'To just have a no way attitude to things like lab-grown meat and plant-based diets is negligence towards the facts'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Last week, it emerged that on a global scale, investment in firms 'growing' meat in bioreactors grew sixfold in 2020, and a study suggested that 80 percent of the British and US public would be in favour of eating meat that was produced in factories rather than farmed.

But what about restaurants? Will lab-grown meat ever wind up on a plate of food cooked by Clare SmythPierre Gagnaire or Martin Berasategui?

We spoke to a chef who believes and that it most likely will, and most certainly should: Daniel Farrow, who owns and operates The Gatherers restaurant in Norwich. 

Daniel is one of the movement of chefs who believe that plant-based food shouldn't be referred to as such. 

"All of our food is plant-based, but we don't call it vegan, we just talk about it being sustainable, seasonal, locally-grown produce. We call it plant-centric."

"90 percent of our customers aren't vegetarian or vegan," he said, and many come through the doors without knowing that there isn't any meat on the menu. 

Asked if that has been a source of discontentment, he said: "Yesterday we had a table of very typical blokey blokes come in. When it arrived they were disappointed - they didn't realised it was all plant-based. At the end of the meal, they asked to see the chef, for him to come to the table so they could shake his hand because they enjoyed it so much. 

"It's just food. If you give it a go, you never know, you might actually enjoy it." 

As chef Romy Gill defended on TSC's Grilled podcast last week, he said: "Indian food, so much of Asian food is vegan. But it is just food. I don't feel the need to make it about veganism, it's more important to make it about sustainability and the ethics of what you're eating - and it just being good food." 

Lab-grown meat vs fake meat

Daniel, like many cooks do, doesn't use meat substitutes in his kitchen, but he is a proponent for the use of lab-grown meat if and when it passes the R&D phase and makes it into the supply chain.  

Whether the lab-grown meat industry winds up being another ultra-processed-food product, thus alienating many professional cooks, will likely decide how prevalent it becomes. 

"At the restaurant, we avoid fake meats because we want our food to be authentic European cuisine. We like everything to be fresh and to know where all our ingredients come from, but personally I'm prone to going out and having a plant-based burger."

"I certainly think there's a place for wholefood, plant-based foods and I think there's definitely going to be a place for lab-grown meats as well. I can't see any reason why not - there's very few negatives to outweigh the positives when it comes to that."

While, he said, "I've heard a lot of people being grossed out by lab-grown meat," he added, "animals being confined into small spaces, sitting in their own muck and then being slaughtered, that's pretty gross in itself." 

"Some people still like to think that they're considerate of the environment and sustainability and are still insistent on eating meat. Maybe that's where the market sits: some vegetarians are grossed out by the idea of a plant-based burger that tastes like meat. But not every product on the market is going to please everyone." 

Chefs are known purists, but are they wrong about lab-grown meat?

As for which chefs come on board, he said, "I think it'll be mixed and it will be interesting to see."

With restaurants like Eleven Madison Park "making the change," so to speak, he said, "people are becoming more and more aware of their impact, that the quality of life for some of the animals being reared, no matter how good is still an animal being contained and then killed."

"If there's an alternative, more chefs will have empathy towards that." 

What Michelin and the other guides do in reaction to these changes will likely have an effect as well. 

The introduction of the Michelin Green Star for sustainable gastronomy, Daniel said, "shows that they're conscious and aware of the impact of food," and "are looking for restaurants adopting sustainable methods."

"Michelin is about good food at the end of the day, before it's about fine dining. The awards aren't based upon a restaurant being focused on molecular gastronomy or ultra-fine dining." 

"Hopefully they'll move with the times and we'll see restaurants with this kind of focus being accredited as well." 

Whenever Michelin is concerned, he said, "it's about the quality of the food on the plate. If it came from lab-grown meat or if it's plant-based, what difference is there? It's food." 

To the categorical naysayers, Daniel says: "I fail to understand why it's such a hot topic of debate. To just have a no way attitude to things like lab-grown meat and plant-based diets is negligence towards the facts." 

"We know that cattle farming produces a great deal of CO2 and this is good for the environment. Most people, regardless of being meat eaters will claim to care about animal welfare and don't like the idea of animals being slaughtered so it really is a no-brainer." 

At the end of of the day, he added, "if it's better for the environment, tastes the same and looks the same, why would you neglect the facts?" 

"You've got to move with the times."

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 19th May 2021

'To just have a no way attitude to things like lab-grown meat and plant-based diets is negligence towards the facts'