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Japanese Startup Gives High School Students Meat-Growing Machines

In the quest for more sustainable sources of protein, the emergence of lab-grown meat has gained a lot of attention. Eight companies across the world are working to bring meat grown from stem cells – and without the environmental impact and harm to animals – to your plate in the very near future. 

However, this massive disruption has been slow-going. As Gizmodo put it, so far lab-grown meat is a lot of hype and no consumer product.

"These future foods’ promises are hypothetical, with many claims based on a futurist optimism in line with Silicon Valley’s startup culture," Gizmodo reads. "Cultured meat is still in its research and development phase and must overcome massive hurdles before hitting market. A consumer-ready product does not yet exist and its progress is heavily shrouded by intellectual property claims and sensationalist press."

Some blame this initial fumbling on the fact that lab-grown foods tend to jump straight from research labs to businesses, skipping over any chance for people to acclimate to the concept, which many are still skeptical of. 

With this in mind, Yuki Hanyu, founder of the Tokyo-based cultured meat company, Integriculture, is taking a very different approach. Instead of sending the products straight from the lab to the market, he is handing out "meat-growing machines" to Japan's youth. Through his nonprofit, the Shojinmeat Project, Hanyu gives students high-tech, microwave-sized heated boxes so they can culture cells – and thus, meat – on their own at home. This, he hopes, add that missing step of engagement which might ultimately make lab-grown meats widely accepted. 

More than that goal, however, the Shojinmeat Project allows Hanyu to directly apply what he learns from the students' interaction to future products while also fostering a sense of educational curiosity around lab-grown meat, which may further help the products gain widespread acceptance and "avoid the pitfalls of high-tech foods in other parts of the world," according to Quartz.

“If they can set the direction, we will have some consensus,” Hanyu told Quartz. “If cultured meat is something primary school students can do, why would you fear that?”

This latest initiative from the Shojinmeat Project aligns with the playfulness the nonprofit has cultivated in previous attempts to make cultured meat mainstream. For instance, the group raises funds by selling cultured-meat-related manga comic books, which feature recurring characters that pop up on the organization’s website and writings. Additionally, the group has approached Buddhist organizations for input on the best ways to introduce cultured meat to Japanese culture. 

Hanyu's approach has garnered respect from others in the industry, including Bruce Friedrich, who leads The Good Food Institute, an organization that supports and lobbies on behalf of groups working to bring cultured meat to market. Still, Friedrich doesn’t think the Shojinmeat Project method is essential for introducing a cultured-meat product to consumers. But Friedrich isn't convinced the methods are necessary. 

“I’m excited that Shojinmeat is bringing their singular way of presenting clean meat to the discussion. Anything that makes science fun is fantastic for science," he said. But, “the polls that exist indicate that, right now, even before people are presented with the myriad advantages that clean meat has over animal meat, we already have half of people who are willing to consume it."

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