Margaret Atwood and the Future of Food

Most rolled their eyes when they heard of it; others laughed at the silliness of creating synthetic meat in a petri dish when millions of cows walk the earth; some were simply nauseated. Margaret Atwood had a quiet smirk. A Dutch lab invited the media to a press conference at which a researcher sat down to a hamburger with a meat patty that had been grown in the lab.1 They explained how 20,000 small strips of meat had been grown at the staggering cost of £250,000 per 142 grams of meat. Back to Atwood, she has increased her fame by prophesying that humans would one day make synthetic meat in the lab. An excerpt from her 2003 novel, Oryx and Crake, confirms her foresight:

“This is the latest,” said Crake.
What they were looking at was a large bulblike object that seemed to be covered with stippled whitish-yellow skin. Out of it came twenty thick fleshy tubes, and at the end of each tube another bulb was growing.
“What the hell is it?” said Jimmy.
“Those are chickens,” said Crake. “Chicken parts. Just the breasts, on this one. They’ve got ones that specialize in drumsticks too, twelve to a growth unit.”
“But there aren’t any heads,” said Jimmy. He grasped the concept– he’d grown up with sus multiorganifer, after all– but this thing was going too far . . .
“That’s the head in the middle,” said the woman. “There’s a mouth opening at the top, they dump nutrients in there. No eyes or beak or anything, they don’t need those.”
“This is horrible,” said Jimmy. The thing was a nightmare. It was like an animal-protein tuber.2

Actual synthetic meat grown in the Dutch lab took three months to grow and was dry, firm, and required bovine stem cells to initiate the process. Some have suggested that it might be a bit like eating a rather large wart. Still, this is just the beginning of a potential food revolution that could change the very definition of food.

Meanwhile, Margaret Atwood signs her latest book completing the trilogy started in Oryx and Crake. Maddaddam,3 her new dystopian novel picks up where The Year of the Flood left off. All three of the books are a painful reminder of the implications of allowing scientists to define morality and the limits of acceptable experimentation. They readily point us to the need for moral and scientific boundaries as well as relationship with the Creator. Others will now attempt to perfect such experiments; other sponsors will want to get in on what Google co-founder, Sergey Brin has started financing. Is there any end in sight? Not according to Margaret Atwood.

2 Oryx and Crake, 2003 –; Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. 2009 Paperback
Edition. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2003, page 202.

3 Maddaddam, 2013 –

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