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In vitro meat made Time Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions of 2009, coming in at #36. Which is pretty respectable, though it still means there are 35 other inventors who might cockblock you at a party if they hear you bragging about having the 36th best invention. “Meat farms? Please. I made the Electric Eye. Ladies, line up.”

Like Barack Obama, in vitro meat is one of those rare things that hopes to bring two squabbling sides together to a bimeatisan state of mutual harmony. PETA loves it because it would replace the killing of animals. Meat eaters love it because, well, it’s meat. It’s win-win, chocolate and peanut butter.

Yet there’s something about the idea of growing animal tissue in labs that creeps people the fuck out. Whether it’s because we’re worried about unnatural and potentially unsafe food flooding the market, or because we secretly fear a lab-grown flesh uprising, I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone genuinely enthusiastic about replacing their Tofurkey sausages with a dystopian nightmare.

In the end, the choice will probably be made for us by, what else, economics. As in, poor people get infinitely reproducible lab grown meat in their McAtkins burgers, and rich people get the expensive family farm humanely raised UNTIL WE BLUDGEON IT TO DEATH organic grass fed meat. Since there are more poor people than rich people, on balance this works out for the animals. Classism wins again!

Still, don’t expect the “think of the children” crowd to go down without a fight, not without attack ads raising vague doubts about safety paid for by the cattle ranchers. The thing is, it will be safe, certainly safer than crowded disease-ridden feedlots are today.

Sustainability strikes me as the real thing to watch, because this whole idea will sink or swim on how resource intensive the process is. Will culturing meat use less water and less feedstock than raising animals in factory farms? And will it do it all while decreasing greenhouse emissions? We don’t really know yet because they’re still in the phase of tinkering around in labs, but in theory the answer should be yes. And I really want the scientists behind this to get it right, because if we’re tearing down forests to grow plant protein to feed our lab meat, then the animals aren’t really that much better off. So GET IT RIGHT, scientists!

Which is all just another of saying that I think in vitro meat is awesome and I hope it happens. But is it vegan? Would I eat it? I still haven’t made up my mind. It may be lab grown meat, but it’s still meat. So, I think I come down on the side of “yuck”.

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