Would you eat yourself? The acceptable face of cannibalism?

Isn’t the modern world weird?

Well, let’s go a bit further. As it is now possible to synthesise meat from stem cells extracted from living muscle, the first products offering ‘guilt free’ meat have started to appear.

This interesting and thought provoking science throws up some very strange possibilities and questions.

  • Would stem cells from differing muscles produce differing flavours? Rump vs Sirloin for example.
  • Similarly can the differing textures of various meats be generated to fit with styles of preparation. It is fair to assume that gristle would not exist in cultured meat.
  • Can this be industrialised in such a way as to not only negate the impacts from intensive animal farming but also to remove localised global food shortages?

Those are reasonable first considerations, how about taking it further?

  • Would eating meat cultured from the cells of a human form an acceptable form of cannibalism?
  • Does the concept of guilt free meat not suggest therefore that culturing meat from one’s own muscles would remove even the invasiveness of extracting cells from other living beings?

Raising the moral question of eating human flesh is obviously something at the forefront of initial considerations of these points. However, to do so, we must consider why eating human flesh is deemed morally wrong.

Previously, in order to eat the muscle of a living human, one would have to have inflicted, at the least, a serious injury to either another person or even oneself. Thus, quite simply, the act of harm would be deemed morally wrong by the vast majority.

Now, not only does the creation of synthesised meat remove the possibility of harm due to the body’s capacity to replace muscle tissue, but it could negate the principles espoused by religions that eschew the eating of meat (admittedly probably not if the religion has specifically banned meat from a particular animal, rather than all meat). An argument could perhaps be formed around the definition of ‘living cells’ but then aren’t plant cells ‘alive’?

Is there any other moral rationale for not eating human meat then?

Some could argue that as the method of creating this meat could not have been considered when the doctrine of most religions was written, any consideration of the religious position can only result from interpretation. Unless perhaps referring back to a primitive view that eating the meat of animals imbues a person with that animal’s life force and thus is wrong. Weird concepts have never been a trouble for religions though.

So, if we’ve eliminated the question of morality, at least for the purposes of extrapolating the concept (I’m currently enjoying many debates where all participants seem to be struggling with the myriad directions exploration of this idea pull the mind in), what could happen when this new industry develops?

Well, let’s consider and extrapolate how this could fit into societies that can monetise anything.

  • The first and perhaps most tuned to media focussed societies – Celebrity meat! Cultured steaks made from your favourite celebrity, allowing for an experience bringing people closer than ever to their heroes. “Meatelebrity, the celebrity meat company. Bringing the stars to your home!” To be honest, and underlining the first line of this article, I can actually imagine this starting, bizarre as it sounds…
  • Valentines steaks – Love your partner so much you could just eat ‘em all up?
  • Exotica – Lion burger anyone? (Personally for more fun, I think that should only be available if the diner collects the sample alone in the lion’s cage, armed only with a syringe but hey..)
  • DIY Kits – Make your own meat with this fantastic little lab set!

When I first debated this concept and began writing this article, I truly couldn’t have predicted the responses and reactions that ensued. My belief that this would be welcomed by vegetarians seems correct so far, based on unanimous responses from the several I have spoken to (that is not to say that they would rush to eat meat but rather that it is preferable to industrialised slaughter). Reactions from meat eaters have ranged from absolute revulsion to inquisitive interest, which I find to be stranger. I can only consider that negative perceptions stem from the image of meat being created in a laboratory, conjuring images of mad scientists playing with nature.

For anyone who recalls the wonderful line from Douglas Adams’ Restaurant at the End of the Universe “Let’s meet the meat!”, this does seem apt. At least this way isn’t following that dark path of breeding an animal that offers itself to be eaten.

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