Marshall Dillon in Dodge City circa 2050 may have to deputize the townsfolk to deal with rowdy lab techs and ride with Chester to go after petri dish rustlers.
Cow punchers will be wearing white lab coats and chewing kale.
That's the world that will exist if a start-up dubbed Memphis Meats ends up making cattle drives a term that refers to the hard drives overseeing computer programs raising beef via cell culture technology.
That's right. Firms like agri-food giant Cargill, Bill Gates, and Richard Bronson are pouring millions into efforts to grow New York cut steaks from the bottom of a long glass tube.
Memphis Meats isn't trying to grow beef cattle embryos in test tubes. All they want to grow is meat from cell cultures that have the ability to renew themselves. It's done taking a mixture of cell samples from steers headed to slaughter as well as those on ranches. Once cells that have the ability to reproduce themselves are isolated, scientists fatten them up on oxygen and nutrients to produce what is being called "skeletal muscle."
"Skeletal muscle" that's been produced so far has been fashioned into hamburger patties, chicken strips, and meatballs. They haven't made skeletal meat they can convert to steaks and other cuts, but give it time.
While the cost to produce meat is still a bit expensive coming in at $2,400 a pound - it was $15,600 higher per pound just a year ago - investors aren't expecting to do away with meat from cattle. Well, at least not Cargill. The firm apparently sees it as a niche product for meat-loving animal rights activists (now there's an oxymoron) and those worried about meat that's been raised using antibiotics and not au natural. And nothing, of course, is more natural than getting a patty on a Big Mac that was raised in a petri dish.
Some of the investors such as Bill Gates see petri-dish meat as a way to save the world. United Nations research concluded about 33 percent of the world's grain production goes to feed cattle, poultry, sheep, and hogs for meat production. They also use up 25 percent of the world's grazing land.
Here is the tidbit that drives the research. They believe a number of people in the United States have their mouths watering for a chance to bite into cell-cultured meat on a regular basis. A poll by the University of Queensland in Australia determined a third of the 637 folks they surveyed in the USA would bite into a juicy cell culture piece of beef.
Now for the zinger: Almost 50 percent said they would choose it over soy-based meat substitutes.
Not that I can speak as a current expert on beef, chicken or even fish given I've eaten none of the three going on 32 years, but I don't see how consumers that like meat per se - especially beef - will be chomping at the bit to dine on skeletal muscle. It might become an acquired taste but here's the real rub: It lacks fat.
Fat has a tendency to add taste to things including meat.
Cell culture meat doesn't faze me. It's not because I don't eat meat for reasons that have nothing to do with what PETA and other groups may expouse. Nor do I begrudge people eating meat.
If you had told me 32 years ago when I decided to drop meat and become a lacto-ovo vegetarian that I would be eating soy-based meat substitute products today produced by Morningside, Boca, and Don Lee Farms seven days a week, 365 days a year I would have laughed in your face. After a while I stopped craving meat and found my protein from a variety of sources. Then about 12 years ago I had my first veggie burger patty by itself with no garnishments or buns. It was a game changer - and a life changer.
I now get more protein than the experts claim someone of my age and physical activity level needs. It also happens to correspond with my dropping the last 25 pounds going from 195 to 170 without cutting calories or kicking up my exercise.
While most people may turn up their nose at the thought of cell culture skeletal muscle for meat it's no different than what I once thought of soy-based products. I'll admit, though, if you put a piece of tofu in front of me it'll still find the nearest garbage can.
Switching to soy-based products for protein didn't kill me or make me nauseous. It was quite the opposite on both counts. The two veggie burger patties I nuke and eat every day even top Cheez-Its and chocolate chip cookies that I still can't shake having a desire to eat more often than I want to admit.
That said, it would not be the same with The Cattlemen's steak house.
Imagine what it would be like to saunter into The Petri Dishmen's restaurant, sit among the sterile steel and white walls aimed at replicating the environment where the "steers" were raised and ordering a medium-well New York cut of skeletal muscle with a nice genetically-modified baked potato with non-dairy sour cream and chives made using kale.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.