translated by: Mor Ilan
In May 2018, the House of Representatives of the state of Missouri approved a bill banning use of the term “meat” to describe any product that has the form, flavor, texture, or aroma of meat but is not produced from the flesh of animal carcasses. The explicit intent of the bill was to protect the interests of cattle farmers, who were concerned with the sharp rise in demand for plant-based meat substitutes by the ever-growing community of vegetarians and vegans in the US (“Beyond Meat”, a Missouri-based company, was one of the first in the country to offer quality and reasonably priced meat substitutes). But as critics of the bill quickly noticed, the wording of the bill extended beyond just plant-based alternatives and banned the use of the word “meat” in relation to synthetic meat, cultured meat, and lab or clean meat – meaning, any food product produced from meat tissue not sourced from slaughtered animals, but rather from lab-grown cell cultures.
Practically speaking, there still exists a huge gap between the current actual status of the production of affordable meat alternatives from non-plant-based sources and the speculative future possibilities inherent in this synthetic meat enterprise. But far beyond that is the fact that – either consciously or unconsciously – the State of Missouri does not distinguish between imitation using substitutes and innovative technological production methods. This clearly demonstrates the singular importance of synthetic meat in any debate seeking to investigate the complex relations between pretense and production, between fiction and fabrication. In this regard, the following compilation, which appears in the “Fake It Make It” edition of “Maarav” and accompanies the 2018 Print Screen Festival, is dedicated to a critical examination of these relations as reflected in cultural, academic, and artistic debates being waged in tandem with the dizzying commercial and technological development of synthetic meat production.
Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr describe their groundbreaking art experiments documenting the consumption of meat morsels which were generated outside of their natural biological environment. They raise fundamental questions that arise from transforming the living body into raw material and converting biology into technology. Ariel Tsovel explains how epistemological and ontological challenges posed by “meat parallels” require a renewed perspective on the relations between original, fraud and imitation – and in a broader context, the relations between truth and fiction. Tamar Novick situates the fantasy of clean meat within the historical and cultural sequence of visions of culinary utopia, reminding us that the laboratory is never isolated from the realities of time and place, nor are its outcomes “clean”. The interview between researcher and activist of the vegan movement Tobias Leenaert and philosopher and bioethicist Cor van der Weele examines why, despite a wealth of excellent plant-based options, we continue on our quest for lab meat. They question the motivations for such behavior in view of the current correlation between veganism and technological advancement. Finally, a series of images from the art-science project “Meat the Future” offers a range of innovative and original methods to present, package, serve and consume synthetic meat in ways that disconnect it from its natural origin, both in terms of aesthetic and consumer interests.