As I was making a meat delivery this afternoon, I heard a story on National Public Radio about a taste test of the first laboratory-created hamburger in England today. Seems some university researcher (I was disgusted at this point, so I didn't pay attention to which university) grew bovine muscle fibers from stem cells and created this "beef" patty. The reporter was excited about the potential for this new technology to provide meat to a growing population without the "environmental damage" involved in raising beef cattle. Livestock production, according to the story, just takes too much land to be economically or ecologically sensible. In addition, these "burgers" were ethically superior, since no animals had to die.
I guess I found this ironic - here I was delivering meat from animals that I'd cared for throughout their lifespan. The land on which these sheep had grazed was still providing open space and ecological benefits because (at least in part) there was an economic reason (e.g., ranching) to keep it that way. The meat was going to be further processed by another local business into sausage - and people who I know (and who know me) were going to eat it. In other words, the meat I was selling was created by nature and hard work, by someone who cares deeply about the land and his animals, and was going to be consumed by people who appreciated this effort. Laboratory "meat" just can't duplicate this connectivity.
Creating meat in lab is a symptom of our growing lack of connection with our food. I had another example of this disconnection this weekend. A would-be customer contacted me about purchasing beef bones. I indicated that I did have some bones in inventory and that I could pick them up for her during my next trip to my meat locker in Roseville (a 45-mile round trip). She expressed disappointment that I didn't have the bones on hand and that she might have to wait a day or two, but she did reserve $12 worth. I indicated that I'd be picking up her order on Saturday afternoon after the farmers' market and after completing my ranch chores. When Saturday rolled around, she decided she couldn't wait that long - and I lost the sale. This sequence made me realize that I think of myself as a rancher who happens to sell meat, while some customers think of me as a grocery store who happens to raise animals. Our desire for instant gratification, if taken to its logical endpoint, results in a hamburger that is created in a test tube. Count me out of that kind of food system!