The next time you go to the restaurant and order a steak, don't be surprised if the waiter who serves it is wearing a laboratory smock and a medical mask – and lecturing you about your environmental responsibilities.
When I first heard about the development of artificial meat, I knew there was something sinister about the idea, even though I couldn't articulate exactly what it was. And the more I think about it, the more sinister it seems.
They call it "cultured beef," cultured in the sense of the cultures grown in a petri dish – not actual human culture – which, if you think about it, is not very appetizing.
As a recent opinion piece in the New York Times put it:
The first 'cultured beef' burgers are likely to enter the market next year, at approximately $50 each. But that won’t last long. Within a decade they will probably be more affordable than even the cheapest barbecue staples of today — all for a product that uses fewer resources, produces negligible greenhouse gases and, remarkably, requires no animals to die.
And the assault on real beef is far from the end of it. The article goes on to talk dreamily about "grapeless wine" and "molecular whiskey." Pretty soon they will have pointed their evil scientific death ray at everything, and we will all be trapped in a completely artificial world. It will look real, but will be completely fake.
I wouldn't be surprised if the producers of the Matrix sued these people for stealing their idea.
The case of cultured food and drink, far from a curiosity, is a template for a better, freer, and more affluent world, a world where we provide for the needs of everyone — in style.
I can think of bad meat that is less gag-worthy than such a statement.
The benefits are laid out to us: It will make meat cheaper; it will reduce greenhouse gases; and it will eliminate the need to kill animals. In fact, it could eliminate the need for animals altogether.
Watch. Fifty years from now there will be an environmental group protesting the impending extinction of the beef cow.
Think about the influence science has already had on our land and our culture. From the development of GMOs and chemical fertilizers, to the rise of industrial chicken farming. Sure, there have been benefits, but, increasingly, the ethics and the practical benefits of all these developments have been brought into question.
We were promised bigger crop yields and more efficient farming. What we got was the massive loss of top soil and the chemical pollution of our lakes and streams. It didn't help farmers, it eliminated them, and the only thing that Monsanto helped was itself.
They should make a science fiction movie about artificial food.
Wait... they already did! It was called "Soylent Green," with Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson. It was about a society in which normal food was eliminated, and nutritional needs were met by various kinds of soylent crackers. A steak, when it could be found, was considered an exotic delicacy.
Oh, and the green soylent cracker? It turned out to be made from deceased human beings.
Sounds gross, but in the brave new world of artificial everything, anything is possible.
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Martin Cothran is the editor of Classical Teacher magazine, published by Memoria Press, and the director of the Classical Latin School Association.