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Somewhere in Israel, a group of people decided that they loved meat and animals. There is nothing revolutionary to that as it is. Most of us like to think that we love animals, but we still choose to eat animal products, because, let’s be honest with ourselves, they are just delicious.

We eat animal products like meat and cheese, even though we know that animal agriculture and the consumption of meat is known to be one of the most detrimental human practices for the environment. Things change though, and now more and more people all around the world opt for a vegetarian or a vegan diet, which is by definition more sustainable. In doing so, they manage to save themselves from the guilt that inescapably haunts you (even if you act like you don’t care)  when you know the impact that the consumption of meat and animal derivatives has on earth. But those people in Israel didn’t want that sort of compromise, or any kind of guilt. So, they took their love for both meat and animals to the next level, where they could have the good without the bad. And they gave the world a 3D printed vegan steak.

 

The Future Is Now─ And It Is Vegan

 

Redefine Meat, the Israeli company developing this vegan steak, is not the first and it won’t be the last one to work on the possibilities of 3D printing technology with regard to meat. In 2018, people in Novameat, Barcelona, were the first to introduce to the world the first meat-free, vegan steak. The same year, Russian cosmonauts printed meat in space. Atlast Food, an American food technology company, has created meatless bacon. MeaTech is another firm that focuses its efforts on sustainability achieved through drastic changes in our meat-consumption habits, with the help of 3D printers. 

It’s crazy, thinking about it. But then again, quoting Jack Uldrich, it’s going to be even crazier for our grandchildren to learn that in our times, it took  76 liters of water and nearly 4,536 kilos of grain to raise a cow for meat. 

 

So, How Does It Work?

 

Aleph Farms, the company that was behind the extraterrestrial 3D printing of meat, uses cells of actual animals to print their steaks. Through a biopsy, they extract cells from the cow, which (the cells) are then placed among nutrients. These nutrients create an environment that mimics the one inside the cow’s body, which in turn results in a thin steak, fully edible, and still an animal product. In that sense, their products are slaughter-free, but ultimately not vegan. It still takes a cow to start the whole process.

It’s far easier to imagine animal tissue growing in a laboratory tube and turning into a chunk of chicken breast or a beef rib than to visualize the process of 3D printing something that is in all aspects, minus the animal part, meat. According to the experts in Redefine Meat, it’s all about mimicking. Blood, muscle, and fat are all the key components. These components are thoroughly examined so that their secrets can be unlocked by the scientists and then, as it goes with science, mimicked. The result is alternative blood, alternative muscle, and, you guessed it, alternative fat. Combining all these, in turn, gives something that doesn’t just look like a steak, but also tastes like one. And as crazy and unorthodox this sounds, this is a 100% vegan steak. 

 

gif about vegan steak

 

This 3D printed steak is entirely plant-based, which means that the protein used to build the alt-blood, alt-fat, and alt-muscle is derived from plants. There is no real beef in your 3D printed beef steak. Truth is, the first 3D printed vegan steaks that saw the light of day did look a bit off, and, well, not something anyone would like to eat. But, as we saw before with Redefine Meat, this has already started to change, and taste, as well as looks, are now both focal points for researchers. A steak should not just taste like meat, it should also look the part. Novameat has also started to pay attention to the looks of their products, and, judging by the feedback, they are heading in the right direction. 

There is a possibility that this machine-made meat could taste better than the one that is an animal product. Or at least, that’s the goal. If you think about it, 3D printed meat will come independent of the living (and slaughtering) conditions of the cow or the pig. There will simply be no such conditions whatsoever. The taste of your vegan steak will be something predictable and, probably, 100% designable. 

 

Only Vegan Steaks?

 

3D printed food goes a long way before this technology was applied to animal derivatives. In 2006, students at Cornell University created Fab@Home, the first multi-material 3D printer that was available to the public and was designed to print food materials, such as chocolate. Since then, 3D printing technology has been widely used in confectionery, with manufacturers focusing on introducing 3D chocolate printers to help pastry chefs create intricate chocolate sculptures, which they would normally either not be able to make by hand or would take too long. 

In 2014,  Spanish company Natural Machines introduced  Foodini to the public. Foodini, according to its creators, is “a 3D food printing kitchen appliance that enables you to personalize food, eat healthier, improve kitchen efficiency and lower food waste’’. The idea behind it, according to Co-founder Emilio Sepulveda, was to utilize the incredible machine that a 3D printer is in a healthy diet and dissolve the misconceptions that 3D printed food is chemical, fast food-ish and ultimately something that does not belong in a household kitchen. 

In Japan, a company wants to be able to 3D print sushi. In Singapore, they are working on utilizing 3D printing technology to accommodate the nutritional needs of patients who have trouble eating. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen work towards the same goal for the patients at Danish hospitals. While I am writing this post, in 2020, a waiter at FoodInk., the world’s first 3D printing restaurant, is probably serving a lucky customer some Fish and Chips but with a twist, which the company’s site describes as ΄΄super-healthy toasted seaweed with computer-chip circuit patterns 3D-printed out of kimchi fish mayonnaise and with just enough kick of wasabi΄΄. And by 2024, it is expected that 3D printed food will hit US$ 400 million.

3D printers can print any food we already eat, including foods like pasta, fruit, and chocolate.  It can print food we can’t imagine exist yet, as well. A Dutch designer named Chloé Rutzerveld came up with a project she calls Edible Growth, where she prints morsels of food that are both healthy and ─ wait for itㅡ completely self-contained. This means that each of these morsels is a full meal on its own, once printed, of course.  I don’t know about you, but to me, this is absolutely nuts, but in the best way possible.

 

Fungi and plants are the basis of the Edible Growth Project, photo by Andrew Ridley

 

Machine-made and Homemade Vegan Steak: Changing the World

 

The potential that additive manufacturing technologies have with regard to food is a threshold for a new era for humanity. This technology won’t just change what you and I eat. It won’t just add another variety of food on our otherwise traditional plates. It’s not like the discovery of a new type of chocolate. It is expected that 3D printed food will have a tremendous impact on many aspects of our lives. On a smaller scale, it is hoped that 3D printed food will solve problems relating to the nutrition of astronauts and the military. It also goes without saying that its impact on food-related businesses will be more than considerable. 

 

But the implications of this technology go much, much deeper. Scientists hope that 3D printed food will prove to be a viable way to fight against worldwide scourges, like food scarcity, malnutrition, and, ultimately, climate change. This all might sound too good to be true, but it is not just bullshit and wishful thinking. The experts, at least the not overenthusiastic ones, don’t view 3D printed vegan steaks as the silver bullet to global problems of food supply, but rather as a step towards curtailing them,a step that could prove to be a very important one. While humanity gradually transitions to a technology-dominated, digital world, which so far seems to disregard and even actively exclude some of the unlucky ones, widening the gap of global economic inequality, this specific application of technology could turn things around. But how exactly? 

 

The Vegan Steak VS Food Scarcity and Malnutrition: Bringing Enough and Healthy Food to Everyone

 

In beauty pageants, when asked what they wish for, beauty queens usually flash their big, crystal white smiles, and give the typical answers; “I wish for world peace’’ or ‘’I wish for the end of world hunger’’. 

 

According to the UN, about 815 million people suffered from chronic undernourishment in 2016, photo by Timothy Barlin

 

They are so unrealistic requests that are scoffable. No one takes them seriously, but they are safe answers to give when someone asks what you wish for, because they are the pinnacle of humanitarian thinking and at the same time no one in their right mind expects from you to actually do something about it.  How can I, a mere person, change world inequality? It’s impossible. I can only wish for it. Right?

3D printing food technology seems to promise the beginning of a change of that attitude. Food scarcity is an issue that has afflicted poorer regions of the globe since forever and will, in a few years, be a serious problem for the rest, too. In less than 40 years, it is estimated that there will be an additional 2 million people on earth. Feeding 7 million people adequately is, needless to say, already not happening. Feeding 9 million of us will be more than just a challenge. As  Dr. Jason Clay, Senior Vice President for Market Transformation at the World Wildlife Fund, said:

‘’We have to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the last 8,000 . . . . By 2050 we are going to have to produce twice as much food as we do today. We need to find a way to do this more sustainably. The biggest threat to the planet is to continue producing food in a business-as-usual fashion.’’

 

Food will eventually not be enough, Photo by Zaria Wright on Unsplash

 

Food printing allows for faster production of food, for creating a variety of food types with fewer ingredients than normal, and, of course, for creating food on-demand, which means that nothing goes to waste. On that note, Natural Machines’ Foodini was also created with “ugly’’ food in mind. Ugly food is the produce that never makes it to our tables due to its appearance; a weirdly-twisted tomato, a three-legged carrot, a chameleon-looking strawberry. As long as it is fed to animals or returned in any way to the soil, then there is no issue whatsoever. But when this produce ends up in garbage dumps, then we are talking about perfectly edible food being thrown away for no other reason than looking conventionally unappealing. This won’t be an issue with food printing.

But food quantity is not the only problem we, collectively, are facing. Having loads to eat doesn’t mean much as long as that food doesn’t provide our bodies with everything they need in order to function properly. According to WHO, 1.9 billion adults are overweight or obese. Although obesity is one of the most disconcerting issues relating to malnutrition, one cannot overlook another side of the scope of this problem, undernutrition, which mainly plagues underdeveloped countries. In other words, half the world suffers from too much food and half from too little

 

How much are we willing to pay for fast food? Photo by Miguel Andrade on Unsplash

 

It is also about nutrients. Much of the food that we consume daily offers little to nothing to our organism. Your Mac fries are delicious, no doubt,  but are they any good other than that? The question is obviously rhetorical. 

So, is 3d printed food healthy? The answer is:  it isn’t unhealthy by default. It is true that if you are new to the 3D printing world, 3D printed food sounds unnatural and, therefore, unhealthy. This could not be further from the truth. Yes, 3D food printers can be used to print a bunch of unhealthy stuff, but they can be used to print a lot more healthy food as well. The whole mindset behind them is to elevate our diet. It is exactly this aspect of them that makes them enormously promising. Going back to everything that was previously mentioned regarding the 3D printed vegan steak, one can easily see that the process of food printing requires singling out those specific ingredients that are necessary for the print. This pick-and-choose process means that 3D printers enable us to create food packed with only what is needed, at the exact amount that is needed

Personalized dishes are the food of the future. Gadgets will be able to detect exactly what sort of nutrients are lacking from our body, and 3D printers will be able to print a meal (imagine a simple bar at first, but the dishes available will gradually become more intricate and appealing) to make up for what’s missing from the body. 

 

Vegan Steak VS Climate Change

 

Livestock takes up 33% ice-free land, requires 8% of global freshwater, and produces 18%  of greenhouse gases. Just one pound of chicken needs 7.5 pounds of feed and 30 liters of water. To add to all that, large numbers of animals cramped in small spaces where hygiene is, more times than not, questionable, leads to the dissemination of diseases and to cruel practices.

 

There is no planet B, Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

It is impossible to support the nutritional needs of our growing population by continuing to produce food in the traditional way. Radical change is necessary, for ethical and livelihood reasons. Food printing on demand could, as we saw above, reduce food waste and curb the strain on natural resources that traditional agriculture and animal husbandry pose.  This, in turn,  means a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. 3D printing vegan steaks plays a central role in that process. 

Given all the facts and estimations that were mentioned through this post, it is easy to imagine how drastically things could change if 3D printed vegan steaks were to replace normal ones in the barbeque, or at least become part of everyday life and stop being viewed as something alien and dystopian. 

 

3D Printed Vegan Steak VS The People

 

In 1931, Winston Churchill wrote,With a greater knowledge of what are called hormones, i.e., the chemical messengers in our blood, it will be possible to control growth. We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat a breast or a wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium’’. He predicted that this would occur in 50 years, and despite the date being a miss, this prediction is still outstanding in its ethicality and insight. But what is even more curious when it comes to these words is that although they are so old, most people living in 2020 would treat their implications as something just as extreme and outlandish as people most likely did 90 years ago, when they were written. 

If you are not familiar with the concept of 3D printing and its potential for the food industry, it is normal to view all this as strange and,  plainly put, wrong. When I asked my sister if she would like to try a 3D printed vegan steak, she wrinkled up her nose in disgust. ‘’Why would anyone want to try that?’’, she asked as I showed her a video about the process of 3D printing meat. ‘’It looks like a shoe sole. Probably tastes like one, too. Ew’’. Does the fact that she is an avid, unapologetic carnivore affect her judgment? Probably. But it is not just her. When news broke out that KFC is working on serving 3D printed chicken nuggets, most seemed to treat that piece of information as something dystopian. ‘’Is KFC’s 3D-printed “meat of the future” a fantasy or a nightmare?’’, asks someone, concluding with a quote from Jurassic Park: “they were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”. 

Although I don’t share this sentiment, I absolutely get where everyone is coming from. Food printing is still new, and things like labs, cells, tissues, bioprocesses, meddling with matters of life and death and the grey unknown beyond that duality, all raise important ethical questions about us, our nature, our power, and our duty to the world. Even the plant-based, vegan steak stirs up such conversations, since it is again viewed as something unnatural. 

But we must raise the exact same questions of ethical practice in the context of traditional food production. Can anyone really claim that breeding animals, raising them in overcrowded and hidden, out of the public eye factories, and slaughtering them is more ethical and humane than biofabricating (in other words, 3D printing ) our meat (by either using animal cells or plant cells)? Quoting bioprinting entrepreneur Andras Forgacs, “Perhaps biofabrication is a natural evolution of manufacturing for mankind. It’s environmentally responsible,  efficient and humane. It allows us to be creative. We can design new materials and new facilities. We need to move past just killing animals as a resource, to something more civilized and evolved.’’ Perhaps, the vegan steak will change the world. And in doing so, it might just as well save it.

 

Did you enjoy reading this article? There is more where it came from. To read all about 3D printing, make sure to check out the rest of our posts. And while you are at it, why not take a look at our exclusive selection of 3D printers as well?

 

Sources used in this article: 

          Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, 3D Printed Food, by Jasper L. Tran.

          Can Artificial Meat Save The World?, by Tom Foster

          3D Food Printing Desserts To Hospital Meals, by CNN Insider