Test-tube Meat!

The very first laboratory-grown burger was taste-tested recently in London. This is an amazing scientific advancement, that’s just a little bit icky! Here’s a Washington Post article about the taste test. There’s lots of discussion now about whether lab-grown meat could help solve world hunger, given the huge land + feed+ water + other stuff expense of raising beef in the field.

People are saying that the “hunger problem” in the world is not fundamentally a scarcity problem, it’s a poverty problem. There’s enough food, it’s just people are too poor to access it. This point embodies a lot of Amartya Sen‘s ideas on the entitlement approach (failure of exchange entitlements).

As we will learn in class when we talk about food demand: when people’s incomes increase, the types and quality of food they want to eat changes. We will also learn about whether and how the quantity of food demanded changes as income changes…do you think people want to eat more calories as their incomes go up? What shape might that graph look have, with income on the x-axis and calories “demanded” on the y-axis?

So, what do you think? Do you think test-tube burgers could eventually supplement real meat in the diet? Do you think test-tube burgers could help solve world hunger? What about the nutritional considerations? There are many micronutrient deficiencies which could be fixed by including some animal products in the diet… (vitamin A, iron, iodine….)!

The continuing debate on SNAP restrictions

There has been a lot of discussion and debate lately about placing further restrictions on the types of food that SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the new name for the food stamp program) participants can purchase. For example, alcohol is already not allowed. Here is a nice article from slate.com outlining the controversy.

The SNAP program issues pre-paid debit cards to participants, which they can use at grocery stores or convenience stores, and even some farmers’ markets (but not restaurants). So, what do you expect the impact of the SNAP program to be on the demand for food? What types of “food bundles” do you expect people to buy? What are some factors that will influence the foods that people buy? When you go to the store, how important is price versus taste?

This debate seems to have been ignited by the epidemiology of obesity and non-communicable diseases in the U.S. People started asking: since low-income people are more likely to be overweight, why do they need help buying food? Well, that brings us automatically to another interesting question: are healthy diets cheaper, or more expensive? Professor Adam Drewnowski of the University of Washington has done lots of research on this topic, if you’re interested to check it out.