Is cloning meat from human cells cannibalism? Um...

I was looking for some news to share with you that’s a bit off of the beaten path and not part of the usual political circus. Unfortunately, I wound up falling down a rabbit hole that I never saw coming, but I suppose in the interest of team spirit I’ll drag you all down along with me. It started with a press release that came out on Friday dealing with a new “scientific advancement” in the creation of artificial meat. We’ve dealt with plenty of stories here about “meat” made from plants being served at fast-food chains, but this is something different. And I mean really different. Those with sensitive digestive tracts may want to skip ahead to the next article.

The subject in question is a product that may soon allow you to grow your own meat at home. Ouroboros Steaks are featured at The Design Museum in London. Those of you who love history may have a sense of where this is going because Ouroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent eating its own tail. And these steaks are created using a process that starts with your own human tissue. But as Paul Seaburn points out at Mysterious Universe, you have nothing to worry about. The creators of this process want to assure you that this isn’t cannibalism. Perish the thought.

When is eating the flesh of humans not cannibalism? According to scientists at a company specializing in regenerative medicine and developing biomaterial for spinal cord treatments, it’s not cannibalism if the ‘steaks’ are grown from the consumer’s own cells at home … and they see this as a way to reduce the consumption of animal flesh and all of the environmental and health issues associated with it. Before you dismiss this as some futuristic dystopian fantasy, these human ‘steaks’ have a ‘brand name’ – Ourboros Steak – and prototypes are on display at a museum in London. Yikes!…

Grace Knight tries to reduce the ‘Ewww!’ factor by pointing out that lab-grown meat uses fetal bovine serum (FBS) – an expensive protein-rich growth supplement derived from the blood of calf fetuses after their pregnant mothers are slaughtered by the meat or dairy industry. The team sees growing Ourboros Steaks as do-it-yourself project – not-cannibals will be able to buy a DIY kit containing swabs for collecting cheek cells, pre-grown scaffolds made from mushroom mycelium for growing them, human serum for feeding them and instructions on the proper temperature for growing them (like a warm oven) for three months until you have your tray of human amuse-bouche.

You can click through and read about the details of the process if that’s the sort of thing you’re into. But I’d just like to begin by saying that if your first press release announcing your new discovery has to include a disclaimer along the lines of, ‘oh, by the way. This isn’t cannibalism,’ your marketing team might need a few new members. Knowing the number of people that are going to be immediately grossed out by this, one of the developers sweetens the deal by assuring you the process uses (wait for it)… fetal bovine serum.

If I had a nickel for every time I was getting ready to make dinner and realized that I was completely out of fetal bovine serum…

Let’s get to the obvious question here. Is this cannibalism? Pardon my French, but how in hell could this not be cannibalism. The product is made from human cells swabbed from the inside of your mouth. Just because the cells are cloned over and over again until a “steak” grows in your home laboratory at room temperature, that doesn’t miraculously turn it into chicken.

When I initially read about this process I was positive that the story must have been a hoax meant to drag the meatless burger industry, but it’s apparently a real thing. People have already done it. People have already eaten it. I realize that it’s 2020 and everything is supposed to be totally weird and awful, but come on, man. Nobody saw this coming.

Would you actually try this? Do you even know anyone that you think would try it that wasn’t on the tail end of a five day LSD binge? If this is the future of food, I’m heading out to look for one of those breakaway civilization cultures to see if they’ll let me join.

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