Vivid green fluid silently courses down a vertical stack of cascading glass tubes on the third floor of the Plant, the sustainability-oriented Back of the Yards small business incubator where the meat-packer Peer Foods once processed industrial quantities of ham, bacon, and sausage in cavernous stainless steel smokers.
Nearby, spirulina-spiked Beyond Burgers sizzle and char on a flattop griddle, not far from a cart arrayed with ocean-blue chocolate truffles. Lab workers bustle about, occasionally swigging from tumblers of mushroom- and algae-enriched beer or seltzer. Amid them, Leonard Lerer, a slight, 62-year-old, South African-born scientist washes hydroponically grown red leaf lettuce in a sink.
Leonard is soft-spoken, with a nasal Cape Town accent, and he’s a bit of a mumbler. But he can also be forceful, direct, and animated when he’s pitching his work to investors or making a point to a reporter. In this moment he’s nearly shouting above the din. “The fact that we happen to be working with psychedelics is essentially because we have the expertise and the knowledge related to cellular agriculture,” he says. “And that’s it. I want to be absolutely clear, because otherwise I’m fucked. I never tried the shit. Never gonna try the shit. The only time I’ll ever try the shit is if I have cancer and I’m about to die and I have terminal depression. Because I believe in the shit.”
The “shit” is the hallucinogenic compound psilocybin, extracted from psychedelic mushrooms, which are fruiting in large quantities on the same floor in secured, sterile, temperature-and-humidity-controlled grow rooms.
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