Already in the UK, potato chips - or 'crisps' as they are known locally - scale new heights of fancy ranging from lamb in mint sauce, without a trace of either being involved in their manufacture, to a recent 'hedgehog' flavor I have yet to try. I once went into a pub and asked for burnt clutch and nitromethane flavored crisps and the waiter spun round to look at his rack before realizing I was having him on. Perhaps in future the rich will eat organic food, and white trash like myself will enjoy bilge-and-mutant-cucumber flavored crisps.
The Morningside Cannibals: a circle of polite middle-class people who dined out on each other, with aid of a medical tissue incubator tank. Figuring out what on earth to charge them with--cannibalism not being illegal in Scotland--was the least of your worries when the blogs moved in. In the end they, they were reported to the Procurator Fiscal for outraging public decency and corpse desecration: a flimsy case, as the defense barristers pointed out in court, given the dinner parties in question were strictly private affairs, and the human flesh on the plates had been cloned from ladies who were not only still alive but willing to testify that their own cultured meat tasted nothing like chicken. In the end, the case had collapsed amidst recriminations and calls for change in the law.
As my mind wandered from the plot I found my imagination kept on circle around a little throw away detail of a kitchen: "sterile ultra modern, overflowing with gizmos from the very expensive bread-maker (beeping forlornly for attention) to cultured meat extruder (currently manufacturing chicken sans egg)." As I read I thought about my own misadventures in beer craft (speaking of yeast), my total disinterest in bread machines, and my life long desire to own a top of the line espresso maker. I kept trying to imagine was a "cultured meat extruder" would look like, and wondered what type of person would want one. Would it be the Black & Decker bread-maker of chicken-like protean, or will it be the La Marzocco Mondial 2 of grass fed beef?
When we compare genomes of ancient lineages of living creatures, we find evidence of numerous transfers of genetic information from one lineage to another. In early times, horizontal gene transfer, the sharing of genes between unrelated species, was prevalent... And now, as Homo sapiens domesticates the new biotechnology, we are reviving the ancient pre-Darwinian practice of horizontal gene transfer, moving genes easily from microbes to plants and animals, blurring the boundaries between species. We are moving rapidly into the post-Darwinian era, when species other than our own will no longer exist, and the rules of Open Source sharing will be extended from the exchange of software to the exchange of genes.
We can imagine that in the future, when we have mastered the art of genetically engineering plants, we may breed new crop plants that have leaves made of silicon, converting sunlight into chemical energy with ten times the efficiency of natural plants... After we have explored this route to the end, when we have created new forests of black-leaved plants that can use sunlight ten times more efficiently than natural plants, we shall be confronted by a new set of environmental problems. Who shall be allowed to grow the black-leaved plants? Will black-leaved plants remain an artificially maintained cultivar, or will they invade and permanently change the natural ecology? What shall we do with the silicon trash that these plants leave behind them? Shall we be able to design a whole ecology of silicon-eating microbes and fungi and earthworms to keep the black-leaved plants in balance with the rest of nature and to recycle their silicon?Dyson is probably largely correct about the source of public anxiety, but Montsanto is not what makes me anxious about Dyson's ideas. Large corporations may be powerful, but they also make for easy targets. They can be successfully sued and boycotted. Likewise, there are mechanisms for curtailing the actions of sovereign states, but lone gunmen and non-state players can be much harder to predict and difficult to bring to heel.
There is a real need for cultured meat extruders. There are a lot of us (7 billion) and there is going to be a lot more (somewhere between 2 and 3 billion more), and most of us would eat meat at every meal if we were given the chance. The answer is not more processed meats and other low quality substitutes - those who covet 1st world diets of beef and pork are not going to be satisfied eating bugs and dogs. But there is no reason to believe that those who want beef and pork want it from a cow and a pig. The way the biotech of cultured meat production progressing is a lot like Dyson describes in his article, as long as the cultures and extruders are controlled by large corporations producing protean on an industrial scale they will be suspect and spurned. Cultured meat will be used to produce items like hot dogs and Spam, used as filler for down market fast food chains but t I am betting McDonalds and other major chains won't bite.
Cultured meat will begin its life as poor people food, and not just any poor people - the poorest of the poor. But it will take less time than you can say Kobe beef hot dog, for the-poorest-of-the-poor to become the-best-of-the-best. All delicacies begin their lives as desperation food. Americans spurned lobster for centuries until their cousins in Europe took a liking to it. Once upon a time puffer fish must have kept some family alive when nothing else could be found, but today fugu is a globally recognized marker of wealth. The artist and author Tom Jay used to tell me that during the middle ages apprentices in Paris had guarantees written into their contracts that they could only be served salmon a set number of times a week. I can easily imagine a time when anyone with taste will turn up their noses to cultured meat, but I can also imagine a time when the word pork and the word pig will have as much apparent relation as sad and full.
It is easy to imagine a time when Bushwick Brooklyn will enjoy a well deserved reputation as one of the world's best producers of premium beef extruders. And just as there is now an entire industry that caters to those interested in opening fine neighborhood coffee shops - supplying them with custom coffee bags, mugs industrial roasters and espresso machines, not to mention fair trade terroir beans - an industry will grow around the needs of artisans with the skills and interest in making fine meat. It won't be long after the first meat fabricators hit the market the staff at Manhattan's Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Seattle's Salumi, San Francisco's Boccalone - or where ever the pork-junky hang outs are by then - will be describing in detail the artisanal origins of their wares.
It is only a mater of time before store front husbandry will be a staple of trendy neighborhoods. Gleaming Italian-made vats pushing out endless marbled tender butchered by enthusiastic and well informed young people, to tattooed and bearded geriatric hipsters. But not too long after that it will also be a staple of village life in Afghanistan, when a group of tissue engineers quit Google Meats™ to form a start-up to supply poor and under served communities with inexpensive plastic extruders and train them to use them.
When wealthy Americans are paying $10,000.00 a plate to eat Kopi Luwak goat originally fabricated on a ten dollar unit in Ethiopia. While a French chef raises a trillion dollars from venture capitalists to lithograph soft-shell crab and the Japanese produce 80 meter long extrusions of baby octopus tentacles for the Malaysian market. But just as Freeman Dyson desires, there will be a generation that begins to play the feeder stock itself - less amateur geneticist and more hobbyist gourmand, they will deliver Luca Turin's dream of tastes and smells unattached to any precedent. Bilge-and-mutant-cucumber, it's what for dinner.
MakerBot; Wim Delvoye, Cloaca No 5 (2006)