The First Kosher Cheeseburger?

The First Kosher Cheeseburger? | #food #news #science


Okay folks, this might be a tough one to “stomach.” While browsing the New York Times this week, I came across an article that grabbed my attention. It discussed recent developments in “cultured” or “in vitro” meat. Basically, these terms refer to meat that has been grown in petri dishes with the use of animal muscle tissue or stem cells. It’s a lengthy and extremely expensive process (about $350,000 of research went into creating the first prototype), and it hasn’t been perfected yet. The meat is edible, but it doesn’t look like the juicy hamburger we’re accustomed to. The process is still in the early stages of development, and the scientists behind the process claim that this could be the future of meat consumption around the globe.

Science like this always encourages a slew of arguments on both sides. Is it ethical? Is it safe? Is it just too strange to even consider? A study done by the Environmental Science and Technology journal in 2011 found that by creating meat in a laboratory, the use of water, land and energy needed for the traditional raising of livestock would be greatly reduced. As the demand for meat increases right along with the population size, studies like this are becoming more and more necessary. Many would propose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle as a sensible alternative, but the reality is that most humans consume animals. Is engineered meat really the answer?

One commenter on the New York Times website raised the discussion of meat produced by anencephalic animals, or animals genetically engineered to be born without a brain. Among other things, this would render them unable to feel pain, one of the major concerns of animal welfare activists. There is very little information on this subject, but it appears that it would be far less expensive than in vitro meat. It would also be naturally formed rather than being grown in a lab. However, the thought of brainless animals being genetically grown to satisfy our meat cravings conjures up science fiction-like images that make me shudder. I’ll take the rice and beans, thank you.

It’s all certainly “food for thought!” One comment on the New York Times website speculated that cultured meat might lead to the first kosher cheeseburger. I’m not so sure about that– after all, the meat is grown from stem cells that originally belonged to a cow. But the fully formed meat itself would never have been attached to a living creature… what does that mean for the laws of kashrut? Beyond kosher, I am more interested in the ethics of cultured meat. Part of me likes the idea of knowing that no animal was harmed in the creation of my steak. The other part of me gets the willies thinking about meat grown in a petri dish.

How do you feel about it? I would love to hear your input on this controversial topic!

Source: Fountain, Henry. “Engineering the $325,000 In Vitro Burger.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 12 May 2013. Web. 13 May 2013.

Comments (102)Post a Comment

  1. Would it count, though? Aren´t human organs grown in petri dishes/lab conditions classified as “human”? By extension, wouldn´t this still be classified as cow meat? Of course, the argument could be made that since our forefathers hadn´t exactly anticipated this when describing kashrut traditions, that this wouldn´t count because it doesn´t technically come from a cow. But if we did this with pork, would it still be trayfe?

  2. I do not eat anything genetically modified and since 80% of groceries are now modified – well – guess who´ll be losing weight? Me! No thank you to modified er…food?

  3. I actually do like this idea in theory, partly because it could end factory farming, and because global warming is changing the availability of food. We actually may need food harvested in this way in the future as our land becomes more and more unsuitable for growing food.

    1. I like those aspects of it too Hila, but the concept of petri meat is just too weird for me. My ultimate wish would be for scientists to find a sustainable plant-based meat alternative that would satisfy meat lovers everywhere. That would solve so many problems, both environmentally and ethically.

  4. Coming from a good Irish catholic girl who loves the way this “schiksa” cooks, (I was the shabbos goy in a previous life near La Brea and Beverly in Los Angeles, as well as the best “kosher” non jewish babysitter around) I suggest you have a veggie burger with cheese or a hamburger without. Invitro beef is a really scary thought! Even without cheese I don´t think it would be kosher……I know it wouldn´t be good for my digestive system!! Don´t like veggie burgers, use a portabello mushroom in its place….delish, and no cows involved!

  5. Thanks for posting this. Whoa! Really disgusting, and hardly an ethical move. Raising animals without brains to assuage the human guilt of causing pain to the animal? That may sound like a good idea to those trying to promote this stuff, but it´s not an appealing concept to actual animal rights advocates: it´s still breeding and mistreating live beings, and slaughtering animals for personal gain. We already have Harvard, Cornell, the FDA, and dozens of other medical programs recognizing the value of removing meat from the diet for health, not coming up with self serving loopholes in nature to generate more meat. Maybe the petri dish “meat” is self-contained, but seriously, at what point do we just draw the line and accept personal accountability for our food choices and how they influence our ecosystem? I´m vegan. By default, I´m also kosher. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best one. There is no need for brainless zombie cows: eat some kale, people! :)

  6. Tori, if you want a serious discussion on this topic, I´d say that we already have an answer in Rabbinic Judaism. Consider the case of chicken. Why is chicken meat? Have you ever seen chicken milk?

    The Rabbis decided to include fowl as meat because the flesh can be confused with beef (et al). On that same principle, this would have to be considered meat.

  7. If a habit (here, eating meat) is so destructive to ourselves and our world that science is generating burgers at a $350,000 price tag and discussing creating flash golems to try and beat the system, maybe we should create a better way of eating, not GMO meat.

    1. Not to disagree with your Rabbi, and the kosher laws are certainly open to interpretation, but I’ve never heard of a fruit or vegetable not being kosher simply because it’s a hybrid. If that’s the case then the majority of fruits and vegetables available today are not kosher because most have been hybridized to make them seedless, give them color, and all kinds of other things. Hybrid fruits and veggies are grown by cross-pollinating two related species of the same plant, or two cultivars or varieties within the same species. Heirloom vegetables are hybrids. It actually happens in nature too–it’s not solely a man-made phenomenon.

  8. What we eat as “real” beef is far from real unless it´s organic, free-ranged, grass fed. So petrie dish meat wouldn´t be much different from what most Americans eat now. Pretty gross. And anencephalic animals? Oy vey

  9. I cannot imagine this being acceptable to darn near anyone, although there are starving people in the world who probably can´t afford to be as concerned about the animals as I am. I´m pretty sure this would violate the laws of kashruth on a number of levels, though.

  10. To make a kosher cheeseburger just use hoat cheese. Contrary to Rabbinical teaching there is no prohibition in the Torah agaist eating meat and dairy. It is on cooking the meat of the child in the milk of the mother. You can also use Turkey burgers since fowl do not produce milk.

    1. I know a lot of Rabbis who would disagree with this statement, but of course the kosher laws are open to interpretation. It depends on which Jewish movement you follow. Most Jews who follow the laws of kashrut as laid out in the Torah trust the ancient Rabbinical teachings (which would prohibit any combining of dairy and meat, whether fowl or otherwise). Personally I am not kosher– I don’t cook pork or shellfish in my home, but when I am out in the world my standards relax. I do however keep my website kosher out of respect for my readers, so I’m always interested to hear how others feel about this topic.

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