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Weird Science: Can Lab-Grown Meat Be Considered Vegetarian/Vegan?

This is my first blog post while on my internship in Idaho! I am going to examine in vitro meat, and discuss with consumers if it’s something they are interested in, and if it can be considered vegan or vegetarian.

Hello from Pocatello, Idaho!  I am finally on my internship, meaning my route to becoming a Registered Dietitian is super close!

Anyway, in food, there are a lot of oddities that arise when science gets thrown in.  For example, the botanists told the food people that strawberries are NOT a berry, but bananas are (it has to do with where the seeds of each plant are located, and skin thickness).  One such example of something new is in vitro meat, or more commonly referred to as lab grown meat, or cultured meat.

Cultured meat is essentially meat cells are added to a solution, and that allows them to grow free of the animal.  This can reduce concerns about ethical treatment of animals, can reduce the carbon foot print of meat production, and can make meat much more affordable.  However, the invention of in vitro meat brings about other questions, such as can cultured meat be considered vegetarian/vegan, and how will consumers perceive it?

Lab-grown meat is made when muscle stem cells are added to a collagen “goo,” and allowed to grow with other regenerative solutions.  This essentially allows meat to be made without killing an animal.  However, it has not been perfected yet, and still lacks some components of what makes meat desirable, such as marbling.

My stance is that cultured meat is not going to be considered vegetarian or vegan for the large population.  While an animal is not directly involved in the process of making the meat, it is still made from animal cells.  For me, vegetarian is not eating meat, aside from animal products (such as eggs, cheese, and milk), whereas vegan is NO animal products whatsoever.  Lab-grown meat does not fit in with either of these definitions, as it is still made from animal muscle, even if it’s grown in a pitri dish.

As a fun thing I asked a few people I knew what their opinion on the topic was.  Sara Kerr, a fellow nutrition student, had this to say: “I would think by definition it may be able to be considered vegan, but I wouldn’t think all vegans would be interested in eating it since people choose to be vegan for a spectrum of reasons, be it moral, health, social, cultural, or economic. I could see there being some variation on vegetarianism that this would fall under, similar to lacto-ovo vegetarian. Maybe synth-meat vegetarians or a trendier moniker that rolls off the tongue a little nicer.”

Another person said “Yuck. I won’t eat it. I support sustainable and humane animal raising. How are we to know is this “meat” is animal, vegetable or even human. No Petri dish sirloin for me! Soylent green next?”  To answer the question, it has to do with where the stem cells come from, so for example, while plants can move, they do not have muscle.  There are standards for food in place that would prevent humans from being eaten… for now.  Someone else was in agreement with the previous statement saying ” I don’t think I could handle it. Gross!”

However, not all people are opposed to the idea.  One person said “ Lab grown meat sounds amazing,”  with another saying ” If they can make it work and make it affordable I’d be down. My only wonder is whether or not this meat would be all lean or if they could also grow marbled meats.”  Right now, it sounds like it’s only lean meats are being grown, but I would think marbling would be possible.

So what do you all think?  How does lab-grown meat sound to you?  Do you think it could be considered vegan or vegetarian?  Comment your opinions below!

I’d like to give special thanks to Sara Kerr.  You can find her website here, and her Instagram here.  Go ahead and check out her work, she has some fantastic photos and artwork.

By The Nutrition Punk

I am a dietitian living in Portland, Oregon. I write about a variety of nutrition and heath topics, with the goal of improving people's understanding of food and nutrition so they may be empowered against all the misinformation that is out there.

2 replies on “Weird Science: Can Lab-Grown Meat Be Considered Vegetarian/Vegan?”

Thank you for your opinion on lab-grown meat. It is definitely interesting to see what the consumer thinks about different products.

I’m not sure I would discount in vitro meat so quickly, even if I don’t think it’s vegan or vegetarian. Right now, it’s not a practical way to feed people, and there is sure to be push-back from several companies/organizations trying to prevent it from being on the market, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it unhealthy, or a waste until there is more known about it. Maybe the methods used for cultured meat could have better application elsewhere.

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