The Future Of (2022) s01e06 Episode Script


Picture this.

In the future, you find yourself up
way too late and very hungry.

You had an amazing night,
and there is only one thing
that will satisfy you.

A cheeseburger.

You've got your buns, a bottle of ketchup,
and a slice of cheese from the fridge.

Now you just need the patty.

Instead of fishing one out of the freezer,
you turn to the counter
where delicious beef patties
are growing
from the molecular level on up.

Why do I love cheeseburgers?
Why does everybody love cheeseburgers?
I want thirty sliders.

- Mm
- This is a tasty burger.

This love of cheeseburgers
is everywhere in pop culture
Oh God!
leading to even
more late-night cravings.

This is the most despicable,
unbelievable thing I've had
in the same time.

But all this meat lovin'
comes at a cost.

There are so many issues with meat.

The existing food system has to change
absolutely for human health,
societal health, environment,
and animal welfare.

Here you go.

Everybody who's watching
or listening to this right now
Getting bacon ready
for the Impossible Burger.

knows how hard it is to change your diet.

We have
some strong opinions about meat.

Humans are meant to eat meat.

I think it's wrong
to kill something that can feel pain.

What if there was a way
to make everyone happy?
Cultured meat is possible.

It's no longer some crazy sci-fi idea.

We can keep eating meat
without the downsides.

My initial reaction was, "What the hell?"
I can't believe they got money for this.

So, is there a future
where we can all have our cheeseburger
and eat it too?
Yeah, it's a big question.

It was this place called Louie's Lunch.

Dad making a cheeseburger on the grill.

I've never had a cheeseburger.

I've never had meat in my life, actually.

I eat meat every day.

The meal doesn't feel complete
without meat.

I've tried eating no meat.

It's fine.
But I did feel a bit depleted.

It's about to get silly in here.

Action Bronson
and Jae Lee have built careers
on being die-hard meat lovers.


That smells so fucking good.

This is a kebab-style burger.

Fusion in its core.

Oh Oh
Thank you.

- Mm!
- Crack?
- Oh my God.

- Okay? All right?
- Best burger I've ever had.

- Chill.

- Chill.
Little sweaty.

- Wow.

- I'm gonna finish the whole thing.

- Please do.

Ah, yes.

The humble modern cheeseburger.

A slab of protein, a slice of cheese,
some toppings, and a bun.

So, where were we?
We're describing a cheeseburger?
Mark it with soft sticks.

Mark Bittman has been writing
about food for over 40 years.

I think the cheeseburger is
the cheeseburger is American history.

And just like other hallmarks
of American culture,
the cheeseburger went global.

"Samurai Mac” released.

McDonald's added to this trend
by exporting billions
of Big Macs internationally,
often giving them a local twist.

The gourmet burger
made by McDonald's.

Not just beef burgers.

Locally sourced ingredients
make our burgers truly Indian.

This burger boom
points to a bigger trend.

A massive uptick in meat consumption.

Globally, we produce
more than four times
as much meat today as we did in the '60s.

A handful of countries,
like the US, Australia, and Brazil
are responsible
for the overwhelming majority
of meat consumption per capita.

And other quickly-developing countries
are catching up.

Meera Zassenhaus works for New Harvest,
which funds groundbreaking research
reinventing the way
we make animal products.

Oh gosh um
The land use is really inefficient.

We grow acres of corn
and soy to feed them to animals
to fatten them up, only to slaughter them.

Livestock farming also pollutes
our waterways, creating algal blooms.

Simply, if we keep eating meat
the way that we do today,
millions and millions of living,
breathing creatures will die.

And if all that
wasn't bad enough,
raising livestock for meat is responsible
for almost 15%
of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions.

On top of all that,
all this meat production is tied
to an entirely different global crisis.

Still millions of people go hungry
on a consistent basis day-by-day.

Meat, especially beef,
is an expensive food,
with prices surging globally
to an all-time high in 2021,
which means it's becoming less accessible
for middle-income families,
let alone poverty-stricken communities
that struggle with food insecurity.

If food justice
is the right to grow, sell, and eat food,
how do we get to a point
where we can have equity
in our meat supply chain?
There is one thing
that most people agree would help.

In the future,
we could all just stop eating meat.

I've never had meat in my life.

I pretty much only ate beans.

I never had any sort of barbecue.

Your restaurant,
could you take beef off?
I don't think we'll be as, like, popular.

The number-one seller is our burger.

- Ooh
- It's just what the people want.

It's hard to change your diet
as you grow older,
because your dietary preferences
are set when you're young.

Vegetarians may love a life
without a juicy burger made from animals
- What do you think, Action?
- Mm.

but getting everyone
to quit meat
Mm, mm, mm.

is a tall order.

So is there a way to keep
our burgers without the meat?
You won't believe this,
but this is not beef.

Beyond your wildest burger dreams.

A Pizza Hut pizza made with Beyond Meat.

You've probably seen this around.

Food tech startups
like Impossible and Beyond Meat
use plant proteins
and some clever engineering
to create vegetarian meat alternatives
that they claim taste like the real thing.

Can't believe it!
Oh my God.

I've never touched alternative meat.

But is it getting people
to quit real meat?
I'm mixing alternative meat
with fresh ground pork.

Make it taste better.

There are a lot
of folks about that plant-based life.

Plant-based meat is wildly popular.

Meat alternatives
are predicted to explode
to $140 billion by 2029.

Start eating plant-based.

You may say that that's pie-in-the-sky.

And you know what? Pound sand.

At this point, we have not
seen meat consumption go down
at the same rate
that we've seen fake meat numbers go up.

In other words, Americans are adding
fake meat to their diets,
but they're not, statistically at least,
eating less "real meat.
So these meat substitutes
aren't solving all our beefs with beef.

But there's a new solution on the horizon.

A burger made of real meat without many
of the climate or ethical consequences.

Real beef, created in an entirely new way.

Could this redefine
what we think of as vegetarian food?
As we venture
into the near future,
a new kind of protein
is going to hit the scene.

Cultured meat, or lab-grown meat,
or cell-based meat.
It has a lot of names.

Meat in a laboratory.

Test-tube meat.

This is, uh kind of gross.

Is it though?
Creating cultured meat
is a high-tech achievement,
but it all starts with a cow, or a pig,
or a chicken, or any other animal.

The first step is taking a biopsy
from the animal's muscle,
a little tissue sample the size of a pea.

That sample contains stem cells,
which are placed
in a machine called a bioreactor.

A bio-reactor is a device
that grows cells.

The real core of the action is
in the little vessel.

See it sort of looks like a blender.

"A blender on life support,"
it's been called.

A what? On a what now?
It's like an incubator.

It's where you're growing these cells.

You give them a great environment,
the right temperature to grow in.

It's almost like baking something.

A recipe you're following.

Once you grow up all your cells,
you harvest at the end,
separate out the liquid
from all the cells,
and the cells that are remaining
are the materials
which could be created
into a cultured-meat product.

It doesn't look too appetizing,
but it's not so different
than a pile of ground beef.

It's just been grown up
rather than ground down.

The best burgers
have been made at Upside Foods.

Uma Valeti is
a cardiologist turned entrepreneur,
who is so sure
that lab-grown meat is the future
that his company Upside Foods is already
building a factory for mass production.

We can literally make chicken burger,
duck burger, beef burger,
any species that people love.

But will people actually
love eating cultured meat?
To find out,
we're going to Upside's test kitchen
where Michelin-star Chef Alex Hong
I've never tried cultured meats before.

and award-winning food critic
Janelle Bitker
Anything that's on the market,
I will try it.

will put cultured meat
to the test.

Before you say anything, yes.

This is a chicken breast,
not a beef burger,
but at this stage of development,
cultured meat still costs a lot of money,
and they really wanted us
to try their chicken.

Smells like a chicken sandwich.

So moment of truth.

It's very interesting.

To me, the flavor is totally chicken,
no doubt about it
But I would say it's a little bit,
just dense, in my opinion.

A little stringy in an unnatural way.

To be honest, I don't think
I could serve this at the restaurant.

I think it is super fascinating,
but the restaurant would shut down
and I don't think I'd have a job anymore.

If I were to write a review
of this cultured meat,
it would be, "Upside Foods' cultured meat
gets it close, but isn't quite there.
There's still
more development work.

And what we'll do is we'll take feedback
in detail from Alex and Janelle,
and immediately what we do is,
we go back into our R&D team,
and we can innovate and continue
to make it better and better and better.

So there are
very real problems left to solve,
especially when trying
to mimic an actual cut of meat.

I feel like I just need to eat more.

I'm sorry.

One of those problems is cost.

In 2017, Upside estimated
the production cost of cultured chicken
at almost $9,000 per pound.

They say the cost has come down
quite a bit since then,
but would not provide an actual number.

Initially, I think there will be
some amount of premium,
as we get up to scale,
but once that scale is obtained,
we are looking at bringing it very close
in price to conventional meat,
and eventually, in a decade
from now and beyond,
we actually expect the price to drop.

I think a good analogy here is
to Anheuser-Buschs of the world,
who have massive breweries,
and are able
to make Budweiser really low-cost.

Cultured meat is making
big headway towards that scale.

In fact, in 2020, Singapore became
the first country to approve
lab-grown meat for public consumption,
and other countries are expected
to follow suit.

This prospect is enticing enough
that some surprising heavy-hitters
are already banking on it.

Tyson and Cargill are the number-one and
number-three meat producers in America.

And they're also investors
in Upside Foods.

The traditional meat industry knows
that their consumers are looking
for more sustainable options.

I work with
a lot of global brands,
and all of them are investing
in a non-animal-based future.

Morgaine Gaye analyzes what
will happen if this kind of technology
becomes practical,
scalable, and affordable.

I can very much see a future where
we have beautiful high-end butcher shops
on the High Street
that are selling lab-grown meats.

One recent report
argues that by 2040,
60% of all meat in the world
will actually be plant-based or lab-grown.

How could that happen?
One possibility,
bioreactors could find their way
into restaurants and grocery stores,
making meat truly local.

Fresh meat will take on
a whole new meaning,
if you can pluck your cut
right out of the case where it's growing.

So is this what a meat utopia looks like?
Oh, good question.

The intersections between food and tech
is the shiny new thing
in our food landscape.

But who are the people
who are supposed to eat this food?
Who are the people
who are supposed to afford this food?
We're seeing economic divestment,
land divestment,
health disparities in our food system,
especially for communities of color.

Is the cultured-meat industry going
to perpetrate those same inequities,
or is it challenging itself
to offer innovative ways
to address equity at the source?
There's some really exciting possibilities
when you make meat production local.

You don't have to ship it
across the oceans to go to a country
that doesn't have resources
to grow the meat in their own land.

That's a very different food system
we haven't imagined before.

But this vision
for a global lab-to-table meat culture
has some environmental consequences.

If cultured meat moves
into a wide-scale production,
how is this impacting our environment?
It might be mitigating, say, methane,
but is it potentially, on the long term,
increasing carbon-dioxide emissions?
All those bioreactors
are going to need a lot of electricity,
which today means a lot
of greenhouse-gas emissions.

So a sustainable future for meat hinges on
a sustainable future for energy.

I think the critics of cultured meat
make very good points.

We really have no idea
what the actual emissions are going to be.

It's still kind of TBD.

So, lots of hurdles to clear.

But if we manage
to do things the right way,
we'll be looking at a whole new future.

One, where the reactor changes
our relationship to meat forever.

Here's where
the real fun begins.

Fifty years from now,
bioreactors could become cheap,
miniaturized, and fool-proof enough,
that they'll be
a kitchen appliance like any other.

You'll have your fridge, your dishwasher,
and your own personal reactor.

Growing your own meat could open
a whole new category of home cooking.

Somewhere in between the sourdough makers
and the grill masters
would be the home meat grower,
sourcing the best cells
and creating exquisite cuts of meat.

I almost imagine, like,
a Keurig-cup type of system,
where it's very easy
to load into the reactor
and grow your Monday night burger dinner.

If I was to grow my meat in my home,
I would like something that is Swedish,
so it blends into the design of the home.

I'll only grow Korean beef Hanu,
the most prized beef,
and it will only play classical music
to keep the beef happy,
and it'd be made of reclaimed wood.

But wait, does it need
to be medically closed?
Does it could it be wood?
No matter how it looks,
the hope is that this reactor could mean
that people everywhere have access
to the highest-quality meat
without the steep price tag.

Imagine growing any kind of meat
in any corner of the world
for any culture that loves eating meat
without having to deal
with resource scarcity.

People are going to get healthier cuts
and options in the future.

Cheap does not mean poor quality anymore.

That's really what the promise
of cultured meat is about.

And if cultured-meat companies succeed,
we may all have premium homemade meats
tailored to our exact health needs.

Imagine making meats
that are better for those
who are prone to cardiovascular diseases,
or cancers, or chronic diseases,
or diabetes, or hypertension.

Cultured meat could become
so detached from animals
that even vegetarians might buy it.

It would be cool to try
a platypus burger or an aardvark burger.

You can make meat Halloween candies
that you could, like, have CBD meat.

All of these cool new foods.

But the homegrown meat
of the future
might not get here soon enough.

From a public-health perspective,
from an environmental perspective,
from an animal-cruelty perspective,
we cannot wait until there's
some groovy lab-based meat product
to start eating less industrially
produced animal products.

That we have to do now.

Eating less meat is good for the world.

I don't think you'll find a lot of people
that would disagree,
but people love eating meat.

If there is an opportunity
to have high-quality, cultured meat
and we can bring it to the table,
and we can continue to make it
better and better and better.
Why not?
Because who wouldn't want
to make the world better
with a side of sustainable steak?
There anything
that could get you to give up?
It's a choice.

I could do it tomorrow.

It's like, do I really wanna give up
- There's choices to be made here.

- Facts.

And I don't think
there's any clear-cut yes or no answer.

That's a lot of pressure
to put on a burger.

But of course,
it's so much more than that.

It's the end result
of billions of dollars of investments,
thousands of hours
of research and engineering,
a global food revolution on a bun.

One thing's for sure,
the cheeseburger revolution is coming.

And it might just
come from your kitchen counter.

Previous Episode