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Manufactured Meat: Lab burgers anyone?

An initial culture of cow flesh. Yum. (Photo: Dr Mark Post, Maastricht University)

In a move that may overcome the cruelty problem of raising and killing animals for meat, Dr Mark Post of Maastricht University and Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands has pioneered the technique of growing meat independently of an animal by the cultivation of stem cells.

The pieces of muscle are made by extracting stem cells from cow muscle tissue and growing them in containers in a laboratory. The cells are grown in a culture medium containing foetal calf serum, which contains the nutrients the cells need to grow. The nutrients in the meat itself need to come from another source, Post will use algae to produce the amino acids, sugars and fats necessary to produce a nutritious flesh. The strips of muscle are cultivated between pieces of Velcro and flex and contract as they develop. To improve the texture of the tissue and make more protein in the cells the samples are periodically shocked with an electric current.

The problems for which this is a solution are summed up rather concisely in this abstract of a paper called ‘Advances, Challenges and Prospects for Cultivation of Tissue-Engineered Meat’ that Dr Post presented in February this year:

Traditional meat production through livestock is rapidly reaching its limits. Worldwide, meat consumption is projected to double in the coming 40 years (source WHO) and already we are using more than 50% – 70% of all the agricultural land for meat production. It has also become clear that livestock contributes appreciably to the emission of greenhouse gases such as methane and CO2. Last, the public objection against cruelty to animals will eventually favor a market for cruelty free meat …

From all livestock, cows and pigs are the least efficient meat producers with a bioconversion rate of 15%. Through breeding and feeding, the bioconversion rate has reached its upper limit. This inefficiency provides us with a margin to improve meat production provided we move beyond the traditional boundaries of livestock.

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I Was Lovin’ It.

New advertisement from the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine advocates vegetarianism.

Vegan tramping

‘Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,’ says John Muir, ‘places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.’

The beauty of the outdoors does indeed bring much sustenance, but one cannot live on beauty – or bread – alone.  In fact, one requires a balanced, calorie-rich diet if one hopes to venture out into the wilderness.  For most people this presents its challenges, but I will argue that eating vegan in the outdoors is a cinch.  As a case study, I will discuss my culinary selections from my recent 14-day, 200-kilometre circuit of Stewart Island.  I had to carry all of the food and gear I would need for 14 days, and so space and weight were at a premium.

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Controversy Over ‘Customary’ Cuisine

If you travel in the American southwest, anywhere in American Indian country, you are sure to come across frybread. Frybread is the staple of certain Native American tribes’ diets. At the size of a dinner plate, frybread forms the base of a Navajo Taco. Or it forms a sort of pancake, topped with margarine and jam. For something as seemingly innocuous as a slice of bread, frybread is full of controversy.

Frybread originated about 150 years ago, during the forced relocation of American Indians from Arizona to New Mexico. The new land could not support the Natives’ traditional diet of vegetables and beans, and so, to prevent the Natives’ starvation, the US government provided Indian tribes with rations: white flour, processed sugar, and lard. Frybread was born of these ingredients and has had a place in Native culture ever since – one can even buy a ‘Frybread Power’ T-shirt here.

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Misconceptions: Protein

Possibly one of the most common questions asked of a vegan is: ‘How do you get enough protein?’

My favourite (cheeky) answer is: ‘To which amino acid do you refer?’ (I must thank Isa Chandra Moskowitz in the magnificent Veganomicon for that one.)

Proteins are composed of amino acids; these are our cellular building blocks.  There are twenty standard amino acids taken up by the body through the food we eat. Nine of these cannot be synthesised by the body itself and must be obtained from food; these are known as the ‘essential’ amino acids.  Requirements are a little different for children, as a further five of the twenty standard amino acids are required for normal growth.  The main vegan sources of protein are nuts, grains, and legumes, although there are smaller proportions in many other plant foods. Continue reading

Swine Flu: The Vegan Connection

the swineLast week, President Obama declared swine flu (H1N1) a national emergency.  This declaration allows the Secretary of Health and Human Services to waive federal rules for hospitals.  This, in turn, allows hospitals to commandeer alternative sites as treatment areas for H1N1 patients. Even the Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, has come down with a bout. In the US, 11 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine have so far been distributed, providing tidy profits for producers GlaxoSmithKline (Pandemrix) and Baxter (Celvapan). Understanding the vegan connection to swine flu is essential to understand how it was spread, and how to prevent future pathogens from becoming public health disasters.

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Unexpected Vegan

I like to think that veganism will make progress when it goes mainstream – that is, when people from all walks of life make the change away from meat, eggs, and dairy.   While I think that is still a fair way off, over the past couple of years I’ve noticed a few positive changes.  Mainly it’s been the growth in availability of vegan foods, and the development of vegan restaurants, especially overseas.   But another nice change is the ‘popping up’ of vegans in unexpected places.  While it’s never surprising to find vegan celebrities, like musicians or actors, the sports world has been pretty resistant.  Here in NZ, we’re constantly subject to the Evers-Swindell twins dancing around to the joy of dead cow and lamb, or some cyclist peddling McDonalds proteins.

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