Stranger than fiction

‘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.

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62 Responses to Stranger than fiction

  1. raj bhown says:

    superb. some imaginations are beyond imagination and this is one of them; yet so close to human reach with mother science around.

    Like

  2. Any post quoting The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy deserves a “Like” — and a Freshly Pressed nod to boot! Congrats!

    And yes, the implications of genetics, food and the future are astounding. We’re definitely biting off more than we can chew. Hehe — see what I did there… 😉

    Like

  3. Miriam Joy says:

    It’s an interesting thought – and you quoted Hitchhiker’s Guide, so I automatically like you 🙂 Congrats on Freshly Pressed!

    Like

  4. terribogard says:

    Reminds me of the Chikky Nubs from Margaret Atwood’s ‘Oryx and Crake’.
    And the Pepsi stem cell research controversy: http://www.snopes.com/politics/medical/pepsi.asp
    Weird, creepy stuff. Stranger than fiction, as they say.

    But how does the meat taste?
    Remember the scene from The Fly(1986) when Geena Davis eats the teleported steak?
    Of course, that’s just a(n awesome) movie.

    Like

  5. Wow, I’m so glad you wrote this article because I’ve always hear people talking about this book, but I’ve never actually known what it was about…now I know how I’ll be spending my weekend! Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

    Cheers,
    Courtney Hosny

    Like

  6. Finally, I solution to all our problems!
    But seriously, great post, very interesting.

    Like

  7. susiemorrow says:

    It’s like an ethical mine field all of this. Its what we can’t imagine thats most scary. I think I need to not panic and find my towel 😉

    Like

  8. Raven says:

    If it turned out to actually be harm free, I would totally eat it. I’ve been a vegetarian for 10 years. Lab-a-licious! Who’s up for Chickie-knobs?

    Like

  9. Raven says:

    Awww…look at that nasty split infinitive. :/ Sorry.

    Like

  10. urbannight says:

    The use of Douglas Adams to discuss the possible, near-future, ability to bioengineer meat for the dinner table is priceless. It’s an automatic like. I’m fine with lab create diamonds. So lab created meat shouldn’t be a problem. But cannabalism goes to far. I don’t think I’m that interested in finding out what people meat tastes like.

    Like

  11. all i will say to this excellent post is this…

    “In the year 2525
    If man is still alive
    If woman can survive
    They may thrive

    In the year 3535
    Ain’t gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lies
    Everything you think, do or say
    Is in the pill you took today

    In the year 4545
    Ain’t gonna need your teeth, won’t need your eyes
    You won’t find a thing to chew
    Nobody’s gonna look at you

    In the year 5555
    Your arms are hanging limp at your sides
    Your legs got nothing to do
    Some machine is doing that for you

    In the year 6565
    Ain’t gonna need no husband, won’t need no wife
    You’ll pick your son, pick your daughter too
    From the bottom of a long glass tube

    In the year 7510
    If God’s a-comin’ he ought to make it by then
    Maybe he’ll look around himself and say
    Guess it’s time for the Judgement day

    In the year 8510
    God is gonna shake his mighty head then
    He’ll either say I’m pleased where man has been
    Or tear it down and start again

    In the year 9595
    I’m kinda wondering if man is gonna be alive
    He’s taken everything this old earth can give
    And he ain’t put back nothing

    Now it’s been 10,000 years
    Man has cried a billion tears
    For what he never knew
    Now man’s reign is through

    But through eternal night
    The twinkling of starlight
    So very far away
    Maybe it’s only yesterday…”
    (Zager & Evans)

    Like

  12. S.C. says:

    There’s something about the idea of lab-created meat that puts me off my appetite. On the other hand, we’ve been eating genetically modified meat for years, “enhanced” by hormones or whatever else crap they’re putting into these animals, so maybe this wouldn’t be a huge leap.

    Like

  13. pezcita says:

    Very enlightening post – sounds like the “replicators” of Star Trek are not so far into the future as we might think. Thanks for reminding me to read Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by the way. Arthur reminds me of the Swedish Chef on the Muppets. He can’t cook or eat anything because nothing wants to be cooked and eaten!

    Like

  14. My big question is that growth of anything requires energy. Would artificial, or lab-grown, ultimately factory-grown protein be less energy intensive than natural means of harvesting protein?

    Regarding your question: If there is no god, we aren’t playing it. We are just being humans, doing what humans do.

    Like

  15. I like my meat from a live organically grown animal, no force feeding, and definitely no lab-growing. This may be the future, but ill wait until im forced to before I try this.

    On the other hand, the leather growing part of it gets two thumbs up from me.

    Like

  16. chaotican says:

    Personally, I’d rather eat tissue grown from a human with no harm to anyone than eat a hamburger made from a cow that gave its life in the deal. I mean, I DO the latter, but I’d rather do the former, from an ethical standpoint.

    Like

  17. Jessica says:

    Ha, I loved that part in the Hitchhiker’s Guide! The idea of growing meat in a lab is definitely interesting, I’m curious to see how it develops further.

    Like

  18. What did the cannibal say after eating a clown?

    This tastes funny.

    Like

  19. Rizzy-Li says:

    Lets download some food……then Spam will be Spam 😉

    Like

  20. Growing meat in a laboratory just seems wrong, as does most genetically altered foods.

    Like

  21. edgeledge says:

    If it does come to fruition it will reduce greenhouse gasses too, no more cows and sheep farting 🙂

    Like

  22. shujibhuji says:

    Just wow..You know the only reason I followed ur blog is the banner you have put up. Too classy and artistic. I did not even bother to read this post. Anyways cheers. Just remember you got one follower like that with the help of art. 🙂

    Like

  23. craft fear says:

    Great way to tie science (of the fuuuuture) and lit together! Congrats on getting Freshly Pressed!

    Like

  24. liamodell1 says:

    Thank you for following my blog! I really appreciate it! 🙂

    Like

  25. cartoonmick says:

    Hmmm….. I wonder what 2 dozen prawns (shrimps) would say, and if they would all agree on the one point.

    Like

  26. leahandsam says:

    Science is so cool 😀

    Like

  27. hippieauthor says:

    Reblogged this on Hippie Lessons and commented:
    Vegan alternative? Sounds a little too weird for me.

    Like

  28. Anita Neuman says:

    Allow me to share this recent conversation between my 4-year-old son and me.
    Levi: Mom, when I die, will people eat me?
    Me: No! Of course not!
    Levi: Why?
    Me: Because we don’t generally eat people.
    Levi: Okay. (pause) Do Americans?

    I’m not sure what that says about what kids are learning in Canadian kindergarten, but I thought it was hilarious. And so is your post. Congrats on the FP!

    Like

  29. Pingback: Omnivore’s Ethics « The Photosophy

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