Vegetarian’s dilemma may have a modern-day stem cell solution

Reed Hellman


Not all vegetarians are created equal.

I was a vegetarian for a couple of years, as were two of my regular trekking partners. Larry avoided animal products except for dairy, and he had a wicked yen for Twinkies, Ring Dings, and all manner of empty calories. Barbara ate no animal products whatsoever, and roundly condemned junk foods. I simply do not like most meats, so it was easy for me to cut out all but fish and an occasional fowl. Dairy stayed in, as did an occasional sugar binge.

Even though we all considered ourselves vegetarian and were consistent in our practice, none of us could be content with the others’ diets.

I can see at least three general reasons for choosing vegetarianism, regardless the menu specifics:


People do not want to cause the deaths of other living creatures.


People have concerns about the impact of animal products on their bodies.


People have ethical and economic concerns about the impact on our environment of producing animal products.

Surely, each vegetarian has an individual mélange of motivations for not eating meat. However, a new culinary development may all but eliminate two reasons out of the three, and give pause to the third. Imagine a package of meat in the supermarket, with a label reading: “No living creatures were harmed in the making of this tenderloin.” Would that make a difference?

A new product, “cultured meat” — also called “synthetic meat,” “cell-cultured meat,” “clean meat,” and “in vitro meat” — can make that

According to the Modern Agriculture Foundation, located in Israel, clean meat is derived from animal cells, with no use of the animals themselves, and without any genetic modification.

“The final outcome,” says the MAF, “is an all-purpose meat. The production of clean meat begins by incubating stem cells in a media that is rich in nutrients that help the cells grow and divide, while using scaffolds and other technological aids that eventually lead to the creation of a thin layer of muscle tissue that is the edible product.”

In other words, the laboratory folks harmlessly take some stem cells (best bet) or other cells (not as efficient as stem cells) from a cow, pig, sheep, or even a fish or chicken, and literally grow those cells in cell culture instead of inside animals. Edible “scaffolds” supply a base on which the layers of meat grow.

Collecting enough of those layers can produce meat that is every bit beef or pork or lamb, or whatever the donor of the initial “seed” cells. Again, other than the initial cell donation, no animals need be involved, let alone harmed.

The MAF further claims: “Clean meat could lead to the solution of problems in the fields of health, ecology, and animal suffering.” So far, however, a “clean” corned beef on rye is still in the future. In a well-publicized public demonstration in 2013, scientists from Maastricht University in the Netherlands used stem cells from a cow to “grow” a beef burger. The burger was then cooked by a chef and tasted by a food critic, who proclaimed it “… close to meat, it’s not that juicy, but the consistency is perfect.”

Cost appears to be the main factor currently limiting production of clean meat. That one burger required 20,000 thin strips of cultured muscle tissue and cost around 250,000 euros.

Chef Al Chase, a vegetarian chef at the Institute for Culinary Awakening, in Santa Fe, N.M., developed this month’s recipe.


Banana Carob Cookies

Yields 2 dozen cookies

6 ounces maple syrup (grade B organic)

1/4 cup organic coconut butter

1/2 cup banana puree (very ripe)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 cups barley flour

1/2 cup hazelnut or oat flour

1/2 cup carob powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

Preheat oven to 340 F.


Whisk maple syrup, coconut butter, banana puree, and sea salt together in a large bowl. Sift the remaining dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry, mix lightly. Divide into 24 pieces and place each about an inch apart on a lightly oiled baking sheet pan (about 12 pieces per pan).

Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes. Do not overbake. Cool for 2 minutes, then place on wire rack to cool for 5 minutes more. Transfer to airtight container.


Reed Hellman is a professional writer living in Alberton, Md. Visit or email questions and comments to


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