Would you eat human meat? Dream up whatever Donner party scenario you need to feel good about it. You’d die if you didn’t and they’re already dead and blah blah blah.
Now, what if it wasn’t a matter of life and death? What if some Rene Redzepi character just chef’d it up real good? I mean what if you knew it was delicious?
Ok, what about dog? I remember having dinner with a girl from Korea and somehow eating dog came up. She could not conceal how delicious she found it. She was embarrassed, sure, but you could see in her eyes how much she loved it.
Monkey? If ebola weren’t a factor and some indigenous shaman prepared some indigenous specialty and everyone loved it?
Again, I’m guessing probably not. Foodie culture and Anthony Bourdain have made eating the once strange hip, but we still hold on to a few powerful taboos.
What enforces these taboos? I believe it has something to do with our ability to imagine the consciousness of these creatures. Obviously we can imagine what it is like to be another human. Monkey’s aren’t too far off from that, and dogs have worked their way so deeply into our consciousness that we imagine theirs to be just like our own. Vegans and Vegetarians extend this empathy to traditional livestock. So what if we could have meat without the consciousness?
I’m referring to stem cell meat — muscle tissue grown in culture in a lab. If the media and food/tech investors are to be believed, this method of producing meat could become the norm in a matter of years. Scientists have already grown hamburger and chicken breast using stem cells. Never mind the process cost tens of thousands of dollars, the prospect of guilt free meat has attracted some serious investments from the likes of Bill Gates and other Silicon Valley nerds. And if those investments pay off and the process becomes commonplace, we may soon find a future where traditional concerns around meat consumption are thrown out the window.
Feed lots and slaughter houses suddenly remnants of our medieval past. Our ozone free from those menacing clouds of cow farts, our oceans brimming with tuna. All because we don’t need actual animals to satisfy our meat craze.
As a livestock farmer, I’m not exactly worried about my job security. Whether it’s aeroponics or robot operated greenhouses or stem cell meat, the most complicated solutions to our food woes always seem to attract the most attention, particularly from Silicon Valley; but I believe this illustrates how out of touch we've become with the realities of our food production. We think technology can bypass biological systems that have evolved over eons, whether its the carbon cycle in our soils or the alchemical process cows use to turn grass into steak.
Our technology must satisfy our modern desires no matter how bloated those desires become. But we want to feel good about it too. We don’t want to feel guilty about eating meat, about causing death, so we try to remove death from the equation. But what if we just ate less meat and valued it more? Sadly, this solution would never bring in Bill Gates money. We live in a world where it’s easier to imagine our meat grown in a test tube than to simply imagine eating less.