If you turn around and look into humanity’s past you’ll see an interesting pattern… Our perception of “normal” changes over time.

There are many examples, but here are a few I could think of… 

  • Bloodletting – this seemed like a “normal” practice for many years until we realized we were literally draining the life out of each other
  • Center of the Universe – Aristotle, Plato, and many other smart people were certain that Earth was at the center of everything… But we know how that turned out. 
  • Heroin for your cough – 100 years ago, heroin was considered a harmless alternative to morphine and was sold in pharmacies as a cough medicine. 
  • Radiation water – In the early 1900s, radioactive water was all the rage. Hard to believe smart people could fall for such a thing, right?

Looking back it seems crazy that society would label any of these ideas or practices as “normal”, but sure enough, almost everyone did. That makes me think about our current “normal” and what future civilizations will see as crazy. But more importantly, how did past civilizations change their perspective on what’s “normal”? 

You and I both know when someone has an opinion it takes a lot of work for that opinion to change, even when cold hard facts are smacking them in the face. So if it’s difficult to change the mind of a single person, then it must be exponentially difficult to change the minds of an entire society… The definition of “normal” will be a common thread throughout this week’s wandering – “Clean Meat”.

How is food “normal”?


Food plays a huge role in every culture. The meaning and type of connection for each person might be slightly different, but it’s crucial to our daily lives no matter what. So what happens when we radically innovate in a space that’s so close to our collective hearts? 

This is a question we’ll need to wrestle with more and more frequently as technology improves and our lives become more interconnected with radical change. What we eat is just the beginning, so buckle up… I hope you’re ready for some serious mind-blowing experience in the next 40+ years. 🙂

What if I told you that it’s possible to grow specific kinds of meat (cow, chicken, tuna, duck, etc.) in a lab and that meat tastes identical, if not better than traditional meat?! Well… It’s a thing… and there’s a long list of companies building out the infrastructure, so you’re able to buy this “clean meat” from a friendly Walmart near you! Ha! – Insert crazy SciFi advert here.

The naming of this stuff has gone through many iterations such as slaughter-free meat, in vitro meat, vat-grown meat, lab-grown meat, cell-based meat, cultivated meat, and synthetic meat… But! It looks like all the meat gurus are leaning towards “clean meat” over the alternatives. Probably due to that name being more attractive to consumers, which sets this movement up for a better chance for success. 

The next question you’re probably wondering is… Why is this new meat “clean” and what makes this delicious buffalo chicken wing dirty? Sadly, many reasons… The way we currently source our meat is super inefficient, wasteful, and not very nice.  

  • Space – Of the land that we humans can live on, 50% of that is for agriculture, and of that 77% is for livestock (see chart & US map below). I’m not sure about you, but if the math wizards are accurate about the population increasing to 10 billion by 2050 (now we’re 7), I’d like there to be a bit more space to stretch my legs. Plus, more people, means we need more food and they’ll want more meat because apparently wealthy folk like to show their status by eating meat. 
  • Water – The amount of water needed to maintain an animal from beginning to end is crazy (see chart below)… One fun fact I came across mentioned 1 pound of beef takes 2,400 gallons of water to produce, which comes out to around 6 months’ worth of showers. A SINGLE POUND. 
  • Carbon – The thing about livestock is that the overall impact it’s having on climate change is pretty significant (18% of greenhouse gas emissions) due to land use, water waste, and other things… But that’s not the best part… Cows love to burp and their burps are deadly to the climate because they’re burping out methane, which is 34 times more deadly to the climate than Co2… And yes I know there are possible solutions (see here and here), but they’re just kicking the can down the road for a future civilization to deal with. 
  • Not nice – This last point doesn’t really need much explanation. I’m sure you’re all aware of how crappy the life of a factory-grown chicken or cow is, so being able to prevent that from happening would be nice. 

I imagine in 100 years (hopefully less) society will look back on today and wonder why we thought growing an animal to eat was “normal”.

As I mentioned earlier, these are only a few of the downfalls to how we traditionally source our meat, if you’re interested in knowing more it’s just a simple Google search away. 🙂

This “clean meat” idea is an interesting one because the benefits here could potentially be limitless. Imagine being able to… 

  • Save on land and water usage
  • Speed up the growing process from a few months to a few days
  • Genetically modifying the meat to be a little healthier (e.g. preventing spikes in cholesterol)
  • Or even bringing this “clean meat” to space! Because I’m sure our love for meat will still exist on Mars. 

The “meat” factory of the future

This whole “clean meat” phenomenon of growing meat in an industrial setting has been in the minds of our society for a long time. For instance, here’s a quote from Winston Churchill in 1931… 

“We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”

Throughout the year scientists have been honing our ability to grow and recreate certain types of cells, even NASA in 2001 was considering turkey cells. The first actual burger was grown by Mark Post and fed publicly to food critics in 2013 (see here). At the low price of $325k for a single burger. Haha! And guess who funded the majority of this project? The one and only Google co-founder, Sergey Brin! 

Obviously, no one could afford a burger at that price, but the purpose of this project was to prove it was possible… Since 2013 the price has dropped dramatically to around $100 a pound for chicken nuggets from an Israeli company called “Aleph Farms”

One important thing to keep in mind is that the “clean meat” movement will take note of Tesla’s Book of Success. Meaning, they’ll need to do two things… 

  • Be better. – The “clean meat” produced by these companies will need to be better in every single way when compared to traditional meats. If this “clean meat” is not obviously better in taste, price, and convenience then most consumers will stick with what’s comfortable…
  • Start expensive – When rolling these products out to the world these companies will need to start at niche high-end restaurants where wealthy hippies hang out. After, prooving the quality in these restaurants they can slowly reduce the cost and push these products into high-end grocery stores, then eventually your friendly neighborhood Walmart. 

Now that we have a general understanding of why this is relevant, what it is, and where it came from let’s go a bit deeper to figure out how in the h*** this is made. 

How to grow a toe! 

, but the details for optimizing the type of meat and scaling that to mass production is the hard part. 

The process of growing meat can be broken down into two major phases… 

  • Proliferation (multiply like rabbits!) – This first phase is when the cells divide and multiply to increase their overall mass. 
  • Differentiation (then choose your path) – The second phase is all about the cells transitioning into their final desired cell type (e.g. muscle fiber, fat cells, etc.). I imagine this stage as a caterpillar (e.g. initial cell) turning into either a moth or butterfly depending on what’s needed from the ecosystem around it. 

Once you’ve understood the two general phases of growing and diversifying, now it’s important to grasp the four technical pieces of how this happens. 

  • Cell Line Development (choosing your line) – This is the start of it all… At first, “starter cells” (think yeast for bread) are harvested from an animal either through live biopsy, immediately after slaughter, or from an embryo. Luckily, after the first harvest, there are ways to sustain the cell’s ability to multiply continuously (e.g. harvest once, reuse forever), without having to go back and get more “starter” cells from the animal. The scientist will then choose which “line” of cells they want to grow.
  • Cell Culture Media (magic growing juice) – The cells we’ve plucked will need special juices to grow in the “right” way. This magical juice will have different amounts of salt, sugar, amino acids, and growth factors that tell the cells how to grow. This part of the process is hands down the most expensive part, but there are ways to lower that cost when scaling up.
  • Scaffolding and Product Structuring (Basically designing the look and feel) – Think of the “scaffold” as basically a structure the cells stick to and grow around, which shapes how the meat looks and feels (e.g. the shape, texture, and look of a steak). There are different kinds of scaffolds, some are edible and others break down as the cells grow. 
  • Bioreactor Design (The magical bathtub where it all happens) – These look a lot like the containers we make beer in today, but instead of beer we’re making meat. The bioreactors house the entire process from beginning to end, so you pop in some cells and out comes a perfect hamburger (kind of). Similar to the scaffolding there are different types of bioreactors for different phases (grow and diversify) and meat types (minced meat, thick-cut, etc.).

See simple! All we have to do is collect some cells, throw them into some magic juices, with a thing to grow on in a beautiful bathtub, and BOOM! You’ve got yourself “clean meat”. 🙂

I may be generalizing a bit as usual, but if you’re interested in diving deeper check the links here, here, and

Going from dirty to clean

You might wonder if this is so easy why aren’t there “clean” burgers, steaks, chicken fingers, and tuna laying around my grocery store? I may have made the process sound easier than it actually is, especially when trying to scale. 

From my week of wandering, I’ve stumbled across two common hurdles that this movement will need to jump if there’s a chance of this “clean meat” thing turning into something real. 


  • Magical Juice: The most important piece to lower the cost and scale for “clean meat” will be the magical juices they grow in (e.g. Culture medium). The specific building blocks for this juice need to be made in mass production and at the moment they’re only made for labs. 
  • Magical bathtubs: Next will be figuring out how to scale the bioreactors. Meaning, we’ll to make them bigger and we’ll need to make a lot more of them. Plus, we’ll need to figure out which type is needed or create a universal bioreactor that can grow all kinds of cells really fast. 
  • Magical tools: A little further into the future we’ll start leveraging CRISPR and other awesome genetic engineering tools to improve the quality, taste, feel, and health benefits of this “clean meat”. But that will take time, research, and more importantly acceptance from consumers and approval from regulators. 


  • Competition: The traditional meat producers mainly small and medium-sized farms are complaining to governments about how the naming of “clean meat” suggests their meat is “dirty” (which it is), so this will slow the process down.
  • Last, but certainly not least is getting consumers on board to buy this stuff… As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, every culture has its own definition of “normal” and our understanding of what makes food “normal” has been ingrained in us for millions of years. This switch in the consumer’s mind will be the hardest part of the entire “clean meat” movement. 

Remember, our concept of “normal” is a moving target and is always changing… As radical change becomes more “normal” with the massive advances in machine learning, nanotechnology, biotechnology, space travel, etc. future humans will reflect on our food and wonder… Why in the f*** would they grow animals, just to eat them?!

Until next time my fellow Wanderers!