How Technology May Help Cut Meat Consumption

One of the most interesting—and controversial—fields in tech these days involves in vitro meat. By growing our meat in labs from animal cells—so the theory goes—we could eventually wean ourselves off our dependence on livestock as a protein source. One day, we may even be able to print our steaks and chops from a 3D printer.

There are reasons beyond animal welfare to find meat alternatives, though. If the rest of the world’s rapidly increasing population went through meat at the rate we Americans do (we consumed 92.3 billion pounds from 9 billion animals in 2011 alone), we’d soon run out of animals to butcher—or at least the space and the feed to raise them. There are also big environmental and health concerns in industrial meat production, from the run-off and greenhouse gases emanating from toxic manure to the antibiotics used to keep livestock upright.

Creating an in vitro meat supply might seem like the answer to all those problems, but we’re still years away from seeing viable, affordable artificial meat—and probably many more years from convincing the public to eat it. But what if we could use technology in other ways to cut our dependence on natural meat?

In New York this weekend, a gaggle of tech entrepreneurs, software developers, butchers, farmers, food industry executives, and health policy wonks are gathering to brainstorm the issue of meat. Held by the blog Food+Tech Connect and called Hack//Meat, the hackathon’s goal is to come up with technological answer to the problems of meat supply, processing, distribution, health, and ultimately consumption. One of big problems the group will tackle is how—simply put—to get people to eat less meat.