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's also the ethics issues brought up by animal rights groups. However, meat is so delicious, important and full of protein 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 "cruelty free meat". 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.
- The manga BioMeat is about this, except in this story, meat eats you.
- Another horror manga, Fourteen, also starts from this. This being a Surreal Horror, 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.
- 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 ingredient.
- Judge Dredd has treemeat, a type of synthetic meat that literally grows on trees.
- One Mickey Mouse story revolves around a secret formula for steaks that grow like mushrooms.
- 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, where celebrity-obsessed culture has created demand for artificial steaks grown from the flesh of the Hollywood elite's cells.
- Neuromancer by William Gibson had 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."
- The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth 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.
- Larry Niven's Draco Tavern 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.
- Tuf Voyaging by George R.R. Martin: One of Haviland Tuf's suggestions for dealing with Suthlam's overpopulation 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".
- The Vorkosigan Saga has Vat Protein, 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. (And for members of the former who get squicked by the latter, well, 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).
- The heroine of John Varley's 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).
- Isaac Asimov's novel Robots and Empire includes a meal of simulated roast pork smothered in peanut sauce. The characters think it quite good.
- In Orions Arm, artificial meat is common. However, they subvert the hell out of the "more humane" aspect, because 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.
- 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).
- All meat in The Culture is created in this fashion.
- "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.
- In Feed, during part 3 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.
- 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.
- In seaQuest DSV, meat (and most fruit) are genetically grown because "cow farts were messing up the ozone layer." When the LT Krieg brings out a block of actual ground beef he had hidden, whiz-kid Lucas comments 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.
- Klingon Commander Kern frowns on the Federation practice of eating artificial meats when he comes onboard the Enterprise on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
- Star Trek: Enterprise: During the time of 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).
- 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 sell grilled chicken as well.
- The 'real meat' factory from Project Eden.
- The Beef Vat improvement in Civilization: Call to Power. A future age improvement that prevents starvation.
- An offhand comment by Joker in Mass Effect 2 suggests that most or all meat aboard human military ships in Mass Effect is vat-grown.
- Frontier Elite II included artificial meat as one of its trade units. The manual describes this product and how it's grown in giant vats in all its revolting glory.
- You can make these in Planetbase, which you should in order to increase your colonists' diet diversity.
- The world of Jack 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.
- 21st Century Fox has Scientifically Produced Animal Matter (SPAM). As it's one of the furry universes where all animals are sentient carnivores ate other people before its introduction, a few months after SPAM was introduced predation was banned, for one arc.
- 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 (oops, I mean herself).
- 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.
- There was an episode of The Frog Show where Chef Maurice built a cloning machine and tried to clone the eponymous frog so he could have more frog meat to feed his customers.
- 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.
- 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 The Other Wiki here for more details.