Most cookbooks set out to make you salivate. The “In Vitro Meat Cookbook” will probably make you squirm.
The cookbook grew out of the news that a team of scientists had created the world’s first lab-grown burger in August 2013. Made from 20,000 strands of cultured muscle tissue, the burger was a breakthrough: real meat made without a real animal, and without all the environmental damage and animal cruelty that comes with it. Though it cost more than $300,000 to make, the burger demonstrated what will be possible in the future.
“We thought, okay, a hamburger is one thing–but it’s a new technology. What else can you do with it?” says Koert van Mensvoort, director of the speculative futures design studio and think tank Next Nature Network.
The book, which also features a number of illustrations, imagery, and essays, contains 45 recipes based around foods that don’t quite exist yet and explores the food culture that in vitro meats could help create.
Some foods seem innovative and delicious, such as a bacon roll (“toilet paper meets bacon for the ultimate convenience food”); Dodo nuggets, which bring back the meat from an extinct species (“Children will love it, says van Mensvoort); and see-through sashimi (“without blood vessels, nerves or organs, in vitro meat can be manufactured to be nearly transparent).
“As you grow meat in the lab, you do this under very controlled conditions. So you could make meat perhaps that’s softer or even better than than the best meat you ever tasted,” says Mensvoot, who spoke recently at Biofabricate, a synthetic biology and design conference in New York City.
Other foods are intentionally creepy. Shepherd’s pie made from knitted meat–thin threads of protein that can be woven, like a scarf, into custom designs–sure seems weird. The most uncanny dish to Mensvoort is based around meat that you grow on your own skin, instead of a petri dish. In this way, he says, couples can become even closer while they share a meal.
As with many Next Nature projects, the goal of the book, which is on sale now, is to explore possible futures and get a discussion going, not to promote any particular technology or direction.
“It does convey I think one of the most important stories of today, which is that the born and the made–they are fusing,” says Mensvoort. “We used to think of nature as everything born. And that’s now shifting to think of nature as everything growing beyond our control. That’s sort of the new way looking at it I think.”