While growing cultivated meat is a new process, it seeks to address food system challenges that began 2 million years ago when our ancestors first started craving meat.
This shift in our diets played a crucial role in allowing humans to evolve and thrive.
In this article, we will explore the history of meat consumption and its significance in human diets, as well as the growing demand for meat in today's world. We will then explore how cultivated meat is necessary for the evolution of meat as the industry and world strives to meet that demand while also reducing the meat industry’s impact on the environment and animals.
A Brief History of Meat Consumption
Once we acquired a craving for real meat, we never looked back. In fact, our societies have long revolved around symbolic meals with meat at the center. Let’s jump back in time and see where it all began.
Earliest Evidence of Humans Eating Meat
The moment when our ancestors took their first bite of meat didn't just spice up their dining routine. It was a brain-boosting, body-building breakthrough. Evidence shows that this change in diet resulted in several major changes to the Homo Erectus, namely an increase in body and brain size.
From a 400,000-year-old hunting spear found in Germany to evidence of fire use nearly a million years ago, our ancestors have been paving the way for culinary and cooperative hunting advancements, so we could satisfy our growing cravings for meat and all its benefits.
Changes in Meat Consumption Over Time
As humans evolved, our methods of acquiring meat grew more sophisticated, moving from opportunistic scavenging to organized hunting. Approximately 500,000 years ago, the archaeological site of Schöningen in Germany yielded wooden spears, evidence of planned hunting expeditions.
A 2012 study in the journal Nature also suggests that Neanderthals, our closest extinct human relatives, were competent hunters and not mere scavengers as previously thought.
They found evidence of large-scale deer hunts conducted in the landscapes of Jersey around 120,000 years ago. This shift to organized hunting not only ensured a more stable supply of meat but also likely facilitated the development of social structures and cooperative behaviors.
Around 10,000 years ago, another significant development transformed our relationship with meat—the domestication of animals. This process began in the Near East, with animals such as goats and sheep being among the first to be domesticated. The advent of livestock farming allowed for a more consistent and reliable food source.
Livestock farming has been a game-changer—it not only ensured a steady food supply but also produced secondary products like milk, wool, and labor, significantly shaping human civilization. By 7000 BC, practices had spread to China with the domestication of pigs and later to Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe.
These transformations in meat procurement radically changed human societies, contributing to population growth, settled lifestyles, and ultimately, the rise of civilizations.
Importance of Meat in Human Diets
Historically, meat has played a vital role in human nutrition, packed with essential nutrients like protein which is fundamental for our body's tissue maintenance and repair. It's also a rich source of iron, responsible for the production of hemoglobin that circulates oxygen in our bodies, and B vitamins which are essential for metabolism and brain function.
Interestingly, meat consumption has been associated with brain development. Evidence suggests that as our ancestors' intake of meat increased, so did their brain size. A 2017 study in 'Nature' indicated that Homo Erectus, our early ancestor, had a diet with nearly 15% meat, resulting in substantial brain evolution.
The Growing Demand for Meat
While our craving for meat has been around for hundreds of thousands of years, our appetite is only getting started. As societies progress, so too do their cravings for meat. Let's look at some of the reasons why experts think the demand for meat is continuing to grow.
The Link Between Income and Meat Consumption
When it comes to festive meals and luxurious feasts, meat often claims the spotlight. As incomes soar, so does the appeal of delicious meat. In fact, research has revealed a distinct pattern—individuals with higher incomes tend to consume more meat.
It appears our appetite for a savory beef taco or a flawless chicken breast extends beyond just flavor—it's linked to symbols of wealth and prosperity.
This trend has and continues to gain particular momentum in developing countries. As these nations vigorously strive for economic growth, the craving for meat intensifies.
For example, a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations indicates that meat consumption in Africa experienced a remarkable growth of 117% between 2000 and 2018. Similarly, Asia, home to some of the world's most rapidly expanding economies, saw an increase of approximately 78% during the same timeframe.
Current State of Meat Consumption
In 2018, the average global citizen was consuming around 75 pounds of meat. That's roughly equivalent to 300 quarter-pounder burgers in a year. This is a jump from 50 years ago, when the average meat consumption was much lighter.
The world's craving for meat is expected to continue growing. The 'Global Agricultural Information Network' report by the United States Department of Agriculture forecasts a 76% increase in global meat consumption by 2050. This means we could potentially be devouring the equivalent of 525 quarter-pounder burgers per person, per year.
This trend towards increased meat consumption is driven by factors ranging from rising incomes to changing dietary preferences. And while this means more succulent beef and juicy chicken on our plates, it also poses challenges and questions about sustainability and health that we need to tackle.
Meeting the Demand for Meat
The global love affair with meat doesn't come without a side of challenges. Environmental concerns, including deforestation and water usage are rising alongside the growth in meat consumption.
The World Bank estimates that livestock farming contributes to nearly 80% of deforestation in the Amazon. What's more, according to the Water Footprint Network, producing a pound of beef requires an average of 1,800 gallons of water.
Concerns also spill over to animal welfare and public health issues too. One of the most concerning being antibiotic resistance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 35,000 people die each year in the U.S. due to antibiotic-resistant infections, with a significant contribution from overuse of antibiotics in livestock farming.
While these statistics can be daunting, there are signs of encouragement. Cultivated meat is seeking to address the challenges that come with this growing demand while also satisfying human's multi-million year old craving for real meat.
Plant-Based and Cultivated Meat Alternatives
Who says you need a pasture to get a good burger? We are living in a brave new world of meat alternatives, where scientists and chefs team up to craft delicious, sustainable solutions to meet our growing meat cravings.
You have plant-based proteins on one side, and on the other, you have cultivated meat— real meat that is grown in a lab.
The proteins in plant-based alternatives are designed to mimic the taste, texture, and nutritional profile of meat, but are crafted from plants. A study in the journal 'Nature Sustainability' noted that swapping beef for plant-based protein could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 96% and land use by 99%.
But how do they taste? Well, while some might like their products, almost no one would say it tastes, smells and feels like the real thing.
What people crave is meat that sizzles, smells, tastes and feels like the real thing - presumably because they are eating real meat. Companies like us at Believer Meats are using cutting-edge cell culturing techniques to grow real animal cells into meat, without the need for conventional farming.
What is Cultivated Meat?
Cultivated Meat is real meat, produced by combining animal cells with a plant-based structure that altogether delivers the structure, texture and full satisfying sensory experience of conventionally-farmed meat — all without raising, harming, or slaughtering animals.
How is Cultivated Meat Made?
Cultivated meat is produced in a controlled lab environment, which means it is not vulnerable to many of the food safety risks associated with conventionally-grown meat. Our technology begins by sourcing cells from an animal.
These cells are then grown in bioreactors—which mimic the environment that allows for the natural cellular growth process that happens inside an animal.
Cultivated meat has the potential to be a more sustainable and ethical way to produce meat. Generally speaking, it requires less land, water and energy than traditional livestock farming, and it can produce less greenhouse gasses or animal waste.
What are the Benefits of Cultivated Meat?
Cultivated meat, also known as lab-grown, has numerous benefits over conventionally-grown animal agriculture, such as being more efficient and less likely to be contaminated by E. coli.
Cultivated meat is also free from hormones and antibiotics, making it healthier for humans than traditional meat products. Additionally, it produces far fewer greenhouse gas emissions and can help reduce animal suffering.
With its potential to revolutionize the food industry, cultured meat is an exciting development that could have a major impact on our health and the environment.
When Can I Buy Cultivated Meat?
While there is no concrete timeline on when people will be able to buy cultivated meat, there have been several recent developments that show the food category is gaining momentum.
Singapore and the USA are the only countries to have approved the sale of cultivated meat.
With the recent USDA approvals of East Just and Upside Foods' cultivated meat, consumers are one step closer to enjoying cultivated meat products in stores and at restaurants.
We at Believer Meats broke ground on our first U.S. commercial-scale production facility, which is poised to be the largest in the world capable of producing at least 22 million pounds of meat a year for consumers across the U.S. and beyond.
How Can Cultivated Meat Address the Growing Demand for Meat?
We have already covered many of cultivated meat’s benefits: from reducing greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impact to significantly improving animal welfare. But we know that human’s history of craving meat isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.
Believer believes that cultivated meat should not just be "good enough," but it should excel in both taste and texture, otherwise there is no incentive for consumers to switch from conventional animal-based products.
At Believer, our meat rivals, if not exceeds, that of conventionally-grown meat. Once we grow the biomass, we combine it with a plant-based structure to give it the shape, feel, texture and taste of conventionally-grown meat.
In fact, because our meat is grown in a controlled environment, the taste and texture will be much more consistent, providing people with the perfect bite every time.
Meat has played a pivotal role in human diets and the development of our species. As the demand for meat continues to grow, it is essential to find sustainable and innovative solutions to meet this demand.
At Believer Meats, we are committed to providing high-quality, real meat products while prioritizing sustainability and animal welfare. To learn more about our philosophy and products, visit Believer Meats website.