Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Think I'll print up some dinner

In the early days of the lock down, when panic was setting in, I - like everyone else I know - stocked up. Not just on TP and paper towels, but on food. At my grocery store, the Friday before things really started to shutter and the warnings were starting to go out that had us wondering whether it was ever going to be okay to go outside again, the shelves were starting to empty out.

No pasta. (Good thing that's something I always have a supply of.) No flour. (Had to go to a foufou little neighborhood store and pay twice as much as I would have for a 5 lb. bag of Paul Revere.) No Progresso soups. (Other than Manhattan Clam Chowder, which no New Englander would ever buy, unless they were starving to death.)

Over that first month or so, I'd hazard out every couple of weeks to replenish my larder, grabbing whatever I could find to tuck into my cabinets, stuff into my freezer. Just in case the food supply chain broke down and we went to total scarcity, to rationing. Which is how I ended up with six jars of Teddie peanut butter, and - in my freezer - a giant bag of frozen bay scallops (when all I'm ever going to use IRL are sea scallops), and a couple of ham steaks (don't ask). 

Before much longer, these worries will be a thing of the past. As long as you have a 3D printer.

A startup in Israel, Redefine Meat, is well, redefining meat. And taking the definition the next step beyond where the folks from Impossible Burger went. (As an aside: I've had an Impossible Burger, which is plant based, and it's not bad.) Here's what Redefine has to say for themselves: 
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is revolutionizing 21st century production for athletic shoes, airplane and car parts, medical devices, and more.
And it works. At least for sneakers. I recently got sucked in by an ad for a BOGO on sneakers in all sorts of wild prints. They were a lot cheaper than my regular sneaks (New Balance or ASICS), and a lot more fun. I wouldn't wear them on a long march, but they're surprisingly sturdy and comfortable. I'm still trying to decide if the blue floral pair represent me channeling my mother, but the sun-and-moon ones are definitely cool. (At any rate, they are by my admittedly warped standards.) The sneakers do smell a bit odd, so it's a good thing that my nose is over 5' from my feet, and that I always have my mask on. But I like them, and the fact that they're 3D printed kinda sorta makes me happy.

Redefine isn't into sneakers however, nor medical devices, or car parts. They're printing up animal-free meat.

The startup, launched by cofounders who met while developing digital printers at HP, created custom 3D printers that aim to replicate meat by printing layers of what they call “alt-muscle,” “alt-fat,” and “alt-blood,” forming a complex 3D model. “Real meat is an extremely complicated product, where much of the sensory experience comes from the matrix,” says cofounder and CEO Eshchar Ben-Shitrit. “Meat is not just proteins, fats, and water. . . . Beef, especially, is a product that has been ‘built’ for years by the cow.” (Source: Fast Company)
That alt-muscle, al-fat, and alt-blood goes into the making of Alt-Steak. At present, Alt-Steak is in its testing phase, but once it's in commercial production:
The company will be selling the printers to restaurants, which can tailor the digital recipe so “changes in the product come at zero cost or complexity,” [Ben-Shitrit] says. “We can use a 3D model of an entirely different meat product with the same machine, process, and ingredients, whereas traditional food production technologies have to change entire formulations. We can also iterate a steak to be softer, harder, juicier with less fat, and much more—all with a simple click of a button.” 
There are plenty of benefits to fake meat, environmentally and health-wise: 
...the team has calculated that it uses 90% less water and 95% less land, and emits 90% less carbon dioxide, than meat from a cow. The meat is also healthier, with less fat than meat and no cholesterol, but the same amount of protein and more fiber.
Not to mention you don't have kill some poor critter, no doubt slaughtered in a facility that Temple Grandin hasn't yet made more humane, to produce it. So there's that.

It all sounds so crazily futuristic, but the future is now - or will be in another year or so. And I wouldn't bet against it. In my lifetime, I do believe I'll hop into an autonomous vehicle, scoot over to a restaurant, and order up a nice piece of Filet Mignon that's coming from a printer. Maybe they'll even print it up table side with the same flourish used to use for Steak Tartare or a Caesar salad (back in the old days, before Caesars became ubiquitous, and they made a big production about whipping up your salad for you). 

And maybe, before the next pandemic rolls around, we'll all have 3D printers in our homes and will get to print up whatever we want, whenever we want it. 

What's for dinner? Whatever your little heart desires. 

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