Where’s the beef? Or rather, where’s the beef from? A new kind of beef, presented to the public recently in London, is definitelynot free range; it’s more like closed lab. It is gray, flavorless and grown in a vat, and now a rabbi is saying it could be kosher.
Many of us have grown accustomed to having tofu, seitan and tempeh on our tables, and may have even sniffed at a McLean burger or two, but are we ready for Frankenmeat, for steaks, chops and burgers brought to life in a lab?
At its debut, the world’s first lab-grown hamburger was cooked up and taste tested before a crowd of reporters. Created by scientist Mark Post, the cultured meat was grown from cow shoulder stem cells in his lab at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
The five-ounce burger, which took three months to grow, had a whopper of a price tag — more than $330,000. The tab was picked up by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who has an apparent taste for opportunities “where the technology seems like it’s on the cusp,” said the billionaire in a video made to introduce the concept.
In a different taste test, Josh Schonwald, author of “The Taste of Tomorrow,” said the lab burger, which was colored with beet juice and saffron to give it a more meatlike appearance, tasted like “an animal protein cake.”
“Taste is a very complex issue,” Post told the Wall Street Journal.
Claiming that the new beef could be kosher, Rabbi Joshua Strulowitz, formerly the rabbi at Congregation Adath Israel in San Francisco and now with the West Side Institutional Synagogue in New York, told NBC News, “The animal would need to be slaughtered according to Jewish law before harvesting the cells because meat from a live animal is not kosher.”
But if we kosher carnivores start chowing down on meat from a lab, won’t that put all the shochets — the guys certified to kill animals according to Jewish law — out of work? What will become of them? They can’t all become surgeons.
Not to worry, mass production is years away, and though this process would reduce the methane released into the air by cows and provide an alternate way of providing protein to a hungry world, even if it were kosher, is this what you would want when sitting down to a deli sandwich?
Though most of us have never been too curious about what’s in the pastrami, we definitely won’t want to know what’s in the “paslabbie.”
A good sandwich is all in the bread anyway, right?
What about another Jewish favorite, the hot dog? Moving on from the days of Coney Island and Nathan’s, we have tried Tofurky franks, Tofu Pups and Smart Dogs. But will something called a “Golden Lab” cut the mustard?
During Jewish holidays, like Passover, lab meat might present other challenges. Beyond the inevitable discussion of whether it’s “good enough to serve to the relatives” is the feedback those relatives might give. Can’t you just hear the conversation at the seder table?
“The brisket was a little dry,” says Aunt Sara, chewing tentatively.
“Must have been from a lower vat,” responds Uncle Joe. “Rest assured, no methane was released in its production,” he adds, leaning back in his seat.
Surveying the other Jewish holidays, how will Shavuot, which is dairy, work without cows and cheese for cheesecake and blintzes? And what about the High Holy Days? In the future, with a world dining on lab beef, and no further need for sheep and rams as well, come Rosh Hashanah, what are we going to do for a shofar?
Quick, call the lab.
Edmon J. Rodman is a columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.