Vegan Documentarian Tells the Inside Story of Lab-Grown Meat
Liz Marshall’s latest release, Meat the FutureAvailable for streaming on April 5, 2015, the film will be accessible via Apple TV, Amazon Prime, and Google Play. It is an incredibly long documentary that traces the rise of a technological breakthrough in meat production from stem cells. This will reduce the demand for animal agriculture and eliminate the need to slaughter animals. She tells the story through Uma Valeti, a cardiologist-turned food entrepreneur who now heads one of the world’s leading cell-cultivated meat companies, Upside Foods (formerly called Memphis Meats). The film’s director spoke to me about the new documentary and the future steps. I also asked her what cell-cultivated chicken taste like.
TIME: Your vegan. What made you choose to tell a story on cultivated meats?
Marshall: Back in 2016 I was actively seeking something that was very solution focused and character driven, also knowing that we don’t want doom and gloom stories. It was important to me that I found something practical and feasible, that was actually in the process, rather than a dream. Uma introduced me to me. [Valeti] as he was in the Genesis phase—he was just moving into their first R&D facility —and we had a couple of conversations and we just clicked. Just to find out what the outcome would be, I began filming.
In dystopian society, growing food in vats can be seen as a sign of tech-corporate excess.Filmsthe novels. Are you squeamish about the subject or have doubts?
Yes. It became a routine for me. This made perfect sense. This isn’t the panacea that can change everything. It is my hope it will transform the food system. The film itself is a historical document. It’s the only film in the world that chronicles the birth of this industry, told through the eyes of a cardiologist who took this very risky career turn to become the CEO and founder of the world’s leading cultivated meat company.
Was there anything that surprised you during the filming process?
When we first started the project, it was extreme new, abstract and marginal. And I think it still is, though for many people there’s more and more interest. Memphis Meats received $2.5 billion in investment from the meat industry in 2017. [now called Upside]. I didn’t imagine that things would accelerate so quickly. The greatest surprise was how rapidly this is happening and being a part the conversation. I think it’s because we all recognize the need for something like this.
Are you sure you’d see the cultivated meats on shelves before you finish?
The pandemic struck and I was sure it would happen. The pandemic is causing this industry to expand worldwide. This may be because there are now more people who can eat healthy foods and less fear of getting zoonotic. I think it’s just a matter of time.
Learn More: How a Cow Could Feed the Planet
Have you tried it?
This was something I have tried twice. The first time was early on in their first R&D facility. Then I did it again two years later. It was an experience because I don’t eat meat. In 1989, I became vegetarian and then vegan. Ghosts in Our MachineDocumentary [about animal farming]2012 For me, it was an easy decision to make. It was almost like traveling to the moon. This was all part of my research. It was fascinating.
How did it taste?
My memory is that I once said that it tasted like meat. All of my team members laughed at me for saying this. It is meat. It wasn’t revelatory. It had the same taste as chicken. However, it made me remember why people like meat.
Which of these do you wish that you could have captured more?
More access is what I want. Literally and metaphorically, you desire to be present in the room. These moments and milestones are important to you. I knew from the onset that there’s no way that we could film everything. It was that simple. But, it wasn’t enough.
What’s the next chapter for you?
I hope that the industry becomes an entry point for technology decoding, and that education and awareness are promoted through this platform. This will be a historic story of the birth phase that led to the transformation of the paradigm. And if it doesn’t get off the ground, well, it’s still an important story to look back on.
Here are more must-read stories from TIME