A Japanese food startup is leading the cultured meat movement by letting high school students make them.
Founded in October 2015, the Tokyo-based company pioneered a “flow-based, scalable cell culture system using low-cost culture medium.” Hanyu formed a non-profit arm called “Shojinmeat Project”, which currently gives high school students access to basic equipment that allows them to produce artificial meat. Having access to lab equipment like benchtop centrifuges makes it easier for the students to work on their project.
The project derives its name from “shojin ryori,” which Hanyu referred to as the vegetarian cuisine for Zen. He told New Harvest in February:
“‘Shojin’ means devotion to path: nonviolence, middle way, harmony and all of those things. Our message is that the ongoing environmental destruction and all the unsustainable practices don’t align with this path.”
According to Quartz, students participating in the project can take animal cells and grow them into “slimy globs,” all in the comfort of their own homes.
For the uninitiated, it all works by placing the cells in a culture medium, a nutritive substance designed to support their growth. Hanyu told Disrupting Japan in April:
“Basically you take this animal, get a few cells from that animal—it could be chicken, beef, pork—anything. You don’t even need to kill that animal. You take the few cells and then you get this into a culture medium, and grow the cells in culture medium. And at the end you get a mass of cells, which is basically meat.”
It literally is a science project, but the idea is to eventually bring “clean meat” to the consumer market. Hanyu hopes to reap valuable feedback from the engagement and use it to create better products in the future.
In case you’re curious to know how lab-grown meat tastes like, Hanyu, speaking on chicken cells, described it quite simply:
“Well, when we cooked it, it tasted like fried piece of KFC.”
For now, the Shojinmeat Project remains self-funded and acquires money from its art division “SCIGRA,” which produces scientific media content.