Are Sustainable Foods Created in Labs Still Food?

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A few months ago, some friends of mine who don’t eat meat were excited about a product they had heard of called Beyond Meat, a chicken substitute that is supposed to be very close to the real deal. These Philadelphia-based vegans and vegetarians were wondering when Beyond Meat was going to make its way over from the West Coast so they could give it a try.

I had forgotten about the Beyond Meat discussion until I read a piece on BloombergBusinessweek about lab created eco-foods. It looks like Beyond Meat isn’t the only alternative product out there that people are excited about. Not only are vegetarians and vegans excited about alternatives to meat and other animal products, investors are, too.

There are several venture capital-backed startups that are trying “to engineer dietary alternatives that are better for the planet and healthier for people — not to mention animals.”

Hampton Creek Foods is working on an egg substitute that’s plant-based and indistinguishable from an egg from a hen. Bill Gates and Tony Blair have been given blind taste tests of muffins made with the Hampton Creed Foods egg substitute, and they were unable to differentiate between the muffin made with it and the one made with a real egg.

Nu-Tek Salt has a “formula that uses a mixture of sodium chloride (aka salt) and healthier potassium chloride.” It tastes metallic, and costs 10 times more than regular salt, but this lab-created product won’t cause some of the same health problems that salt can — or at least that’s the belief.

Whether it’s fake eggs, fake meat or fake salt, one benefit is that these products are more sustainable than their real counterparts. Particularly, the products that replace foods made from animals will not require the environmental resources used to raise the animals. More of these products can be created in a lab and can help to sustain a growing planetary population.

Does more sustainable necessarily mean healthier? Are these lab-created food substitutes really food? I think those decisions should be made on a product-by-product basis. When there are food engineers in labs trying to create foods, it seems rather unnatural, and the organic, sustainable food movement is all about natural, isn’t it?

But, if an egg substitute that mimics a real egg can be created from plant-based materials, I think I’ll be keeping an open, but educated, mind for now on many of these new lab-created foods. It would be wrong to dismiss or condemn them without truly understanding what they’re made of and what their benefits may be simply because they’re created in a lab.

Will you be keeping an open mind on these new foods or are you wary of any foods created in a lab?