Meal kit design brings a whole new meaning to “you are what you eat”

by Nick Gonzales

The way things have been going this year, would it surprise anyone if we all woke up in a David Cronenburg body-horror film? While it’s not quite something out of “Scanners” or “Videodrome,” the one of the nominees of this year’s Beazley Designs of Year at the Design Museum of London is still quite unsettling.

Several scientists got together to create the Ouroboros Steak, a would-be kit that grows bite-sized pieces of meat using material harvested from the inside of the user’s own cheek. In other words, the miniature steaks you grow are, well … you (at least genetically speaking). The meat would take about three months to grow in a warm environment.

The project was commissioned for the Designs for Different Futures exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is meant as a critique of the lab-grown meat industry, which it turns out is not as black-and-white as you’d think when it comes to animal-friendliness.

Growing meat in a lab has been touted as a cruelty-free alternative to factory farming, but the process relies on fetal bovine serum — a protein-rich growth supplement derived from the blood of calf fetuses harvested when pregnant cows are slaughtered by the meat and dairy industries.

Andrew Pelling, one of the scientists involved in the Ouroboros Steak project told Dezeen magazine, “Although some lab-grown meat companies are claiming to have solved this problem, to our knowledge no independent, peer-reviewed, scientific studies have validated these claims.”

As per the website for the imagined product, “Growing yourself ensures that you and your loved ones always know the origin of your food, how it has been raised and that its cells were acquired ethically and consensually.”

The meat on display at London’s Design Museum was made using human cell cultures, which one can buy for research purposes from the American Tissue Culture Collection. They were fed a serum derived from expired blood donations that would otherwise have been incinerated.

Ouroboros Steak kits are not actually for sale — in fact, no lab-grown meat has been deemed fit for human consumption. The market, however, is estimated at being worth $206 million and is expected to more than double by 2025.

“As the lab-grown meat industry is developing rapidly, it is important to develop designs that expose some of its underlying constraints in order to see beyond the hype,” Pelling said.

Assuming you got your hand on an Ouroboros meal kit, would consuming the resulting meat constitute cannibalism? Technically, maybe … not?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “cannibalism” as either “the usually ritualistic eating of human flesh by a human being” or “the eating of the flesh of an animal by another animal of the same kind.” Assuming you eat it with the same amount of passion you’d scarf down a chicken tender and don’t make a ceremony out of it, you can probably wiggle past the first definition. And the second definition doesn’t apply because it specifies that two animals have to be involved, and that isn’t the case here — there’s only one animal (you) involved.

That said, if you eat an Ouroboros Steak and it brings the curse of the wendigo down upon you, that’s your own damned fault. The steaks certainly seem like an item you should be able to find at the University of Colorado’s cannibal-named Alferd Packer Grill.

Nick Gonzales

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