NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

June 10, 2014

Chew on this

It’s getting a mite difficult keeping up with changes in our diet these days because of what’s happening with foods we customarily know vs. what’s going on to change them in laboratories around the world.

Fueled by rising costs and increasing demand for cheaper convenient food as well as trends, such as increased vegetarianism, the food network is working overtime to provide tasty parallels to traditional foods and not merely cheaper, tasteless imitations.

In the Netherlands, a researcher has spent $325,000 to engineer a burger from animal tissue in a laboratory. The substitute is not derived from soybeans or another protein. Cells from a cow’s muscle tissue are put in containers with a growth medium to get them to multiply and divide exponentially. The nutrients are greatly reduced, starving the cells, which forces them to differentiate into muscle cells, states Mark Post, the researcher. Over time, the cells form primitive muscle fibers and start to put on protein.(Shades of Frankenstein: It’s alive, it’s alive!)

Post says, “The world will still need cattle to provide tissue, but perhaps herds can be reduced a millionfold.” Don’t look for an in-vitro burger anytime soon, however!

Much of the new growth in fake meats is coming from younger customers who seek foods that fit an overall lifestyle for health reasons or personal ethics. It is looked upon eagerly by countries experiencing rapid growth, such as China and India. They favor vegtarian foods with distinctive flavors that, incidentally, are becoming acceptable in upscale restaurants as well as barrios from trucks and pushcarts. Mintel, a marketing firm, reports that sales of meat alternatives grew from 8 percent from 2010 to 2012 when sales hit $553 million.

Creating a meat substitute is complicated and time-consuming, from identifying the right plant to extracting its protein and then reassembling them to taste like meat. Look around at your local food stores and you will find new foods in attractive packaging, albeit at increased prices, for where you thought a substitute should be priced.

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