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Brave New Edible Estates
Winston Churchill's future disembodied chicken

In 1930, British statesman Frederick Edwin Smith imagined a society in which “[i]t will no longer be necessary to go to the extravagant length of rearing a bullock in order to eat its steak. From one ‘parent’ steak of choice tenderness it will be possible to grow as large and as juicy a steak as can be desired.”

A couple of years later, Winston Churchill reiterated Smith's prediction: “Fifty years hence we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”

lab meat

Not much happened in the intervening years, but last year, according to The Guardian, “Researchers have published details in a biotechnology journal [Tissue Engineering] describing a new technique which they hailed as the answer to the world's food shortage. Lumps of meat would be cultured in laboratory vats rather than carved from livestock reared on a farm.

“Scientists have adapted the cutting-edge medical technique of tissue engineering, where individual cells are multiplied into whole tissues, and applied them to food production.'With a single cell, you could theoretically produce the world's annual meat supply,' said Jason Matheny, an agricultural scientist at the University of Maryland.

“According to researchers, meat grown in laboratories would be more environmentally friendly and could be tailored to be healthier than farm-reared meat by controlling its nutrient content and screening it for food-borne diseases.”

And it goes on: “Vegetarians might also be tempted because the cells needed to grow chunks of meat can be taken without harming the donor animal.

“Experiments for NASA, the US space agency, have already shown that morsels of edible fish can be grown in petri dishes, though no one has yet eaten the food.

“Mr Matheny and his colleagues have taken the prospect of "cultured meat" a step further by working out how to produce it on an industrial scale. They envisage muscle cells growing on huge sheets that would be regularly stretched to exercise the cells as they grow. Once enough cells had grown, they would be scraped off and shaped into processed meat products such as chicken nuggets.”

lab meat

So, while you're growing your new replacement face and the new patio addition, you'll be cultivating and harvesting coqs au vin and stuffed roast turkeys and chicken caesar salads in your front yard in the meantime. The American lawn meets vegetable garden meets farm meets abattoir.

P.D. Edelman et al., “In Vitro-Cultured Meat Production.” Tissue Engineering (Volume 11, Number 5/6, 2005)
Ian Sample, “When meat is not murder.” The Guardian (13 August 2005)
Press Release from the University of Maryland (6 July 2005)

New Harvest
Semi-Living Food and “Disembodied Cuisine”

Edible Estates
  • adam
  • February 13, 2006 at 2:46:00 PM CST
  • Wow, this is interesting stuff - glad you strayed a little closer to the body than your normal scale of operations. Though the implementation of this technology could have immense concequence for the landscape, by freeing land used for farming.

    Ideas like this really question us as consuming beings, our relationship to animals we eat and our own bodies too.

  • Geoff Manaugh
  • February 13, 2006 at 3:27:00 PM CST
  • Vast fields, entire states and countries, replaced by the unkillable, self-stretching muscle sheet, whose growth has gone out of control...

  • Alexander Trevi
  • February 13, 2006 at 4:08:00 PM CST
  • A cancer on the landscape. So would you like yours well done or medium rare? The mother of all barbecues!

  • Geoff Manaugh
  • February 13, 2006 at 5:52:00 PM CST
  • Might change the public's attitude toward wildfires. Free extra-crispy.

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