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Motherboard

The In-Vitro Cookbook Will Help Us Prepare the Future Meat We Don't Have Yet

How do we define 'meat' anyway?

by Lex Berko
Nov 15 2013, 6:00pm
The first review of lab-grown meat from August. They went about how you'd expect. Front page image via David Parry / PA Wire

While reviews for the first lab-grown hamburger weren’t awful (“It is close to meat, but not juicy”), the mere idea of test tube meat sounds so unnatural that it’s enough to make some people gag. Current practices that dominate the modern meat industry are rather unnatural as well, but it might be that one step further—removing the animal from the process almost entirely—that creeps people out so significantly.  

Through a crowdsourcing effort on Kickstarter, an Amsterdam-based nonprofit hopes to bring a thought-provoking cookbook for lab-grown meat products to fruition, one that will delve into this aversion and dissect it. Part design object, part philosophical musing, part abstract cooking guide, Next Nature’s In Vitro Meat Cookbook wants us to question our assumptions and really consider what the future of food might look like.

Next Nature’s cookbook may look like an updated and glossier version of cookbooks of yore, but rather than meatloafs and matzah ball soup, it presents imaginative recipe possibilities for lab-grown meat. According to the organization, knitted steaks, technicolor meatballs, and meat paint are just some of the offerings that might be on the dining room table of the future family.

Fictional as these foods may be, the creators insist the recipes have been “developed with strict culinary rigor” and are “as scientifically accurate as possible,” though we won’t be able to fact-check that until lab meat is more widely available.

Motherboard NL secured an interview with one of the folks behind the cookbook, Koert van Mensvoort. In creating the cookbook, which Next Nature views as a “storytelling medium,” he and his colleagues hoped to make in vitro meat all the more tangible and concrete, something to really mull over. To him, the future is not inseparable from the here and now. “It’s not just about the future of meat, but also the flesh of today," he said.

And he’s right. Only by considering contemporary food practices and availability can we shape the future of food. That shaping is already being done in earnest by the scientists behind in vitro meat, but also by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, as my colleague Brian Merchant explored in his video this week on Soylent, the powdered “hacker meal” of the future.

So will knitted meat or a thermos of Soylent be the entree at you dinner party in 2050? Maybe not. But these experiments are not without value, even if they don’t withstand the test of time. If it takes a visually appealing yet totally bizarre cookbook from which you cannot cook to prod people to think about our food, then that’s the way it is.

@heyiamlex