Would you eat this? ScienceDaily reports:
“Many technology components are now coming into place in order to realize the concept of cultured meat. This includes a cell source that is possible to use, several alternative processes to turn these cells into muscle cells for meat, and nutrients free of animal components which can be produced from sunlight and carbon dioxide.
In addition, a life cycle assessment of cultured meat compared to traditionally produced meat was recently published. It shows that the environmental benefits of cultured meat are very large (see attached fact sheet). For example, compared to the rearing of cattle, cultured meat would entail dramatic reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water use.”
The unintentionally funny line comes later:
“The result is encouraging regarding the possibility to actually be able to supply consumers with cultivated meat in the future, and the scientists have not found any crucial arguments against cultured meat.”
I’ll give them an argument: Yuck.
But this isn’t the yuck of squeamishness. This is the yuck of recognition of the repulsive unnaturalness of meat grown in a lab.
In the first place, the attempt to reduce food into a clean chemical process leaves out everything we don’t know about nutrition. It is hubris to assume that our knowledge of the chemical interactions between our bodies and our food is complete enough that we can replace our ordinary dependence on nature with a scientific dependence on the lab. It’s no surprise that societies with the most efficient and scientific approach to food nevertheless continue to have increasing rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related maladies. It’s simply arrogant to assume that we have the ability to replicate, in the lab, the delicate and intricate balance between man and nature that has been designed or evolved, whichever you prefer, in our bodies.
But even more importantly, petri-dish meat takes the charge of inhumanity against our modern food practices to new heights. A few generations ago even the most ardent Luddite would have found the idea of eating meat grown in test tubes and petri dishes a fanciful parody. But now it’s here, and our scientists can’t even comprehend why the rest of us blanch.
We’re human, so eating is more than an exchange of chemical compounds with the environment. Our days, our cities, our economics, our homes, our manners and traditions are all built around food – both how we eat it and how we obtain it. Civilization itself began when communities shifted from hunting and gathering to agriculture. Civilization is built on our farms. Our societies are built on taking nature and taming it. Now we’re looking at another step: completely dominating nature altogether with science. So these researchers, with their inability to find good arguments against their work, ought to think outside their narrow concerns of technical feasibility and waste exchange.
Concerns about the resources used to support high levels of meat consumption are valid. But it seems to me the answer is to find ways to make agriculture more nature-friendly, not to make it even more unnatural. If not, the next time you’re served a steak, you might not only have to choose whether you want it medium or rare, you’ll have to ask whether it was ever even a cow to begin with.