What’s for dinner?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is offering a million-dollar prize for the “first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012.”

You’ll have to excuse me, but the idea of giant containers of artificial animal tissue makes me just a mite queasy.

What’s wrong with soy? If it’s not meaty enough for you, you’re doing it wrong. Tonight I had some delicious fake chicken in black bean sauce, with rice and stir-fried vegetables. It was sali-very good. I know of a couple of places in Perth to get the stuff, but I usually go to Sri Melaka on James St in Northbridge.

Just don’t read this description on how it’s made. Doesn’t sound like they’re describing anything I’ve eaten.

Soy protein usually arrives at a food manufacturer in the form of a dry powder. Soy protein is coiled and globular, while real meat proteins are fibrous, so the challenge is to change the soy’s molecular structure. The food manufacturer exposes the soy protein to heat or acid or a solvent, and then runs it through an extruder to reshape it. “When you denature the molecules, they open up and become more fibrous,” says Barry Swanson, a professor of food science and nutrition at Washington State University and a fellow at the Institute of Food Technologists. “Then you hold them together with a gel, such as carrageenan or xanthan gum, something that will hold a little bit of water, and what you get is something that vaguely resembles a piece of meat.”

Oh, that’s a ringing endorsement. I’ll have to invite him over for stir-fry, and show him how it’s done.