Koert van Mensvoort thinks that you should be able to eat a sausage from a pig that’s still alive. That way, he says, “you can hug and meet it.”
When Mark Post introduced the first lab-grown hamburger to the world in August of last year, van Mensvoort, an artist and philosopher based in Amsterdam, asked himself: What the hell have we done with meat, and in what direction is food heading?
With the help of his Next Nature Foundation, van Mensvoort decided to explore the prospects of lab-grown meat from a societal, ethical, and design perspective. As petri dish beef joins GMOs, aquaculture, and preservatives in our contemporary, scientifically modified food system, Van Mensvoort wondered what kind of food culture it might create in the future. The result of that is The In Vitro Meat Cookbook, a handsomely designed hardcover volume with interviews, essays, and 45 conceptually uncookable recipes.
Well, uncookable for now. Maybe future generations will be serving rainbow-colored “magic meatballs” and “knitted steaks” at a dinner party one day.
The cookbook is scheduled to be released exactly one year after Post debuted his laboratory hamburger, so we took the opportunity to speak to van Mensvoort about how he came to publish what will probably the most unsettling cookbook on your shelf.
MUNCHIES: How did you decide to shape this concept in the format of a cookbook?
Koert van Mensvoort: The idea came when I realized people often give cookbooks as a present. At the moment you receive it you plan to cook all these delicious recipes… but quite often you never do. Cookbooks are much more than pragmatic manuals to cook from: They are culture. When I realized this, I thought it would be valuable to make a cookbook from which you cannot cook yet, but that already explores the culture of in vitro meat.
And why did you decide to focus on meat, versus vegetables or any other type of food?
Of course you can also be a vegetarian or eat insects, but there are already cookbooks in that direction. A cookbook on in vitro meat didn’t exist.
One “recipe” that really stood out to me involved a device that extracts a person’s DNA so that the wearer can effectively eat him- or herself.
I think people are horrified by the mix of fascination and disgust that comes together in cannibalism. The interesting thing about using in vitro meat to grow your own cells is that it transforms the ancient cannibalistic impulses into something completely different that has to be reassessed all over again. Would this really be bad? Or is it a poetic transcendence of an ancient tribal ritual?
Why do you think people have a hard time thinking about lab-grown meat?
I think most of the objections revolve around it being “artificial” to grow meat, but how about growing cheese or brewing beer then? This is also a technological process.
What’s one concept in the cookbook you’d like to see realized in the future?
I think the idea of a “carnery” as an alternative to a brewery is interesting. Also the “pig in the garden” recipe, which will allow you to eat a sausage from a pig that is still alive and you can hug and meet, should be wonderful. Finally I think some “meat sushi” could be very pure and soft because it is grown under highly controlled circumstances in the lab. This might taste better than the real thing, which is interesting because then the artificial gains a certain authenticity of its own.
Thanks, Koert. I hope to try some of this meat sushi one day.
See-Through Sashimi Meat
Courtesy of The In Vitro Meat Cookbook
Without blood vessels, nerves or organs, in vitro meat can be manufactured to be nearly transparent. See-through sashimi mimics the same physical structures that make glass frogs look like glass or jellyfish look like jelly, creating nearly invisible meat with a pure, delicate flavor.
Grown in thin sheets in completely sterile conditions, see-through sashimi is cultured from meltingly tender blue fin tuna. Not only is it fattier and tastier than real tuna, it could also halt the overfishing of these threatened species. Arrange slices of see-through tuna like a traditional platter of fugu sashimi, or put a European spin on the dish by constructing a stained glass window made entirely of seafood.
400 grams short grain Japanese rice
60 milliliters white wine vinegar
60 milliliters rice vinegar
50 grams sugar
2 tablespoons salt
see-through tuna sashimi
1. Rinse the rice five times and drain. Cook the rice in a rice cooker, or boil according to package instructions.
2. Combine the two vinegars, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan. Warm over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved.
3. Transfer the rice to a large bowl. Sprinkle half of the seasoned vinegar over the rice. Using a spatula or flat wooden spoon, incorporate the vinegar into the rice using a slicing motion. Take care not to mash the rice. While incorporating the rice with one hand, use a fan in the other hand to cool the rice. Add more vinegar to taste.
4. Moisten your hands in clean water. Form a ball of rice into a small log. Place the log on top of a slice of see-through sashimi. Gently roll the two together. Repeat with the remaining pieces of sushi. Serve with soy sauce and wasabi.
Pig in the Garden
Courtesy of The In Vitro Meat Cookbook
“Pig in the garden” is a reminder that meat traditionally came from living animals, and the stem cells for in vitro meat still do. Communities that pride themselves on a local, back-to-the-earth approach to food production may raise hogs in shared gardens or yards. Rather than slaughtering their pig, however, the neighborhood could use it as a living reservoir of stem cells to grow in vitro meat. A trained veterinarian sedates the pig and extracts the cells, which are then used to grow pork in a communal bioreactor. The pig itself could become a beloved ambassador of the community. Locals will stop by to give their neighborhood pig a scratch or bring it table scraps from home.
1 pig in the garden roast, approximately 100 kilos
2.5 kilos coarse-grain salt
75 banana leaves
1. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the roast. Fill the hole completely with a hardwood such as mesquite. Cover the wood with large, flat river rocks. Pour an entire can of lighter fluid through the cracks in the rocks and light a fire. Let the fire burn for two hours.
2. Generously salt the roast, inside and out. Soak several burlap sacks in water.
3. Spread the rocks at the bottom of the pit in an even layer. Cover the rocks with half the banana leaves. Place the roast on top of the banana leaves. Completely cover the roast with the remainder of the banana leaves. Cover the leaves with the wet burlap sacks. Be sure to cover any steam holes. Lay a plastic tarp on top of the pit and seal the tarp with dirt.
4. Let the roast cook for 12 to 16 hours. Dig up the roast and carefully remove it from the banana leaves. Shred the meat with tongs.