By the time humanity reaches Stardate 41249.3 (April 1, 2364 for non-Trekkies), animals will no longer be used for food. At least, that’s the story told by Star Trek, The Next Generation — and other incarnations of the famous show.
On the aforementioned date, Commander William T. Riker (the charming, mustachioed first officer to iconic Captain Jean Luc Picard) will have the following conversation with a group of rat-faced (literally) guests called the Anticans.
Riker: We no longer enslave animals for food purposes.
Badar N’D’D: But we have seen humans eat meat.
Riker: You’ve seen something as fresh and tasty as meat, but inorganically materialized, out of patterns used by our transporters.
The “meat” is made through what’s called a “replicator.” Members of the Star Trek universe need only ask the machine for any food item they want, and the dishes appear out of thin air.
Though there are many instances of humanoids eating meat in the various Star Trek series, Riker’s statement explains its origin. Then there are species like the Vulcans, longtime vegetarians, thanks to their nonviolent ethics.
In 2016, this concept may not be so far off. Companies across the world are using technology to develop humane, sustainable alternatives to animal agriculture — without forcing people to give up meat, dairy, or eggs altogether.
The Not Company, based in Chile, is using an artificial intelligence they’ve named Giuseppe to turn plant ingredients into animal products on the molecular level. According to the company, Giuseppe is programmed to be the smartest food scientist on earth, and thus far “he” has created NotMilk, NotMayo. NotYogurt, and NotCheese, which will soon be hitting shelves in Chile. Giuseppe utilizes ingredients including legumes and flowers to recreate the taste and consistency of animal products.
Then there’s Memphis Meats, a San Francisco-based start-up using bio-technology to grow cow, chicken, and pig cells in steel tanks. The cells take 14 to 21 days to mature in a bio-reactor, and using these cells, the company recently created the first-ever cultured meatball.
Impossible Foods, headquartered in Redwood City, California, is also in the beef business, but thus far has focused on hamburgers in particular. The team separates proteins, fats, and other standard ingredients from grains, greens, and beans — and uses them to build burgers from the bottom up. The company’s patties are expected to start hitting retailers this year, and more products will reportedly follow.
These aren’t the only companies in the mix. There’s Gelzen, committed to making animal-free gelatin; Clara Foods, working to grow egg whites from yeast; and Counter Culture Labs, cultivating milk without cows; among others.
In another vein, there’s the idea of 3D printed meat. Last year, two German students from the University of Applied Sciences Schwäbisch Gmünd came up with the concept of an open-source, solar-powered meat-printing prototype called The Cultivator. While it has yet to exist, the end goal is pretty similar to the machines modeled in Star Trek.
The field of “cellular agriculture” (i.e., growing animal products without animals) is rapidly advancing. New Harvest, a non-profit out of San Francisco, is dedicated to promoting the concept. According to CEO Isha Datar, the future of meat, dairy, and eggs is all about diversity. Beef and milk without cows, eggs without hens, and so on.
“We’re seeing it with energy — before we relied on coal mining, which was dirty, and dangerous, but got the job done. Now we have wind, solar, a diversity of options that has allowed us to decrease our reliance on coal,” Datar explains. “Factory farming is the coal mining of animal products. I want a future where we have a lot more options for where animal products come from and what animal products can be — so we can decrease our reliance on factory farming.”
So while it may be a long, long while before replicators are standard issue in every kitchen, innovative alternatives to traditional animal products are already here. Maybe Star Trek had the future right, after all.
Hannah Sentenac is a freelance writer and journalist who covers veg food, drink, pop culture, travel, and animal advocacy issues. She’s written for Live Happy magazine, Foxnews.com, MindBodyGreen.com, and numerous other publications and websites. Hannah is also the Editor-in-Chief of LatestVeganNews.com, a publication dedicated to positive, original news from the vegan and plant-based world.