Shmeat: Meat grown in a laboratory from animal cells; the objectives include reducing animal cruelty and increasing the global supply of affordable protein. “Shmeat” is a portmanteau of “sheet” and “meat.”
An undated article on a website called Shmeat.com (apparently operated by SavingAdvice.com) explains the process:
Cells are harvested from a live animal, such as a chicken, pig or cow. The cells are then placed in a special solution of nutrients which mimics the qualities of blood. This nutrient solution will help the cells to multiply where they can then be secured to a spongy sheet which has been soaked with nutrient solution. The sheet is then stretched to increase cell size and protein content. It’s from the combination of this “sheet meat” that shmeat derives its name.
Shmeat was the subject of “Building a $325,000 Burger,” a May 14, 2013, story in the New York Times. Reporting from the Netherlands, where researcher Mark Post has created a proof-of-concept shmeat patty, science writer Henry Fountain noted that the burger “was created at phenomenal cost — 250,000 euros, or about $325,000, provided by a donor who so far has remained anonymous.” Fountain went on:
“This is still an early-stage technology,” said Neil Stephens, a social scientist at Cardiff University in Wales who has long studied the development of what is also sometimes referred to as “shmeat.” “There’s still a huge number of things they need to learn.”
The origins of “shmeat” are uncertain. The earliest citation I could find is in a December 5, 2008, column by Lou Bendrick (“Meet Shmeat”) in the online environmental magazine Grist:
Test-tube meat is also known as in vitro meat, cultured meat, victimless meat, vat-grown meat, hydroponic meat, and, finally, shmeat. (Note to self: Be sure to apply for inevitable X Prize to rename this stuff.)
For now, let’s call it shmeat.
Shmeat is grown from a cell culture (hence the in vitro or cultured prefixes), not from a live animal. These harvested cells are taken from an animal, such as a pig, and placed in a “nutrient-rich medium” that mimics blood. Once the cells multiply they are attached to a spongy scaffold or sheet (sheet + meat = shmeat) that has been soaked with nutrients and stretched to increase cell size and protein content.
“Also known as” suggests that “shmeat” had already entered the vocabulary, but I couldn’t find an earlier citation.
As Bendrick jokingly points out, and as the title of his column underscores, “shmeat” is not a felicitous name for a serious product. (Shortly after the Grist column appeared, a commenter on the Offalgood website said “shmeat” was “a horrible name, it sounds like what you get when you cross shit and meat.”)
Words beginning with shm- indicate mockery or derision in Yiddish (see shmo, shmendrick, shmegegge, shmuck, etc.), and the pattern has been adopted in dismissive English reduplications like fancy-shmancy. (See my recent post, “Name, Shmame,” and related links.)
Obligatory Urban Dictionary addendum: “Shmeat: Small penis or dick, also reffering [sic] to any person or anything. It can be used for anything anyone and anything can be a shmeat.” Posted November 27, 2006, a full two years before the Grist column.