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Many people find the idea of eating in vitro meat – animal muscle tissue grown in a lab – to be creepy, unnatural or downright disgusting. Maybe it’s the association with medical science, or maybe it’s the fact that a happy cow in a grassy meadow seems far more friendly that something scraped from a bioreactor. It turns out, however, that in vitro meat is a lot less unnatural than we think it is, and that “normal” food is far more bizarre than it seems. Here’s the top seven reasons why you shouldn’t be grossed out by lab-grown meat:
The secret ingredient in Chinese traditional medicine? Ground-up cockroach. Many farmers in China are turning to one of the world’s most reviled bugs to make big bucks. They’re cheap to feed (they live on rotting vegetables), easy to kill (dunk them in boiling water) and easy to store (dry them in the sun). Farmers are making a healthy profit selling the roaches to researchers studying whether the pulverized insects can be used to cure baldness, AIDS and cancer. They also wind up as fish food and even, sometimes, as deep-fried snacks for humans.
Read more about roach ranching at the LA Times.
A team of plaid-clad butchers have spotted a mature meat tree deep within the bacon-scented woods. Armed with hatchets and bone saws, the men chop the tree into logs. Back at the slaughter-mill, a quick bath in scalding water removes the tree’s dense layer of fur. Its bark is cured for leather. Its central supporting bone is cleaned and shipped out for use in construction and plumbing. The meat tree, however, is most prized for its succulent flesh. Meat tree logs can be seen rotating in the windows of many shawarma and döner kebab cafes. In the image above, a bûche de Noël has been sliced into bone-in ribeye steaks for a delicious, sustainable holiday dinner.
Image via Vancouver Fine Arts.
Just when the oceans seem to be emptying of everything except jellyfish and microbial goo, a surprising finding has emerged from the Gulf of Maine: over the last decade, lobster stocks have been booming. This formerly white-tablecloth food is now so abundant that even local convenience stores are installing lobster tanks. While the health of lobster stocks is in part due to the famously successful Maine lobster management plan, there’s other factors at work that might dampen your enthusiasm for these big red crustaceans.
Just like razors, cowboy hats, and Mickey Mouse, the treble clef has “evolved” over the centuries. It started out as a relatively simple “G”. It’s fancier form may be due to the fact that, occasionally, vocal pitch was also indicated along with instrumental pitch. The resulting “G sol” was turned to “G.S”, and then either mistakenly or carelessly transcribed into the elaborate curlicue shape we know today. Just as with genetic evolution, transcription errors in texts can lead to surprising new forms.
Read the full history of the treble clef’s evolution at Smithsonian Magazine.
Amidst all the fanfare about the first in vitro hamburger, it’s easy to forget that this is not the first time that enterprising scientists have grown and eaten cultured meat. Way back in 2003, artists Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr of the Tissue Culture & Art Project spent three months growing a “semi-living” steak made from frog cells. The tiny steak was marinated in calvados and fried with garlic and honey, then served to some (un)lucky diners. The verdict on the taste and texture? “Jellied fabric”. Part of the sad state of the steak was that, unlike the recent lab-grown burger, the frog patty hadn’t been exercised over the course of its short semi-life.
Though a disembodied frog steak might seem strange, the story gets even stranger. According to the artists, “Soon after the installation, we were approached by an animal welfare organization with a request to grow semi-living human steaks—specifically, the group’s director asked for a feast based on a steak grown from her own flesh.” Perhaps history’s very first request for auto-cannibalistic in vitro meat. Maybe not its last.
If you’re interested in cannibal cuisine, you’ll want to check out our newest project, the In Vitro Meat Cookbook. Contribute to our crowdfunding campaign today!
In light of the IPCC’s newest report that conclusively lays the blame for global warming on human activities, it’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time that we’ve messed around with the climate.
The idea of “disembodied” meat, whether grown from trees or in the lab, has been around for at least a century – if not way longer. The medieval notion of the “vegetable lamb of Tartary”, a live sheep that sprouts from a plant, could be thought of as the great-granddaddy of “victimless” meat. However, the idea of truly in vitro meat had to wait for the invention of cell culture. No doubt French surgeon Alexis Carrell pondered taking a nibble of an immortal drumstick when he created an “immortal” chicken heart cell line in 1912.
Perhaps the earliest explicit mentions of cultured meat comes from British statesman Frederick Edwin Smith. In 1930, Smith predicted that “it will no longer be necessary to go to the extravagant length of rearing a bullock in order to eat its steak. From one ‘parent’ steak of choice tenderness it will be possible to grow as large and as juicy a steak as can be desired.” Winston Churchill famously echoed this sentiment only two years later. According to Technovelty, in vitro meat made its first appearance in fiction in 1952. Since then, sci-fi authors have described inspiring, bizarre and uncanny speculative meat futures. Click through for some of the most evocative…
Next Nature is continuing the tradition of visionary lab-grown meat speculation: Support our crowdfunding campaign for the world’s first in vitro meat cookbook!
Leave it to our pal Werner Herzog to craft an unsettling, uncanny and unromantic view of “old” nature. Lest we think of the rainforest as a happy place full of cavorting monkeys and pretty butterflies, Herzog is here to set us straight:
“Of course we’re challenging nature and it hits back, it just hits back, that’s all, and that’s [the] grandiose [thing] about it, and we just have to accept that it’s much stronger than we are. Kinski always says it’s full of erotic elements. I don’t see it so much [as] erotic, I see it more [as] full of obscenity. It’s just… nature here is vile and base. I wouldn’t see anything erotic here. I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and growing and… just rotting away. Of course, there’s a lot of misery. But it’s the same misery that’s all around us. The trees here are in misery, the birds are in misery. I don’t think they sing, they just screech in pain…”
Map-enthusiast Valerie Pieris has created a fascinating visualization of human population centers. We all know that a huge fraction of humanity lives in Asia, but this map really drives the point home. There are more people in China, India and Southeast Asia than there are in Europe, North America, South America and Australia combined. Yet another fun fact brought to you by the Anthropocene.
In South Korea, the global epicenter of plastic surgery, a newly popular form of augmentation is the “liptail”. Originally invented to help middle-aged folks reverse the downturned lips brought on by aging, this surgery is reportedly being adopted by the younger set to permanently create a cute, cheerful smile. While most opt for a more subtle lift, some girls go for the full-on duckface. Unlike other surgeries that merely change the body’s form, this one permanently alters its expression – perhaps an effort to be more happy by looking more happy.
Throughout the US, coal mines abandoned before environmental laws produce acid mine drainage, a soup of toxins that can turn contaminated streams as acidic as lemon juice. One of the main byproducts of acid mine drainage, ferric oxyhydroxides, also happen to be the base for commercial red and yellow paints. Guy Riefler, a professor of environmental engineering at Ohio University, has invented a method for collecting the iron sludge in the runoff and converting it into pigments. With the help of artist John Sabraw, Riefler is tweaking his process with an eye to eventually manufacturing commercially viable paints. There’s certainly no shortage of raw materials: a single seep near Ohio University oozes out enough sludge to produce one ton of pigments every day.
Via Smithsonian Magazine.
In what’s probably the most fun form of environmental protest ever, Banksy has created a morose-looking dolphin ride to protest the BP oil spill. The ride is complete with fish nets and a filthy barrel of BP crude. Go to Brighton Pier in England if you fancy a turn on the convulsing cetacean.
Big Data has made it into the bird-watching world. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird app allows scientists and citizens to record sightings to a form a vast, real-time map of bird populations and species across the globe. Far from being a niche product, the app is hugely successful in the birding world: Users logged more than 5.6 million observations in May alone, with the number increasing every month.
Unlike traditional methods of tallying birds, eBird makes sharing and recording sightings with scientists easy. Its instantaneous aspect addressed the day-to-day distribution of creatures that are, by definition, highly mobile. EBird has already proven its scientific mettle: ornithologists now know that the US has two genetically distinct groups of orchard orioles, and that the population of Eastern meadowlarks is in decline, suggesting that meadow ecosystems themselves are in trouble.
Chef Bun Lai of Miya’s Sushi in New Haven, Connecticut, has a cheeky solution to invasive species: he eats them. His menu regularly features lionfish and Asian shore crabs, neither of which are native to the East coast of the US. Lai’s not afraid to get his hands dirty either: watch him go snorkeling for invasive seaweed and turn it into tasty soup here. According to Lai, these seaweeds “are much more nutritious than any farmed animal flora or fauna than you could possibly buy”.
Edward Wong’s fascinating personal essay reveals the extreme lengths that foreigners and wealthy Chinese go to in order to survive in a country where the air, food and water are toxic. Children are raised indoors, surrounded by high-tech air filters. Adults wear face masks when they venture outside. Stranger still (from an outsider’s perspective) is the quest for safe staple foods such as infant formula:
“So widespread is the phenomenon of Chinese buying milk powder abroad that it has led to shortages in at least a half-dozen countries. Hong Kong has even cracked down on what customs officials call “syndicates” smuggling foreign-made powder to mainland China.”
Perhaps it’s time for a new field guide: Survival Strategies in the Anthropocene. Read Wong’s full article at the New York Times.
Because date rape drugs are odorless, colorless and tasteless, victims don’t normally realize they’ve been attacked until it’s too late. In a clever, necessary bit of information decoration, the founders of DrinkSavvy are working to invent disposable cups, straws and stirrers that change color in the present of date rape drugs.
DrinkSavvy’s products detect the common drugs GHB, rohypnol and ketamine, acting as discrete chemistry kits during a night out drinking. Though it’s a sad commentary on the world that this technology is even needed, anything that prevents rape should be put into widespread use. If Drinksavvy holds up in real-life scenarios, there’s no reason their goods shouldn’t become standard at clubs and bars.
A lot of planners give lip service to preparing for higher seas, stronger storms, and hotter summers, but in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New York is putting its money where its mouth is. The city is considering creating new land in the East River, or constructing Dutch-style floodgates to hold back storms. From a next nature perspective, however, the most interesting proposal is the East River Blueway.
In an effort that restores some of the primeval feel of what was once the lush island of Mannahatta, the Blueway aims to create a series of wetlands and beaches that would absorb the tidal surges from future hurricanes. Lest this sound like another utopian vision, the city has already raised $8 million to revitalize a 4-mile stretch on Manhattan’s east side, and plans to grow a similar “soft edge” at Coney Island. Now that New York no longer needs its waterfront for industry or shipping, it might be time to let (artificial) nature return.