‘Would you like to see the menu?’ he said, ‘or would you like to meet the Dish of the Day?’
In the hilarious science fiction book The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, there is a restaurant scene where the diners can make up their mind about the dish of the day after evaluating and talking to the animal that has been selectively bred and genetically modified such that it actually wants to be eaten. Does this sound absurd?
We may have taken one tiny step towards that eventuality. A Missouri based company Modern Meadows, has recently had a six figure investment from Peter Thiel of the Breakout Labs to culture and bioprint meat and leather products directly from real animal cells. Briefly, first one takes tissue from a living animal through biopsy (this process is harmless to the animal), then the desired cells are isolated and grown in large numbers in a laboratory environment. The cell aggregates may either be directly used a raw material for industrial processes (leather etc) such that the end result is a laboratory grown mink coat (!) or, if one wants a juicy piece of meat, they are built up as organs using a 3D bioprinter. In short we get fur coats sans the guilt, and more interestingly, laboratory grown pieces of meat for food…in other words meat that wants to be eaten. (For detailed video on 3D bioprinting, check this site: http://www.explainingthefuture.com/bioprinting.html )
3D Bioprinting has been used to bioprint functional blood vessels and cardiac tissue using cells obtained from a chicken and it already has tremendously positive implications for organ transplant. Once it is used on a large scale to factory produce food for the masses, it will certainly reduce the carbon footprint and also be a humane and guilt free way of eating a burger.
‘I just don’t want to eat an animal that’s standing there inviting me to’, said Arthur,’It’s heartless’.
That brings us to the shaky ground of ethics. Since the meat does not involve killing or force- feeding an animal, it is therefore a legitimate and ethical way to get your much-needed animal protein. But, it may raise other issues though, like the use of foetal calf serum (yes, it means what it says… it IS foetal serum from the young of a cow) for tissue culture and whether we have the right to play God. If we are growing meat for eating and human organs for transplantation, how far is the next step towards cannibalism (albeit at the tissue culture level)?
On a lighter note, in a couple of decades “You look good enough to eat” may be a conversation stopper because of its sinister implications. And will Indian/ Chinese/ American fast food mean literally so ? (eeeeep!!!)
‘A green salad’, said Arthur emphatically.
As and when such meat products hit the market, they may also appeal to the vegans. The vegetarian argument of a plant-based diet is primarily because of an aversion to killing animals. When meat is grown in a laboratory environment it gets reduced to just animal tissue and at a microscopic level it is the same as eating plant tissue.
‘Are you going to tell me’, said Arthur, ‘that I shouldn’t have green salad?’. ‘Well’, said the animal, ‘I know many vegetables that are very clear on that point’.
That is certainly… er.. food for thought. I think i just lost my appetite.