Leyu Li is a speculative food designer and strategist based in London. In her work she explores the intersections of design, sociology, and gastronomy. She uses food as a medium to prompt discussions about broader issues, challenge perceptions, and stimulate public dialogue on the future of food. Leyu Li graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London BA Design in 2022 with a First Class Honours Degree.
During Dutch Design Week 2023, Leyu exhibited her project Broccopork, Mushchicken and Peaf at our headquarters, the Next Nature Evoluon in Eindhoven. In an effort to explore the public opinion towards cultured meat, she turned to TikTok. With her fictional influencer “Meaty Auntie”, she sparked online debate through short clips showcasing futuristic meat plants. Her videos already gained more than 3 million views so far.
Kelly van Gemert: Why did you decide to use TikTok as a platform to raise awareness about lab-grown meat?
Leyu Li: TikTok provides me an unique opportunity to reach a very broad audience, it's a very popular global platform with wide and diverse audiences from different demographics, cultures, and regions. Meanwhile, TikTok has a distinct culture characterized by creative expression, trends, challenges, hashtags and user engagement.
By integrating my project within the existing culture of TikTok, I tap into the platform's dynamic and fast-paced nature. This helps my content resonate with users and encourages participation and interaction. Content on TikTok has a high potential to go viral, reaching a large number of users very quickly. The short, consumable and shareable format of TikTok videos also contributes to spread my content, allowing it to reach a diverse audience and spark discussions around lab-grown meat.
KG: How did you invent the character Meaty Auntie, who is she? Can you tell something about her?
LL: On the level of communications of the project, Meaty Auntie serves as the face of my awareness campaign. She helps to close the gap between the speculative design fiction of lab-grown meat and the real-world conversations happening on TikTok. The character contributes to the overall narrative and engagement strategy, making the complex topic more accessible and enjoyable for the audience. Therefore, when I was thinking about the persona for my TikTok account, I aimed for a character who looked mature and professional, while maintaining an authentic presence to increase credibility and interaction.
Meaty Auntie serves as the face of my awareness campaign. She helps to close the gap between the speculative design fiction of lab-grown meat and the real-world conversations happening on TikTok.
LL: I didn’t want to make the audience feel that someone is disguising themselves as an influencer or someone just starting to take a sip in the TikTok world. So I invited my friend Maria Alpha, known for her ease in front of the camera and confident communication skills among our friends. I bet every TikTok user knows at least one auntie in their following list who is passionate, curious and creative about food and cooking. The name captures the essence of the account's focus on cultivated meat, with an emphasis on meat-related content.
KG: What kind of audience are you hoping to reach with Meaty Auntie?
LL: I planned to reach audiences that are part of the vegetarian or vegan community, people chasing the latest food tech (especially meat cultivation biotech), or general meat lovers.
KG: Your videos have gained 3 million views, what are some of the interesting replies that you have received on your content?
LL: The responses were incredibly varied. Many TikTokkers reposted and dueted with the videos, which amplified the reach. Some individuals genuinely believed in the existence of Broccopork and were very concerned about this biotechnological development. They accused me of creating satire. Interestingly, some people saved the post with plans to purchase Broccopork in the future. Sadly, one person directly emailed me to ask where to buy it because of his genetic defects. Expectedly at the same time, some people suspected and recognised this to be a piece of speculative design fiction and a typical Goldsmiths design work. And they positively regarded this as a social experiment over social media.
Some individuals genuinely believed in the existence of Broccopork and were very concerned about this biotechnological development.
KG: Can you tell us something about the decisions you made regarding the vegetables you chose to "breed" the meat with?
LL: The idea of broccoli originates from conversations between my tutors, friends and me. Broccoli is near the bottom of the list when it comes to people's vegetable preferences. We all hated it when we were children. This is the moment I chose this notorious veg. I chose mushroom because it's currently one of the most common ingredients for meat alternatives. The same goes for pea protein; it's the main source of many plant-based meat products. I wanted to highlight their existence in the meat substitute world and use people’s familiarity with them construct a better narrative. Broccopork will put the audience in a spin, but the mushroom and pea will make a lot of sense and deflect doubts.
KG: Would you eat a broccopork yourself?
LL: I would definitely give it a try. But I won't be expecting Broccopork, Mushchicken, and Peaf to become regular guests on my plate. These are definitely and truly too Frankenstein for me!
KG: Are you excited about the future of lab-grown meat?
LL: I am very excited about lab-grown meat. I am curious how food designers and meat alternative companies will play with this food tech. About what kind of unusual products they are going to invent and design, how they are going to challenge the existing meat consumption market and what kind of lifestyle and meat culture they intend to suggest and establish.
I welcome any form of hybrid food. I envision a landscape where diverse hybridity plays a vital role.
KG: How do you envision the future of meat in general?
LL: I hope the future of meat will bloom in meat-related biotechnology and innovation in meat itself. Is there anything to challenge people’s perceptions of meat? Do meat substitutes only mimic the taste, texture, flavour and colour of meat? What else constitutes the critical characteristics of meat? What if the future meat keeps the killing process as a fundamental element to the definition of meat? I am working on a project to speculate on a future livestock farm system that keeps the killing culture and produces meat without killing animals.
KG: What else is in store for you in the future? Any plans?
LL: I welcome any form of hybrid food. I envision a landscape where diverse hybridity plays a vital role. This includes multicultural hybrid food like cronuts, kimchi chips, etc. Or technological hybrids combine natural food with cultivated ingredients, like Broccopork, Mushchicken and Peaf.
This story is part of Next Generation, a series in which we give young makers a platform to showcase their work. Your work here? Get in touch and plot your coordinates as we navigate our future together.