In a nondescript hotel ballroom last month at the South by Southwest Interactive festival, Andras Forgacs offered a rare glimpse at the sci-fi future of food.
Before an audience of tech-industry types, Forgacs produced a plate of small pink wafers - "steak chips," he called them - and invited people up for a taste. But these were no ordinary snacks: Instead of being harvested from a steer, they had been grown in a laboratory from tiny samples of animal tissue.
One taster's verdict on this Frankenmeat? Not bad, actually.
"It was delicious. It tasted like a thin piece of beef jerky," said Michael Wang, a program manager in Washington. "I would have never thought it wasn't real meat."
Forgacs is co-founder and CEO of Modern Meadow, a young company that is developing lab-engineered meat and leather products, also known as "cultured," "in vitro" or "test-tube" meat. He is among a new breed of youthful entrepreneurs who are applying tech-startup principles - innovation, efficiency, data-driven processes - to address the growing challenges of global food production.
"Once you start to see food as technology, as a form of hardware, you start to ask, why can't food get better?" asked Rob Rhinehart, CEO of Rosa Labs, a nutritional-science startup based in Los Angeles. "But there's a lot of disagreement about what our products are. Is it fake? Is it real?"