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Observations

Observations

Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

In the future, will we all be cannibals?

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Brett Israel, blogging for Discover magazine, calls it the worst science article of the week: a report in the Sunday Times of London and elsewhere that Mark Post of Eindhoven University and his colleagues had grown "a soggy form of pork" in the laboratory, with the eventual aim of cultivating meat in vitro for human consumption. Israel's main complaint was that the story is old; indeed, Brendan Borrell wrote about it for us earlier this year. But what's really bad about is that it augurs an era when restaurants will serve human flesh.

Even if chicken from a test tube can't compete with the products of factory farming, the technology lets you grow meats you can't get any other (legal) way. Some of us, inevitably, would want to try them. Hank Henna, blogging for h+ magazine, speculates about dinosaur and Komodo-dragon burgers. But the ultimate taboo is the most mouth-watering. NPR's Ira Flatow recently interviewed Carole Travis-Henikoff, author of Dinner With a Cannibal. She told Flatow:

Cannibals usually say it's the best meat they've ever tasted…. I can't tell you what it would taste like, but I know what it looks like. And there is no reason on Earth that it wouldn't be good. We're only 1 to 3 percent different in genetics from chimpanzees. And in Africa today, a person will give up a whole year's wages for a carcass of a chimpanzee.

That said, there is another possibility. By reminding us what meat really is, the prospect of eating human flesh might turn us all into vegetarians.

Leonhard Kern sculpture photographed by Andreas Praefcke, from Wikimedia Commons

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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