Science & Technology

Mystery Meat from the Sewers

Note: This article is hosted here for archival purposes only. It does not necessarily represent the values of the Iron Warrior or Waterloo Engineering Society in the present day.

In the face of a world food crisis, meat is one of the most resource-intensive foods we consume. Some of us eat less meat, some eat no meat and some just eat a lot of meat anyway. However, a couple of scientists in Japan think that we can enjoy meat guilt-free by skipping the food chain and making meat straight from human feces. They have managed to create a high-protein meat substitute product that apparently resembles real meat in appearance, taste, and texture. Yum?

The origins of this strange idea actually have nothing to do with an anticipated meat shortage. The city of Tokyo had an overwhelming volume of sewage to deal with, so scientists were consulted to find a practical use for all of the surplus sewer mud. They found that it contains a very high amount of protein because human feces is rich with microorganisms. So what would be the best way to put this mud to use? Maybe scientist Mitsuyuki Ikeda was hungry when he asked this question because he embarked on a research mission to extract the protein from the mud and use it to synthesize an edible meat imitation.

The end product is a “poopy patty” that is safe to eat because all bacteria are killed in the manufacturing process. Apparently, it also tastes somewhat like beef or chicken. Soy protein is added to improve flavour and dye is added to make the product look more appetizing. Although there is certainly a psychological barrier when you know where the sewer steaks came from, when you think about it, most processed foods are unappetizing if you know what’s in them. Just think about how they make chicken nuggets, street meat, or processed cheese. Also, imagine what your microwave dinner, margarine, or fruit-flavoured beverage would look like without the artificial colouring. From this perspective, the poopy patty doesn’t seem that bad; at 63% protein, 25% carbohydrates, 3% fat, and 9% minerals, it sure beats the nutritional profile of other processed foods.

Keeping in mind the circle of life, it follows that waste matter decomposes and travels back up the food chain, possibly being incorporated into some animal’s muscle and then eaten by humans. Most peoples’ reactions were of disgust at Ikeda’s synthetic meat, but he hopes that with some good marketing and lower research costs, this meat alternative will become a viable product. This is an idea that takes the 3R’s to the next level, but how far is too far? We’ll let the people of Japan decide this one. Personally, I’ll just have a salad.

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