. From the harvested tissue, you're trying to get to the fast-replicating muscle cells, which have to be molecularly severed from the fat cells bound to them, which are then cultured to form very small strands of muscle tissue called myotubes. Several thousand myotubes are layered together to form a super-lean patty (the main complaint of the beef burgers is their lack of fat). An important wrinkle in this otherwise innocuous scientific procedure: Currently, lab-grown beef requires fetal bovine serum, the byproduct of the blood of a cow fetus which is, frankly, incidental in the scheme of the agriculture business. Obviously, this factoid tips the scale toward "no," at least lab beef isn't a product for vegetarians. (Pork, though, has been successfully made without animal serum.) But it's less germane to take the implications of lab-grown meat at face value than it is to consider it in the context of its foreseen impact. As of right now, it's too cost-prohibitive to be commercially viable, let alone in the final stages of having figured out the best way to construct man-made meat.
All of this unsorted information floating about left us asking more questions than we had gotten answers. So to make sense of it, we honed our question down to beef and fielded the opinions of nine smart people -- chefs, thinkers, scientists, and your average vegetarian -- who were nice enough to share their thoughts on the philosophical quandary at hand: is lab-grown beef vegetarian?
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Isa Chandra Moskowitz | Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Ingrid Newkirk | Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Peter Singer | Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Nick Solares | Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Seeker/YouTube
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