Widgets Magazine


The future of meat and leather is here

Let’s face it: Stanford is known to be a so-called techy, futuristic university, with most students and faculty members very interested in creativity and innovation in any field. From engineering and the physical sciences to the humanities and social sciences, at Stanford we care about the impact we can make on this planet; we want to create a better world, whatever this vague term might mean.

I study environmental engineering and science, but as opposed to most of my classmates, who are very interested in water-related issues, I am very interested in the intersection between agriculture and technology, human and animal rights. I want to find ways to reduce the environmental impacts of the livestock and farming industries without compromising the need for food production and employment.

Either through classes, guest lectures or even the dining hall announcements, I assume that almost everyone has heard of Stanford’s efforts to serve more locally and sustainably produced food. Additionally, most of you have probably also seen or even tried plant-based meats, such as the Impossible Burger by Pat Brown, a former Stanford professor — when will we have the Impossible Burger at Stanford? — and the majority of you might also know something about clean meat, also know as cultured meat.

Clean meat is generated via cellular agriculture. We take a few cells from a cow through a biopsy and grow them in a petri dish to produce the same type of beef patties that you regularly eat. Similarly, we can take a few chicken or fish cells to make chicken fingers or fish filets. Two of my good friends from Stanford are in fact working at two different startups in Silicon Valley dedicated to this technology.

I find cellular agriculture fascinating, and I encourage everyone, regardless of major or profession, to admire the great potential that lies in this field. We can, for example, employ the same type of technology to create clothing and accessories. Surely there are already startups that use pineapple leaves or mushrooms, amongst other materials, to manufacture clothes, bags and wallets, but cellular agriculture can equally be employed to produce, for example, cultured leather.

Cultured leather looks just like genuine leather, so you would still be able to show off a nice leather jacket or bag when going to class — with the huge difference that your jacket or bag, just like cultured meat, did not require one single cow to die. And think of the resources saved when growing leather or meat in a lab. Since cultured leather and meat don’t require a calf to grow into an adult cow, they also require considerably less land and water and produce much lower greenhouse gas emissions than leather or meat obtained from a fully grown cow. Additionally, cultured leather does not have any scars or insect bites on it, and it can be grown directly into the shape of a bag or wallet through a process called “bioprinting.”

Finally, this cellular agriculture technology is not only applicable to cows and leather. For those of you passionate about wildlife conservation and management, think about the following: If rhinos are being killed for their horns and elephants for their tusks, we could definitely employ cellular agriculture to avoid poaching because we could grow keratin or ivory in a lab.

Those still unsure about their future careers, a quite common phenomenon here at Stanford, could consider a career dedicated to environmental conservation and animal protection through cellular agriculture and bioprinting. These fields have a whole lot more potential, and some of you might be able to come up with even more innovative ways to employ these technologies to solve global problems we are facing today.

— Tatiana Freiin von Rheinbaben M.S. ’18


Contact Tatiana Freiin von Rheinbaben at tfreiinv ‘at’ stanford.edu.