An illustration of a hotdog, a hamburger and a steak in various flasks and beakers

MAGICTORCH

STANDARDS

NGSS: Core Idea: ETS1.B

CCSS: Reading Informational Text: 2

TEKS: 6.12A, 7.12C, 8.2E, B.9A, E.5B

The Future of Meat

Lab-made burgers, chicken, and steaks are headed for your plate

AS YOU READ, THINK ABOUT the ways that eating foods made to mimic meat, instead of the real thing, might affect the environment. 

The sizzle of hamburgers cooking on a backyard grill is a sure sign summer has arrived. You load up your plate and take a bite. Your burger tastes meaty and juicy, just as you’d expect. So you might be surprised to discover that the “beef” you’re eating didn’t actually come from a cow raised on a farm. It’s a meat alternative created by food scientists in a lab. These products look and taste almost like the real thing, but they’re made from plants or grown from animal cells, the smallest units of life.

Eating a diet high in real meat can have drawbacks, particularly when it comes to the environment, says Joseph Puglisi (see Farm to Table). He’s the scientific adviser for Beyond Meat, a plant-based-meat company in California. Raising livestock requires more energy, land, and water than growing crops or cells to make meat alternatives. It takes 218 liters (58 gallons) of water to produce one beef patty, but only 1.1 L (0.3 gal) to make a meatless Beyond Burger. Meat alternatives also create less waste, and they don’t require that any animals be harmed.

To make our diets more sustainable, says Puglisi, “we need to find a way to satisfy our desire for meat while also moving toward a plant-based diet.” Many people are embracing the idea. You can now order meat alternatives at restaurants or buy them at the grocery store for your next cookout. Check out some of the innovative foods you might encounter this summer

Hamburgers sizzle on a backyard grill. That’s a sure sign that summer is here. You fill your plate and take a bite. Your burger tastes meaty and juicy, just as you’d expect. So you might be surprised to learn where this “beef” came from. It’s not from a cow raised on a farm. It’s a meat alternative. Food scientists created it in a lab. These products look and taste almost like the real thing. But they’re made from plants or grown from animal cells, the smallest units of life.

A diet high in real meat can create problems. That’s especially true for the environment, says Joseph Puglisi (see Farm to Table). He’s the scientific adviser for Beyond Meat, a plant-based-meat company in California. Raising livestock requires energy, land, and water. Growing crops or cells to make meat alternatives uses less of these. It takes 218 liters (58 gallons) of water to produce one beef patty. But only 1.1 L (0.3 gal) is needed for a meatless Beyond Burger. Meat alternatives also create less waste, and no animals are harmed to make them.

Puglisi says we can make our diets more sustainable. To do that, he says, “we need to find a way to satisfy our desire for meat while also moving toward a plant-based diet.” Many people like the idea. Now you can order meat alternatives at restaurants. Or you can buy them at the grocery store for your next cookout. You might come across some of these inventive foods this summer. Turn the page to check them out.

MAGICTORCH

REINVENTING THE BURGER

REINVENTING THE BURGER

Like all meat, hamburgers are packed with protein. Meatless burgers are made from plants that contain a large amount of this essential nutrient, needed to fuel the body and build tissue. Beyond Meat, for example, uses ground-up peas to make their imitation patties. To create a texture similar to real beef, the starches are removed from the mixture—plants produce these long chains of sugar molecules as a way to store energy. The remaining protein is squeezed through a machine similar to a pasta extruder. Scientists add oils to make the burger juicier, and beet and pomegranate juice so the fake patty looks just like ground beef.

When it comes to mimicking the taste and look of real beef, another company takes it a step further. Impossible Foods adds heme to its plantbased burgers. Heme is an iron-rich molecule that gives blood and muscle tissue their red color. Food scientists removed the gene—a unit of hereditary material—for heme from soybeans and inserted it into yeast. The single-celled organism could then produce heme, which is added to Impossible patties to give them a pink color and meaty flavor. 

Like all meat, hamburgers are packed with protein. The body needs this nutrient for fuel and to build tissue. Meatless burgers are made from plants that contain a large amount of protein. For example, Beyond Meat uses ground-up peas for their meatless patties. To make it feel like real beef, the starches are removed from the mixture. Starches are long chains of sugar molecules. Plants produce them to store energy. The rest of the protein is squeezed through a machine like a pasta maker. Scientists add oils to make the burger juicier. Beet and pomegranate juice make the fake patty look just like ground beef.

Another company goes even further to create the taste and look of real beef. Impossible Foods adds heme to its plant-based burgers. Heme is an iron-rich molecule. It gives blood and muscle tissue their red color. Food scientists removed the gene for heme from soybeans. They placed this unit of hereditary material into yeast, a single-celled organism. Then the yeast could produce heme, which is added to Impossible patties. It gives them a pink color and meaty flavor.

SAUSAGE SCIENCE

SAUSAGE SCIENCE

Real sausages are made by stuffing meat into a casing made from an animal’s tube-like intestines. This tissue is stretchy because it contains collagen and elastin, the same proteins that make up squishy body parts like your ears and nose. Plants, though, don’t contain these molecules. That presented a big challenge when Beyond Meat began searching for casings for its meatless sausages. “It was tough,” admits Puglisi. But the company found a solution: alginate. This gummy substance comes from plant-like aquatic organisms called algae. Alginate is used to form an edible skin to hold Beyond Meat’s pea, bean, and rice sausage mix. These plant-based links actually contain twice the protein and about a third less fat than a regular pork sausage.

To make real sausages, meat is stuffed into a casing. The casing is made from an animal’s tube-like intestines. This tissue is stretchy because it contains collagen and elastin. Those are the same proteins in squishy body parts like your ears and nose. But plants don’t contain these molecules. When Beyond Meat began searching for casings for its meatless sausages, that was a big challenge. “It was tough,” admits Puglisi. But the company found a solution. It’s a gummy substance called alginate. It comes from algae, plant-like organisms that live in water. Alginate is used to form a skin you can eat. It holds Beyond Meat’s pea, bean, and rice sausage mix. These plant-based links have twice the protein of a regular pork sausage. They also contain about a third less fat.

FAKING STEAK

FAKING STEAK

Ground meat, used to make burgers and sausages, has a much different consistency than that of a steak. A steak is a solid piece of muscle tissue, which is layered with different types of muscle fibers and streaks of fat. To re-create this chewy, fibrous structure, a company called Novameat in Spain turned to 3-D printers. These machines squeeze out ultrathin sheets of paste, layering vegetable protein, fibers made from algae, and fats, into a steak shape. The company says this process gives its meat alternative a composition that’s closer to a chunk of real beef. Novameat plans to release a line of meatless printed steaks sometime this year.

Ground meat is used to make burgers and sausages. It feels much different than steak. A steak is a solid piece of muscle tissue. It has layers of different types of muscle fibers, plus streaks of fat. A company called Novameat in Spain wanted to re-create this chewy, fibrous structure. So it turned to 3-D printers. These machines squeeze out super-thin sheets of paste. They layer vegetable protein, algae fibers, and fats into a steak shape. This process forms a meat alternative with a makeup closer to a chunk of real beef, the company says. Novameat plans to release a line of meatless printed steaks this year.

CREATING CHICKEN

CREATING CHICKEN

Chicken is the most popular meat in the U.S. And soon, diners may be able to opt for a lab-grown version. In 2017, the California company Memphis Meats revealed the first chicken meat made from stem cells, which can turn into different types of tissue, like muscle. The cells are collected from chickens without harming them and then given nutrients to grow inside a container. Testers say the end result tastes like the real deal. Other companies have used the same technique to make fish, beef, and pork from animal cells (see Lab-Grown Meat). But the process is expensive. The first lab-grown burger, for example, cost $320,000 to make! Scientists predict that as technology improves, the price for this futuristic food will drop—allowing everyone to enjoy animal-free meat at their next barbecue.

Chicken is the most popular meat in the U.S. And soon, you may be able to choose lab-grown chicken. In 2017, the California company Memphis Meats revealed a new chicken meat. It was the first made from stem cells. These cells can turn into different types of tissue, like muscle. Stem cells are collected from chickens without harming them. The cells are given nutrients to grow inside a container. Testers say the end result tastes like the real deal. Other companies have used the same method to make fish, beef, and pork from animal cells (see Lab-Grown Meat). But the process is expensive. For example, the first lab-grown burger cost $320,000 to make! Scientists believe that the technology will improve, and the price for this inventive food will drop. Then everyone can enjoy animal-free meat at the next barbecue.

ARGUMENT FROM EVIDENCE: What are some environmental benefits of switching to meat alternatives? Use evidence from the text to support your argument.