I'd do anything for fake meat ...

I’ve been vegetarian for 14 years, and you couldn’t find a heartier fake-meat fan if you tried.

Southern-fried un-chicken cutlets (just like NYC's Kate’s Corner used to make)? LOVE IT. Orange-tinted faux buffalo wings, fresh from Morningstar Farms’ freezer? Bring ‘em on! Fake shawarma, calamari, shrimp, steak au poivre? Oh god, must stop -- some drool just splashed my keyboard.

But even I can’t bring myself to endorse -- or fully understand -- the following scientific revelation: lab-grown meat.

According to a team of scientists whose findings were published in a recent issue of my favorite magazine, Tissue Engineering, cultured (a.k.a. lab-produced) meat just might be the wave of the future.

The scientists originally conducted the experiment for NASA, in the hopes of making meat that was safe for space travel. But they were so excited by their results that they formed a nonprofit, New Harvest, to advance the science.

Some benefits of "meat" from a beaker instead of a slaughterhouse? No animal-based contaminants or drugs; and its nutrients can be tailored and controlled (more protein! less fat!, etc).

Sounds ...interesting, in an outright disgusting sort of way: “To grow meat on a large scale, cells from several different kinds of tissue, including muscle and fat, would be needed," says one the scientists, University of Maryland doctoral student Jason Matheny. "The challenge is getting the texture right ...We have to figure out how to 'exercise' the muscle cells. For the right texture, you have to stretch the tissue, like a live animal would."

I’m simultaneously repelled and intrigued by this phenomenon (which probably won’t see the light of day in mass culture for eons -- if ever). Of course, the animal lover and environmentalist in me adores the notion of saving lives(tock) -- plus money, land and global resources.

Malheny concurs: “Cultured meat could appeal to people concerned about food safety, the environment, and animal welfare ... The benefits could be enormous," he claims. "The demand for meat is increasing world wide ... With a single cell, you could theoretically produce the world's annual meat supply ... in a way that's better for the environment and human health. In the long term, this is a very feasible idea."

Feasible? Perhaps. But the whole thing still seems so ... unnatural. More or less natural than Morningstar Farms? That is the question.

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