It’s a scary world and about to become a lot scarier.
Not only are we faced with the prospect of driverless cars and mirrors designed to voice unabashed opinions of our wardrobes, I recently realized that my “smart” doorbell has a higher IQ than I do.
Now scientists are closing in on giving us animal-free meat. What that means is that our steaks will soon be grown in labs, not on cattle ranches. Cowboys of the future will wear white coats instead of denims and Stetsons—and they sure won’t be riding horses.
It’s not hard to understand what’s driving this new technology. Some believe that cattle and the methane gas they produce is the number one cause of global warming. There are also financial considerations; It’s estimated that the cells from a single live cow will produce 175 million quarter pounders! That’s about what McDonald’s sells in nine months.
I’m currently working on a book set on a Texas cattle ranch in 1800s and I can’t help but wonder what my hero would think about all of this. No doubt he would be appalled and regard the so-called “clean meat” as a threat to his very existence. But he also knows what it’s like to fight a losing battle. In the book, his ever-ready Colt stops rustlers, horse thieves and “belled snakes,” but is useless in the face of progress.
Only time will tell if the National Cattleman’s Association will be successful in convincing consumers to demand the “real thing” in their hamburgers. Or if it, too, will go the way of cattle drives.
Of course, not everyone agrees on what the “real thing” is. Some aficionados insist that none other than grass-fed cattle fit the bill, but that can be a hard sell.
Then there’s the difference in texture. Grass-fed cattle move around more than cattle in feedlots and therefore have more muscle. This makes the meat “chewier.” Those rugged cowboys of yesteryear might have relished a chewy steak while sitting around a campfire, but today most people prefer the tender, melt-in-your mouth taste of prime grain-fed beef.
Feed, muscle and fat aren’t the only things that affect taste. The way meat is handled during shipping, aging and preparation makes a difference, too. Barbecued steak doesn’t have the same flavor as meat cooked on an open campfire. So even if you purchase grass-fed beef today, it still won’t taste the same as it did during those old chuck-wagon days.
Who knows? Maybe future generations will prefer the taste of lab-grown meat, which some describe as “crunchy.” There’s no stopping progress, but neither can we stop changing tastes.