The Brave New World of Food

Creative Commons license Photo by Mark Rain

“Picture yourself in a supermarket aisle in 2050. These new ‘magic meatballs’, brightly coloured for the kids, seem worth a try. Better have some of the meat powder too, one of the more established products from the mass-manufacturers of cultured meat – you can make that creamy meat-based fondue that always satisfies. You don’t fancy the meat ice-cream today, but there’s still time left for a trip to the deli counter, for some expensive, but delicious ‘rustic’ meat, matured in special vats, or perhaps some knitted steaks. And you can pile your cart secure in the knowledge that no animals were harmed in the making of any of these offerings.”

These are hypothetical products imagined in The In Vitro Meat Cook Book (2014) by Koert van Mensvoort and Hendrik-Jan Grievink, part of a new genre of futurist writing called “design fiction” and summarized by Jon Turney in the latest issue of Aeon. The idea behind design fiction is to avoid the utopian-dystopian opposition that characterizes debates about a technological future by imagining a richer set of possibilities for how the future might unfold through more realistic depictions—hence the idea of a synthetic meat cook book .

The cook book also imagines local “micro-carneries” where in-vitro meat products are produced like microbrews. Another offering in the genre entitled Synthetic Aesthetics imagines “cheeses made by bacteria harvested from human skin and then named for their owners (Daisy’s Armpit, Philosopher’s Toe).” The Daisy Armpit cheese, you will be comforted to know, had a “fresh, yoghurt-like aroma” when actually created in the lab (although it cannot yet be safely eaten).

I think I can safely predict that in the future many of us will long for a simple roast leg of lamb.

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