Artificial Flesh and the Future of Food
by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft
Pub Date 03 Sep 2019
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In 2013, a Dutch scientist unveiled the world’s first laboratory-created hamburger. Since then, the idea of producing meat, not from live animals but from carefully cultured tissues, has spread like wildfire through the media. Meanwhile, cultured meat researchers race against population growth and climate change in an effort to make sustainable protein. Meat Planet explores the quest to generate meat in the lab—a substance sometimes called “cultured meat”—and asks what it means to imagine that this is the future of food.
Neither an advocate nor a critic of cultured meat, Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft spent five years researching the phenomenon. In Meat Planet, he reveals how debates about lab-grown meat reach beyond debates about food, examining the links between appetite, growth, and capitalism. Could satiating the growing appetite for meat actually lead to our undoing? Are we simply using one technology to undo the damage caused by another? Like all problems in our food system, the meat problem is not merely a problem of production. It is intrinsically social and political, and it demands that we examine questions of justice and desirable modes of living in a shared and finite world.
Benjamin Wurgaft tells a story that could utterly transform the way we think of animals, the way we relate to farmland, the way we use water, and the way we think about population and our fragile ecosystem’s capacity to sustain life. He argues that even if cultured meat does not “succeed,” it functions—much like science fiction—as a crucial mirror that we can hold up to our contemporary fleshy dysfunctions.
“The quest to grow ‘meat’ in a lab—a sci-fi concept turned reality—has repercussions far beyond food. What is the distinction between artificial and natural? How does our understanding of ‘meat’ change when we are its architects? From ethics to economics, Benjamin Wurgaft’s new book opens up these questions, making the debate over lab-grown meat into a powerful lens for examining the future of food.”––Nicola Twilley, cohost of Gastropod podcast
“Benjamin Wurgaft is an engaged and omnivorous historian of ideas, and his Meat Planet is a welcome, wide-ranging, illuminating reflection on the changes underway in how we think about and produce edible animal flesh.”––Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
“As a thoughtful and informed meditation on the ambiguities of killing animals and eating their flesh, Meat Planet offers a welcome change from the boosterism of the proponents of cultured meat on the one hand and the shrill anthropomorphism of many opponents of meat eating on the other.”––Rachel Laudan, author of Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History
“As new forms of post-animal protein hit our dinner plates, meat has become edible sci-fi. In his savory new book, Benjamin Wurgaft shows how technology and design are reshaping the future of food, with implications for human evolution, how we define our fellow animals, and even where we draw the line between life and death.”—Geoff Manaugh, author of BLDGBLOG and the New York Times bestseller A Burglar’s Guide to the City
“Benjamin Wurgaft’s account of his five years stalking the promise of a lab-grown burger is a restless narrative, told with grace and wit, about our modern hunger for meat. Meat Planet questions what it is to be an eating, thinking human, caught between the imagined past of bucolic farms and a hyped future of gleaming bioreactors.”––John Birdsall, James Beard Award–winning food writer
“Neither alarmist nor Pollyannish, Meat Planet explores what meat means to us as a species, to the billions of us who like to eat it, and to those people engaged in the complicated, uncertain, techno-entrepreneurial work of reinventing and remaking meat––or something quite like it––in vessels other than animals. This is an innovative, engaging ethnography, conveyed through a wry and world-wise first-person narrative spanning scales from the petri dish to the planetary.”––Mike Fortun, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Irvine