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Lynn Hummel: Test tube hamburger ­— no surprise

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. I’m talking about the five ounce cultured beef hamburger patty, produced at a cost of 250,000 pounds (roughly $350,000), fried and sampled in London recently. The burger was “invented” by Professor Mark Post by a process that took 20,000 tiny strips of meat grown from cow muscle stem cells and assembled over a three month period. The cooked burger was tasted by two experts, Josh Schonwald, author of Taste of Tomorrow, and food scientist Hanni Rutzler. Schonwald noted that fat was absent and there was a, “leanness to the bite, but an element of taste was missing.” Rutzler found it “close to meat,” but she expected the texture to be softer, and observed that it wasn’t very juicy. Schonwald pointed out that the test was, “an unnatural experience,” because in over 20 years of eating burgers, he had rarely had one without ketchup or onions or jalapenos or bacon. He made no mention of mustard.

Professor Post labels his invention “in-vetro meat,” a title that will do nothing for marketing it. He says it will cause a food revolution in supermarkets in the next 10 - 20 years. He says the flavor will be improved by adding fat in the next few months.

Environmentalists (but not ranchers I expect) are excited about test tube hamburger because the beef industry creates 20 percent of all greenhouse emissions and 70 percent of our farmland is devoted to meat production. Cultured beef, it is estimated, will require 99 percent less land than livestock, 82 - 96 percent less water and will produce 78 - 95 percent less greenhouse gas.

Why shouldn’t we be surprised at the prospect of eating test-tube hamburger? Think about it. Some of the cute babies we see strolled down the street are test-tube babies. They were produced by “in vetro” means and they are normal, healthy little human beings, thanks to the ingenuity of our scientists and doctors, and much to the delight of their parents who probably couldn’t have produced the miracle in any other way.

We also know that, while we are at the frontier of stem-cell research, we are expecting continuous progress and breakthroughs in the treatment of special injuries, brain disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and other medical challenges.

We have been heading in the direction of phony hamburger ever since July 5, 1996, when Dolly, the cloned sheep, was born in Scotland. The “World’s Most Famous Sheep” lived to the age of six and gave birth to a half dozen lambs: Bonnie, twins Sally and Rosie, and triplets Lucy, Darcy and Cotton. Dolly was derived from a mammary gland cell and was given her name by her developers “because we couldn’t think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton’s.”

But beyond the medical and scientific brilliance we see all around us, there have always been mysterious developments that we can’t understand. For example, we are told that there are computer programs that generate “artificial intelligence,” whatever that is. We have also learned that we can have three minutes of “phone sex” for about $100. The only way I’d be able to understand how that works would be with a heavy dose of artificial intelligence.

Men and women have worn wigs and toupees for centuries. In England, young barristers buy second hand wigs to wear in court so they will look more experienced than they really are. Their oaths of honesty do not include their wigs. For men, there is nothing more conspicuous than a cheap toupee. I have spotted some from as far away as across a football field that couldn’t have cost more than $9.99. A shaved head would be more attractive and more sanitary.

When the gentlemen in colonial days wore those pants that stopped just below the knees, they had tight white stockings from there on down to their buckle shoes. Legs come in all shapes and sizes and no self-respecting colonial wanted to display chicken legs in those white stockings. So devices were invented to be applied over the calves to make them appear muscular. Why not? That’s how the expression “the pursuit of happiness” came into existence and was used later when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.

Even before that, ballet dancers wore tight, revealing costumes. Women dancers were accustomed to tight outfits, but the men were not. No man wanted to be viewed as sparingly endowed, and as with legs, male endowments came in all sizes and shapes. Accordingly, it became customary for men who danced ballet to stuff something down the front of their costumes, like a rolled up pair of socks, to enhance the appearance of virile endowment. The same thinking, of course, applies to buttock enhancers for both men and women and silicone implants for women. The pursuit of happiness sometimes means nothing more than a means to nudge self image.

So don’t be surprised to learn that what you think you see is not really what it is. Sometimes happiness requires a boost. And remember this for when you bite into your first pretend hamburger 10 - 20 years from now, if you put on enough mustard, ketchup, onions, bacon, and jalapenos, you won’t notice the lack of genuine hamburger taste.