Umami - Musings on Googleburgers, poverty and vegetarianism

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Musings on Googleburgers, poverty and vegetarianism
Author: Victoria Jones

It’s been a week since the public unveiling of the ‘googleburger’ – a burger grown in a lab from bovine stem cells. The project was backed by google co-founder Sergey Brin, hence the googleburger nickname.

People are touting it as an end to world hunger and malnutrition. It’s been an issue bubbling away for a few years now – as nations become more wealthy and over-populated, meat eating is on the rise and agricultural areas are shrinking. It also takes far more resources and time to raise an edible animal than crops to feed the same amount of people. There are loads of statistics out there – it’s a familiar argument from vegetarian organisations for people to eat less meat.

However, I don’t see it is viable as an alternative to help feed the poorer communities that struggle to get meat – the prototype burger that was revealed on Monday apparently cost over £21k to produce, and even with the savings created by mass-production be completely unviable to poorer communities.

I find the whole thing even more interesting as a vegetarian – it calls into question a lot of the reasons I don’t eat meat. Would I eat this burger as a technically animal-free alternative? The cells were harvested from a living animal that didn’t have to die for the process, and were then grown artificially in a lab. Although many people seem squeamish about eating food created in a lab, they probably have no problem with pasteurised milk, vitamins artificially added to cereals and common preservatives. Even the tap water supply has chemicals like chlorine and fluoride added, and we don’t think twice about it.

I find the whole thing a really interesting experiment into the way people think about food and where it comes from, and I can’t wait to read more about stem-cell food and the reactions that it will no doubt inflame in some people.

Michelle Dalley in our team used to supply Selfridges in a former life (one that she says always involved a full tour of Selfridges after the meeting – a big dent in her credit card!).  She was actually supplying a LOT of fish and seafood to the Selfridges restaurants when they launched the worlds most expensive burger / sandwich at a whopping great £85.  There was a lot of publicity around that (although in comparison to the Googleburger it was positively cheap), headlines such as “A sandwich to bankrupt an Earl” did wonders for Selfridges and delivered lots of curious visitors to try the burger out.  When asked Michelle says there is no chance she would order a Googleburger however now that she has started eating meat again, only good quality of course, she would try the Selfridges burger if they ever relaunched it.


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