"Paper Says Edible Meat Can be Grown in a Lab on Industrial Scale"
The above article is about a research paper discussing the possibility of "cultured meat" as a solution to various problems with the current meat production paradigm. One of the paper's authors has started an organization called New Harvest:
New Harvest is a nonprofit research organization working to develop new meat substitutes, including cultured meat -- meat produced in vitro, in a cell culture, rather than from an animal.
Wide-scale production and sale of cultured meat products through stores is an interesting proposition, if mildly disturbing to some, but the greater potential for creepiness lies in home meat makers, which the article says the paper suggests "may one day sit next to bread makers on the kitchen counter." Presumably these would work by placing a tissue sample and raw nutrients in the machine, turning a knob to "culture", and waiting while the ready-to-grill patties grow. Consumers would probably purchase tissue-nutrient cartridges at the grocery store, but, apart from the possibility of DRM (DNA Rights Management) technology, there would be nothing stopping users from simply saving some of the uneaten meat to be recultured or using alternate sources of tissue.
And what sort of alternate sources will people use? At first they'll try getting samples from unusual or endangered animals. After all, who wouldn't want to try delicacies like California condor nuggets or porpoiseburgers? But getting those samples might prove expensive or legally questionable and home meatgrowers will quickly try other more ready sources, most obviously family pets. (There will be economic incentives to try this: why buy expensive pet food when you can feed Fluffy on himself?)
Eventually though -- and probably sooner than later (and probably as soon as meat makers are available [and certainly since I am about to express the idea as soon as this nested digression ends]) -- someone will hit on the idea of harvesting a tissue sample from themself, just to see what human meat taste like. (The New Harvest site seems to be subliminally promoting this idea, as one of their header images features a woman gnawing on her own hand.)
The moral and ethical questions raised will be murky. Traditionally, those who oppose cannibalism could justify their position on the solid ground that human meat would always be the result of either murder or some sort of desecration of someone's remains. However, those arguments either don't apply to selfcultured meat or the application would be tortuous and unconvincing to many. Libertarian pro-cannibalists will argue for the individuals' right to eat themselves while various health gurus will tout the nutritious value of selfmeat, which contains all that your body needs since it's made of the same stuff. This sort of cannibalism will become, if not generally accepted, then at least tolerated, with prohibition seen as unenforceable.
It's not much of a leap from self-cannibalism to offering your meat to dinner guests, and once people acquire a taste for other people, this can only lead to one thing: celebrity cannibalism.
C-level celebrities, unable to make any money in the crowded reality TV market, will turn to peddling their own flesh to pop-culture-obsessed gourmands. I think it's safe to augur that Kenny Rogers Roasters will start serving actual roasted Kenny Rogers and that an all-in-one George Foreman Grill/Meat Maker will let you grill up some George Foreman.
This turn of events will darken as unauthorized celebrity tissue samples find their way into the meat market. Big-name celebrities will be targeted, with stalkers and opportunists trying to steal medical biopsies from doctors or even samples directly from the source. In this black market of celebflesh, counterfeiters will flourish, leaving many celebrities torn between feeling violated by meat pirates and offended by being falsely portrayed as too stringy.
In time, these celebrities may find it wise to give into fan demands by offering up their officially licensed flesh as a gourmet alternative -- think "Newman's Own Meat". Increased pressure to perform gastronomically will lead to scandal over the common usage of "meat-synching" by celebrities of subpar flavor. There may even emerge a new kind of celebrity who's known only for how good he or she tastes, resulting in a generation of kids whose highest ambition in life is to be considered delicious.
Finally, the ultimate form of celebrity cannibalism may come from the Catholic Church. Using DNA lifted from the Shroud of Turin combined with cells from a donor, the blood and flesh of Christ may once and for all be substantiated without the need for wine and cracker intermediaries.
Update 2009-03-14: And it begins with George Clooney flavored tofu...