Meat the Future, a feature-length documentary about cultivated meat—meat grown from animal cells rather than taken from an entire animal—just made its television debut on CBC. Mercy For Animals was fortunate enough to get a sneak peek. This inspirational film follows Memphis Meats co-founder Uma Valeti as he races to make real beef, chicken, pork, and duck meat without raising and killing animals.
Valeti, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist, quit his medical career and founded Memphis Meats in 2015. He felt he could make a bigger impact for human and animal health by bringing cultivated meat to market.
Cultivated meat is produced by feeding animal cells vitamins, minerals, salts, and more to grow them into a final product recognizable as a piece of meat. Numerous companies, including Memphis Meats, have grown cultivated meat but have yet to reduce production costs enough to compete with traditional meat on price.
In 2016, Memphis Meats produced beef at $18,000 per pound. Fast-forward two years and the cost is down to $1,700 per pound. This promise of and the need for cultivated meat have drawn diverse and high-profile investors, including Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and meat giants Tyson Foods and Cargill.
The documentary fully displays Valeti’s ability to inspire people to join the cultivated meat revolution. Valeti begins an interview with a podcast host who is skeptical of Memphis Meats’ food technology. Thirty minutes later, that same host asks if he can be an investor in the company. But for Valeti, the money to be made from cultivated meat is a secondary motivator. From a young age, he was motivated to change our food system for altruistic reasons.
Valeti shares a vivid memory from a childhood party. At the front of the house, children celebrated his friend’s birthday with music, food, and joy, but at the back of the house, adults slaughtered the animals they would eat. At that moment, he realized that his friend’s birthday was a death day for animals. He began to eat vegetarian and as a young boy wondered why meat couldn’t be grown on trees.
Nicholas Genovese, who co-founded the company with Valeti, grew up on an American family farm. “I would raise the animals, and they’d look up to me for their care and protection.” He felt conflicted when he sent them to slaughter and soon realized he wanted to be part of the solution.
Memphis Meats’ solution couldn’t be more timely. Factory farming does severe harm to the environment, animals, and public health. Increasingly, scientists are calling for a mass reduction in meat consumption to fight climate change, and COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of the meat industry and the pandemic risk posed by factory farming. As a result, more and more consumers are looking to replace animal meat with plant-based meat.
But for a variety of reasons, not all consumers will switch to plant-based meat. This is why making real animal meat from cells is so important.
While the future of cultivated meat is uncertain, the call to overhaul our food system has intensified in 2020. Just last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) co-sponsored legislation with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) to phase out most factory farms by 2040. CNBC anchor Jim Cramer said, “I think there are people who are getting appalled by what’s happened at the meat packers.”
Meat the Future shows more clearly than ever that the movement to end factory farming is underway—and in good hands.