Hungry WWII POW Had Ideas Silicon Valley Now Wants

Inside the story of Willem van Eelen
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 30, 2017 10:52 AM CDT
Hungry WWII POW Had Ideas Silicon Valley Now Wants
A stock photo of what could be lab-grown meat.   (Getty Images)

We've come a long way since a 5-ounce hamburger patty was grown in a lab in 2013 at upwards of $325,000. As Quartz reports, advancements in technology have dropped that cost tremendously, to about $6,000 a pound. And Hampton Creek—a darling of Silicon Valley, a food company valued at $1 billion—wants in. It says it'll have a lab-grown meat product available next year, and if it succeeds, it'll be thanks in part to a dogged WWII POW. Quartz digs into the story of Willem van Eelen, born in 1923 in what was the Dutch colony of Indonesia; the Guardian reports he spent five years starving in POW camps after being captured by the Japanese while serving in the war. As the New Yorker once quoted him as saying, "I was so close to death that you could see my spine from the front." And daughter Ira van Eelen says that hunger left its mark.

As a medical student in 1948, he saw researchers experimenting with stem cells in a quest to grow skin for burn victims. A light bulb went off. As he recounted the experience to his daughter: "The only thing I saw was a piece of meat." What followed was a lifelong quest: filing for patents, making surprise visits to would-be investors in an effort to scrape together funding, and teaming up with others who he discovered also had patents related to lab-grown meat—including Jon Vein. The two launched a concerted effort to get financing and draw in more researchers, but van Eelen died in 2015 without seeing his dream realized. Then, the call: Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick phoned Ira van Eelen this summer, wanting her father's patents. As of September, it was a done deal. Read the full story at Quartz. (More Longform stories.)

Stories to sink your teeth into.
Get our roundup of longform stories every Saturday.
Sign up
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.