Dinner from the petri dish may be coming with Meat the Future

D+ Documentary
Directed by Liz Marshall

A Bay Area tech startup called Upside Food is working to help the environment and end animal cruelty. They take tissue from living animals (cows, chicken, ducks and others), and grow the meat in test tubes and petri dishes. Few living animals are involved, and none are slaughtered. For various reasons, this food is not yet for sale.

I’m probably the right audience member for this documentary. As a vegetarian for more than 50 years, I’m not big on fake meats. When I try a new veggie burger, the last thing I want to hear is that it tastes like “the real thing.” But if the products advertised here are as bad as this movie, a hell of a lot of cows are going to meet their maker.

I always have problems reviewing documentaries with strong, social messages. Do I like or hate the film because I agree with its point, or because it’s a well-made doc? In this case, I agree with much of what director Liz Marshall is trying to say. According to EcoWatch, 57% of greenhouse gasses come from animal agriculture. Too bad the film doesn’t work.

Meat the Future focuses on one Bay Area startup called Upside Foods (formerly Memphis Meats), turning this documentary into a feature-length commercial. You might catch a short glance of other companies making meat the same way, but the filmmakers always cut away to Upside Food.

As in any commercial for food, you’d expect to see people eating and enjoying delicious treats. Of course, these testers loved the food – it’s always breaded and deep fried – almost everything tastes great that way. Also, why didn’t they ask a professional chef to test their “meats.” Is the Bay Area suffering a drought of good cooks?

Why can’t we eat what some people are calling “clean meat” now – even if it’s as good as this documentary claims? As is always true with all new technologies, it takes years to get everything ready. Early in the film, a Memphis employee notes that it costs $1,700 to make a pound of clean beef. A few years later, it’s under $100 and dropping. And then there’s government oversight. You can’t start selling a new food product without permission from the FDA and/or USDA.

The film’s poster advertises that its “narrated by Jane Goodall.” She talks for about five minutes at the beginning and another five minutes at the end. That’s not a narration; it’s a prologue and an epilogue.

I suspect that when clean meat arrives on the store shelves, I’ll probably try it, and I likely won’t care for it. But anything that can shrink the animal agriculture business, the better.

Meat the Future will be streaming on digital platforms Tuesday, April 5.