The last real steak

‘Last real steak’ is chapter 28 of Insights from the Future, a book I’m writing about technology, innovation, and people … from the perspective of the future. THIS IS NOT NEWS; IT IS A PROJECTION OF FUTURE NEWS. Subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch and get notified when the book publishes.

April 11, 2037

It’s dark inside, like all good steakhouses. There’s some golden oldies playing, maybe Nora Jones, and someone will come tickle the ivory live in an hour or so. There’s a fine red wine on the table, and two dedicated customers.

Plus, of course, the last real steak.

It’s a historic moment at El Gaucho steakhouse in Seattle’s Belltown district. El Gaucho, which has been serving dead cow, chicken, lamb, and assorted other beast and fowl for generations, is serving the last seared piece of meat that originated in a living, breathing, thinking, feeling animal.

“I know it’s super-cliche, but this really is the end of an era,” head chef and general manager Ernesto Chang told me as I, along with 15 or more journalists, bloggers, and newsbots watched the table. “Starting tomorrow, no animal will have to die so that our patrons can eat.”

Since 2020 the Impossible Burger and Impossible Steak and Impossible chicken has become very possible. And from maybe five different providers there are now over 5,000 companies all over the planet that grow meat, chicken, fish, and dozens of other protein-rich foods in huge manufacturies. The new farm is in, as they say, a test tube.

All of the meat at El Gaucho will now be cruelty-free.

“The turning point for me was when the judges at the International Food Festival three years ago literally could not tell the difference between cultured meat and killed meat,” Chang says. “Then over the last two years, they started preferring the cultured meat.”

As a chef, the new varieties of cruelty-free meat are better because they can be ordered precisely to spec: just the right fat content, just the right fat distribution, just the right tenderness, just the right texture, just the right thickness. You can now order your steak by number, and get exactly what you want, every single time.

That doesn’t satisfy everyone, and the natural steak lover enjoying his last meal of once-alive meat at El Gaucho is one of them. While experts say blind taste tests show lab-grown meat is either the same as or better than animal-derived products, traditionalists argue that there are indefinable taste, texture, and even health benefits to real meat.

But it has fallen out of favor.

Growing real meat at scale takes huge amounts of land and huge quantities of grains and water and other primary foods. Acquiring real meat at scale means killing and butchering animals in enormous quantities, requiring thousands of death factories all over the planet.

For most, the cost is too high.

The steak aficionado enjoying his last real steak won’t share his name. Eating real steak has gone out of favor in the past decade, and few now flaunt it or even admit to it openly.

“It’s a sad day,” he told. “This is an amazing steak, but it might be the last one I’ll ever eat.”

There is of course black market meat, bought and sold under the table like drugs. But the quality and freshness is, of course, impossible to regulate, and there are steep fines for non-FDA-approved foodstuffs. Plus, most of those who want meat are happy with the cultured product which is available anywhere and is much cheaper now than steak or chicken was historically.

And most, according to surveys, prefer it.

But last steak lover, as I’ve dubbed the anonymous man tonight in El Gaucho, says he’ll probably be back tomorrow. He’s not happy with the change, but … steak is steak.

And tomorrow, it still will be.


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