A few weeks ago, I sunk my teeth into a chicken nugget—the first one I’d eaten since I became a vegetarian 19 years ago. The tastes took me back to the fast food of my childhood. The crunchy exterior contrasted with the soft white flesh underneath, livened by a dash of hot sauce.
But this wasn’t the chicken of my boyhood, however much it tasted like it. The flesh didn’t come from a bird with feathers, a beak and a brain. Instead, chicken cells were steeped in a nutrient solution and grown in a bioreactor in a Singapore manufacturing facility. The cells were cultivated from those of an actual bird, but no poultry were killed to make the meal.
What was once a philosophical thought-experiment for vegetarians—when the technology arrived, would we eat “kill-free” meat?—is now a question some of us are actually having to contend with.
Cultured meat has been in development for years, but it only became commercially available in December after Singapore, the city-state of 5.7 million people where I live, became the first country in the world to authorize its sale. So far, supply is limited to a private social club that offers a dish of cultured chicken nuggets for $23 and has served it to around 200 people so far. The chicken is supplied by Eat Just Inc., a San Francisco food-tech company that set up a growing facility here and won regulatory approval.
The production process is still linked to animal slaughter. One ingredient of the nutrient solution that nurtures Eat Just’s chicken cells is bovine serum, harvested from butchered cattle. The company says it has developed an animal-free alternative that it plans to use, pending a nod by Singapore’s regulators.