"Jobe, the beef was cancerous! It grew in huge malformed TUMORS that they cut off and sold to their people as beef!"
"Of COURSE! I designed it that way! How else could those cows produce that much meat in time to prevent mass die-offs from starvation?"
"Jobe, you had those people eating cancers!"
"So, it tasted a little off..."
"JOBE, it was CARCINOGENIC!"
Even with all the advances and regulations, the current meat industry is not without its problems. It takes a surprising amount of resources, and some companies cut corners to save on expenses. There are also the ethics issues brought up by animal rights groups. However, meat is so delicious, culturally important, and protein-rich that it's hard to give up.
So what's the solution?
We actually have some ideas right now. Basically, we take some species' cell culture and grow it into something edible. Since you don't need to raise animals, there's no question of inhumane treatment because what you've eaten never had a brain, hence why meat produced in this procedure is also known as "slaughter-free meat". This process is also quicker and more efficient than traditional husbandry, since large quantities of meat could be grown more or less continuously within limited facilities instead of having to reserve large areas of pastureland for slow-growing livestock that can only be bred or harvested once per year. It likely isn't nearly as ecologically impacting given that the meat has far fewer bodily functions to maintain, also reducing the resource cost.
At least in theory. In practice, it's a bit difficult to get the meat to grow like that, but we've definitely made some progress. Fictionland assumes we've overcome these hurdles or found some other workaround.
Less realistic Artificial Meat can be made by way of Matter Replicators.
Note: Since all that's required is a genetic sample, it is not beyond reason to suggest that you might one day be able to eat cultivated meat of extinct species. Ever wanted to taste a mammoth? Or a dinosaur? When you stop to think about it, one of the more Squicky implications of this is that you can get humanely cultivated flesh of sapient beings... or yourself!
- Bio-Meat: Nectar is about this, except in this story, meat eats you.
- Fourteen also starts from this. This being a Surreal Horror manga, one of the artificial chickens eventually gains sentience... and names itself George... and kills people.
- Rebuild of Evangelion takes place not long after a worldwide catastrophe that wiped out half of humanity and left the oceans devoid of marine life. There's a throwaway comment about how the meat the protagonists are eating is 90% artificial, and the flavor is obviously inferior to real meat.
- Judge Dredd has treemeat, a type of synthetic meat that literally grows on trees.
- One Mickey Mouse Comic Universe story revolves around a secret formula for steaks that grow like mushrooms.
- Transmetropolitan is set in the goodness-knows-what-year-it-is (literally) future, where you can eat any kind of animal (including humans) because of this. Spider at one point visits a "bastard farm", which is a factory that clones anencephalic humans for fast food ingredients.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Twilight Sparkle Solves Carnivory, this is Twilight's idea for helping to bridge the cultural divide between carnivorous and herbivorous sapient species. The issue is that, instead of going for the common interpretation of this trope as essentially very complex tissue cultures, she decides to create a literal meat tree that is visibly pulsing and bleeding all over its stage when she unveils it to an audience for the first time. A comical amount of vomiting later, they decide to simply replant the meat tree in the Everfree Forest and leave it to its own devices.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey: Dr. Floyd and his crew have sandwiches on the way to the crater dig, one being "something like" ham — they comment that they're getting better.
- Taken to its nightmarish extent in Antiviral, in which celebrity-obsessed culture has created demand for artificial steaks grown from the flesh of the Hollywood elite's cells.
- In the short story "Alone With Gandhari" by Gord Sellar, there's a genetically engineered 'cow' that's only a headless torso fed by tubes.
- All meat in The Culture is created in this fashion.
- The Doctor Who New Adventures novel Original Sin features a huge factory farm, where meat is harvested from a genetically engineered variant of vast alien creatures who supposedly don't feel pain.
- The Draco Tavern: The story "Assimilating Our Culture, That's What They're Doing!" not only features meat cultures grown from humans, but the aliens growing the human meat paid lavish royalties to the human cell donors — who were still upset about it.
- Eight Worlds: The heroine of The Ophiuchi Hotline gets wealthy from developing a "bananameat" tree. Ostensibly the grafting of pork genes onto banana trees, the popularity of the meat's flavor is the result of including human DNA (the inventor's own).
- In part 3 of Feed (2002), Titus and Violet visit a Filet Mignon farm. The meat is grown in the same way as plants are, complete with a maze made out of beef. There is also mention of mutations in the growing process, creating things like hearts, eyes, and horns in the meat.
- "Food of the Gods" by Arthur C. Clarke has a food company executive testifying to Congress about the practices of one of his competitors. Artificial meat has been in use for so long that most of the committee members have to be told that it is based on the flesh of animals. Then he starts to tell them about the new, very popular, product from his competitor. He starts out by spelling out a new word for the congresspeople: C.A.N.N.I.B.A.L.
- Neuromancer has some kind of vat-grown fake meat based on krill. In a posh restaurant, the protagonist Case is chastised by his companion Molly for wasting a steak, which is expensive because "they have to raise an animal for years and then kill it".
- In Oryx and Crake, soy-based meat substitutes are common, as are "ChickieKnobs", derived from heavily genetically engineered chickens which are entirely lacking in nervous systems (so they feel no pain).
- Robots and Empire includes a meal of simulated roast pork smothered in peanut sauce. The characters think it quite good.
- Sex Robots and Vegan Meat: The "vegan meat" of the title is cell cultures grown in vats, and is an intensely artificial product likely to be manufactured by Mega Corps. Any peasant can have real meat by raising a pig in their back yard, or people who don't want death for dinner could just, you know, eat plants.
- The Space Merchants has tumour meat cultures called "Chicken Little".
- Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand by Samuel R. Delany has vat-grown meat cultures from humans.
- The Stormlight Archive: Soulcasters can be used to turn anything into any other thing, one of which is meat. Unfortunately, soulcast meat is bland and tasteless, so it's typically only eaten by soldiers on the warfront. Of course, since the warfront has turned into the de-facto capital with plenty of civilians, enterprising merchants have attempted to sell the meat at food stalls, with mixed success.
Kaladin: Look at it. It's cheaper than water.
- Subspace Explorers, by E. E. "Doc" Smith, mentions how almost all meat on Earth was replaced by synthetics, until other planets started being turned into massive farms, allowing real meat and milk to become widely available again. (Synthesising everything and using up all available land space, including remineralising even deserts like the Sahara, was an important part of straining the Earth's resources far enough to support a population of... seven billion.)
- In Terra Ignota, all meat comes from meatmakers, a standard kitchen appliance that can seemingly grow any kind of meat to any dimension you want in a timely manner. Since it didn’t come from a living animal, it’s fine for Buddhists and other ethical vegetarians to eat, but the whole notion of eating once-living flesh is considered one step removed from cannibalism anyways. Also, "any kind of meat" includes things like hummingbird. It also has medical applications: after being horribly burned by an explosion, one character has his skin replaced with grafts grown in a meatmaker, cloned from his lover's own skin, incidentally meaning that any skin traces he leaves behind are genetically identical to his donor.
- The ky'iin from Transpecial are obligate carnivores who eat vat-grown meat during their space voyages.
- Tuf Voyaging: One of Haviland Tuf's suggestions for dealing with Suthlam's Overpopulation Crisis is to stop raising traditional livestock to feed the people and switch over to a genetically engineered organism called a meatbeast, which is metaphorically described as a giant edible cancer. Since the thing is immobile and almost entirely edible, it's a much more efficient source of food than any naturally evolved animal with bones and sensory organs and whatnot. When asked how they taste, Tuf admits he hasn't tried them personally, but he imagines they would taste "very good to any starving man".
- Vorkosigan Saga: Vat Protein is grown meat flavored to taste like chicken, beef, etc., primarily used by many advanced societies without mention, while some cultures prefer meat the old-fashioned way. For members of the former who get squicked by the latter, the best example is Cordelia, who grew up on Beta Colony, the most advanced planet in the Nexus, bravely chomping down on her son Miles's freshly caught and cooked catch of fish, when he was a young boy on Barrayar (although she didn't have any objections to field-butchered wild game in the first book — this may have been a side effect of being forced to live on oatmeal and salad dressing for several days).
- In Xandri Corelel, the eating of animals has been banned on all planets of the Starsystems Alliance. People eat vat-grown meat instead.
- In Better Off Ted, Veridian Dynamics has successfully produced artificial meat. Unfortunately, it tastes like "despair", so there's still some progress needed. By the end of the episode, they've succeeded, and everyone is pleased with the results. Unfortunately, it costs $10,000 a pound, so no one's going to be using it until they can bring the cost way down.
- Elementary: The murder victim in "How the Sausage Is Made" is a scientist who had developed a lab-grown meat that would be able to pass as the real thing. The scientist's employers, realizing that their product being approved as genuine meat would have shut them out of the kosher and halal markets for non-meat substitutes, tried to force him to edit the FDA submission so it wouldn't be approved. When the scientist refused, he was murdered, and the submission was edited anyway.
- In the Eureka episode "E=MC...?", a scientist clones chicken meat to stop the slaughter of the real thing. The problem of the week ensues when the chicken induces rampant stupidity (due to the chemicals which the scientist flooded the meat with to make it grow absent a whole chicken) while there's a potentially cataclysmic experiment running that everyone in town is now too dumb to properly monitor.
- In The Expanse, vat-grown meat is consumed, although even the most premium vat-grown meat isn't quite as good as the real thing.
- In Mann & Machine, Eve mentions that hot dogs haven't technically counted as meat since 1995.
- In SeaQuest DSV, meat (along with most fruit) is genetically grown because "cow farts were messing up the ozone layer". When Lt. Krieg brings out a block of actual ground beef which he has hidden, whiz-kid Lucas comments that it's "dead cow". Krieg comments that "you haven't lived until you've had it, roasted over an open fire". The same episode shows a number of staff officers eating a roast beef lunch, and the tone of the scene suggests it's the customary way to grease the wheels of negotiation in the upper echelons of society.
- In Star Trek, the Federation uses Matter Replicators for most of their meat.
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Charlie X", Captain Kirk is shown telling the galley staff that if they're going to serve synthetic meatloaf on Thanksgiving, they should at least make it look like turkey. The title character then uses his Psychic Powers to put real turkeys in the ship's oven.
- In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Klingon Commander Kern frowns on the Federation practice of eating artificial meat when he comes onboard the Enterprise. In the episode "The Wounded", Keiko reacts with confused disgust when she learns her husband O'Brian's mother handled and cooked actual meat (she was a traditional Irish mom and didn't trust replicators).
- During the time of Star Trek: Enterprise, replicators have yet to be created. Instead, they use "protein resequencers" which are implied to be a really high-tech 3D printer (an evolution of current real-life methods of producing artificial meat).
- For a given value of artificial, After the Bomb has a genetically engineered Meat Potato that cooks up like a beef roast and is edible by carnivores.
- Transhuman Space has this as the norm. Normal butchered meat is illegal in many places and is seen as disgusting and horribly barbaric in most others.
- Some urban legends claim that certain fast-food companies really source their meat from "Animal 57", genetically engineered blobs of flesh growing in tanks.
- When Kentucky Fried Chicken began to promote itself as "KFC", rumors soon circulated that "the government" was making them do this because supposedly its "meat" was too far removed from real chicken. In reality, the word they were trying to distance themselves from was Fried, and the growing negative connotations around the word, not to mention the fact that they do (or did) sell grilled chicken as well. Amusingly, KFC is working on meatless 3D-printed chicken nuggets, meaning this urban legend about them not using real chicken has gone full circle.
- Civilization: Call to Power: The Beef Vat improvement is a future age improvement that prevents starvation.
- Frontier: Elite II includes artificial meat as one of its trade units. The manual describes this product and how it's grown in giant vats in all of its revolting glory.
- Empyrion Galactic Survival: The Food Processor can turn plant proteins into raw meat which is functionally identical to meat taken from animals. Although, given the abundance of things trying to kill you, animal meat is not exactly scarce.
- Let's Build a Zoo: The improbable lab turns beetroots into fake meat that's indistinguishable from the real thing.
- Mass Effect 2: An offhand comment by Joker suggests that most or all meat aboard human military ships in Mass Effect is vat-grown.
- The Outer Worlds: Genetically engineered pigs called "cystypigs" grow bacon-esque tumors that can be safely removed without harming the pig (a loading screen image shows a woman easily peeling off a tumor from the pig's back). The pigs are completely unharmed and continue growing tumors their entire lives. Exactly how "artificial" this is depends on your definition; the meat is technically harvested from a living creature, but it certainly isn't natural.
- Planetbase: You can make these, which you should in order to increase your colonists' diet diversity.
- Pokémon: According to Word of God, the majority of the meat consumed by humans is synthetic, since real-world animals were essentially retconned out and eating the series' mons carries unfortunate implications.note
- Prey (2017) had several interesting examples. Space Station Talos 1 has no shortage of plants, thanks to a large arboretum, so they can grow all the crops they want. However, meat is much harder to obtain. There are several options: genetically engineered Siskak eels are used to clean out the recycling tanks and can be processed and eaten (often as fish sticks), the restaurant's robot chef mentions something called "Pacific Beef," "peeled fresh from its plastic lattices," and there are genetically engineered tomatoes that taste like Iberian cured ham.
- 21st Century Fox has Scientifically Produced Animal Matter (SPAM), introduced after Sapient Eat Sapient carnivorism is deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Despite being grown in vats from tumors, SPAM turns out to taste better than "real" meat, so most continue to eat it even after the ban is repealed.
- The world of Jack (David Hopkins) has "synth meat". Unfortunately, it doesn't satisfy the Gluttonies, who took up fetishistic cannibalism in life and are now condemned to spend eternity eating the other denizens of Hell and never feeling full. Another element of the punishment is that the denizens of hell taste like sulfur.
- In Spacetrawler, one early manifestation of Emily and Pierrot's Belligerent Sexual Tension is their recurring argument over whether synthetic steak is compliant with Pierrot's ethics-based vegetarianism since no animals were harmed.
- In Orion's Arm, artificial meat is common. An entire article is dedicated to the history and current methods of making artificial meat. In addition to the tissue culture method, there's deliplants (plants that grow meat fruit) and meatshrooms (meat mushrooms). However, it's not always done to be more humane: in some places, the same process is used to make tiny living things (often humanoid) with just enough intelligence to run away before the customer grabs and devours them.
- Starsnatcher: 20 Minutes into the Future, artificial meat is widespread. You can even buy lab-produced urgers at Burger Bob! Lucas eats one in the first chapter and he can tell it's artificial because the color isn't as crisp as in "real" meat.
- Vita Carnis revolves around Meat Moss that spawns various creatures, some benign and others hostile. After a century of living with it, humanity became Conditioned to Accept Horror and started using it as a meat substitute, with a Government Conspiracy seeking to exploit this in order to prevent an Overpopulation Crisis.
- Tumor beef, another amazing invention of Jobe Wilkins in the Whateley Universe. So what if it is carcinogenic, hard to eat, and of little nutritional value? The United Nations sanctioned Jobe (yet again) for this. Not his home country of Karedonia, not the country he sold the cows to, but Jobe himself.
- In one episode of The Frog Show, Chef Maurice builds a cloning machine and tries to clone the eponymous frog so that he can have more frog meat to feed his customers.
- In Invader Zim, a McMeaties employee tells Zim how NASA developed a germ-resistant form of SPAAACE MEEAAT to use as food on deep-space missions. However McMeaties can't afford it so they make theirs out of napkins.
- In the South Park episode "Let Them Eat Goo", the girls and P.C. Principal quietly replace the meat in the school cafeteria with plant-based meat to appease Cartman's counter-protests, and he doesn't notice. When he does find out, he explains that he doesn't care since it's fundamentally the same "processed crap that comes in a box" he's used to, shaming the girls who were motivated by perceived health benefits.
- According to Star Trek: Lower Decks, Caitians used to eat Betazoids. Nowadays, they eat synthetic Betazoid meat.
- In an episode of Future Food, Chefs Omar Cantu and Ben Roche play around with making artificial meat out of the food that we feed animals to make them tasty. Grain and beets and soy and other ingredients are made into artificial beef and chicken.
- The Impossible Burger is a plant-based meat substitute that tries to replicate the look and texture of ground beef as close as possible. The key, according to its makers, is in the use of heme, which gives the product a "juiciness" that is lacking in other meat substitutes.
- Truth in Television: While we haven't come up with anything that can be used on an industrial scale, we have a number of ideas. Check out Wikipedia here for more details. This blog even goes one step further, proposing that, since one could presumably grow meat from any animal or person, you could potentially have a steak grown out of your own DNA... which really brings a whole new dimension to the phrase "Eat me!"