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Problematic Proteins

Last tended on August 08, 2020
🌱 Seedling


How to offend everyone with boundary-crossing steak and nuggets

In 2013, in a dutch cellular engineering lab just outside of Utrecht, pharmacologist Mark Post produced a piece of meat without killing an animal. That's the short version of the story, for the meaty details take a look at my illustrated notes on the matter

This is terribly impressive. But also splatters a gigantic can of worms across our definition of "meat." And by extension the entire food pyramid.

What is meat without a dead animal? How is that possible? And why does it make some people internally recoil deep in their gut?


Why do we think 'lab-grown' meat is dirty, icky, or dangerous?

As Mary Douglas so poetically put it, "dirt is matter out of place." Anything that breaks our known order of the world that we design is a potential threat.

Food is a structured system - from the bite to the dish to the course to mealtimes to the weekly sunday roast to the monthly fast to the annual festival.

We get obsessive about creating rules, divisions, and norms around food. There are times and places and contexts to eat specific things. Oatmeal doesn't belong at the evening dinner party. Wine with breakfast is a disease. Combining cabbage with cake would lead to losing a few friends.

New forms of meat are suspect and transgressive because they cross our established boundaries.

Plant-based meats like the Beyond Burger sit in neither the plant nor animal world, appearing as one while made from the other.

Our current food classifications do not have space for them. The division between vegetables and meat is fundamental. Plants vs animals. Fibre vs protein. Inert vs sentient. Green vs red.

Cultured meat, on the other hand, denies a fundamental part of the definition of meat. The dead animal part.

The Great Wall of Nature/Culture

There is an imaginary wall in our minds that divides the word of Nature from the world of Culture. We seem to believe these are eternal, inherent categories of things in the world.

Mushrooms are Natural goodness incarnate, and microplastics are a polluting castoff from the Cultural behaviour of humans.

It wasn't always there. The men of 18th century "Western" rationalist science built it - Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, and their kin.

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Maggie Appleton © 2020