Over the past decade, San Francisco-based food manufacturing company Hampton Creek has sprinted ahead in vegan product innovation, keeping pace with the global vegan and vegetarian population surge. If you have stopped by your local health food store’s dairy section in the past few years, you have likely passed over the company’s bottled mayonnaise, cookie dough, and, the latest feat, scrambled eggs. The plant-based liquids look like any other trendily packaged temptation, and consumers rave about the consistency and taste that mask the irregular ingredients.
Since the release of these items, Hampton Creek, now rebranded as Just, Inc., has created what has been deemed “clean meat” by the corporation. “Clean” denotes lab-grown, not vegan. The process of painlessly taking cells from a living animal’s body to grow meat is known as cellular agriculture. It is also what has prompted Paul Shapiro, author of Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World and former vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, to step away from his decades-long veganism and try a tantalizing, fatty foie gras prepared with a live duck’s avian cells. No slaughtering or grain-fed, cooped up lifestyles undergone in the making.
For non-meat consumers repulsed by the meat industry’s infamous inhumane treatment of animals, cellularly grown meat could convert them back into omnivores. Sophomore Haley Josten swore off meat in third grade, after viewing a video of pigs in a slaughterhouse being boiled. Today, she can’t even remember what meat tastes like, but the moral issues surrounding current slaughtering standards are enough to keep her uncaring. Clean meat, then, is a maybe for Josten.
“As long as they’re not harmed because that’s the biggest thing I think,” Josten said. “I feel like I would eat meat if they weren’t as inhumane to the animals, if slaughterhouses didn’t exist. That’s the main reason I’m a vegetarian.”
People who are vegetarians or vegans for the same reasons as Josten are the prime marketing targets for Just. The idea of eating a chicken that is still alive and clucking is revolutionary, but it remains only an idea for the average American until Just can find a way to lower the production cost.
Senior Ryan Saggese, who believes that his pescetarian diet can help prevent the cancer and heart disease that runs in his family, foresees a sanguine economic outcome for Just and the plant-fueled population.
“I don’t know if I would go out of my way to go back to eating meat because I’m perfectly healthy right now and I don’t necessarily miss it, but maybe if [humane meat] was streamlined to the same sort of price as meat is now or maybe even cheaper,” Saggese said. “Eventually it’ll be so easy– they won’t even have to pay for the production of grains and feeding all the animals and giving them water. If it’s more expensive, it’s like, what’s the point?”
Even if what Saggese predicts happens, and clean meat becomes readily available at an attractive price, there still exists a small, but firm, group of vegans who believes that consuming any animal products is detrimental to human health. Saggese is not part of this band, but he says that he would still stay away from beef at all costs due to his genetics.
Freshman Laurenz Coleman falls more into what Saggeses describes as “that camp of vegans and vegetarians that isn’t gonna really change.” Coleman has been vegetarian nearly his whole life, adhering to a similar diet as his parents, just as Josten and Saggese do. He would consider trying clean meat for the buzz surrounding the concept but is reluctant. After cutting out meat from his intake, Coleman professes that he doesn’t get sick as often as he used to.
“I would try [clean meat], but I’d probably still be against it,” Coleman said. “I haven’t eaten meat in so long, that I don’t know how my body would react.”
Despite dubious reactions like Coleman’s, Just, Inc. seems convinced that their market could only grow. In the coming years, the company expects to sell coveted proteins such as Kobe beef, chicken breasts, bluefin tuna, and smoked sausage. Already competing with Just are multiple plant-based meat manufacturers and restaurants, such as Boca, Morning Star, and Loving Hut. Their customers are unlikely to abandon businesses such as these in favor of clean meat.
“By themselves [fake meat] is kind of bland and actually kind of disgusting unless you have the right sauce– like curry with tofu is delicious,” Saggese said. “They have these orange chicken tofu things from Trader Joe’s that are super awesome, and I’ll love those forever even if humane meat becomes ubiquitous.”
However, with Just products already flying off shelves in grocery stores across the nation, the sprouting cellular agriculture industry appears well-equipped to reap the non-plant seeds they are sowing, no lethal sheaths in sight.