Five years ago, scientists predicted that as early as 2013, we’d hear rumblings of lab (or in-vitro cultured) meat creeping into grocery stores across the country. And although I haven’t spotted any test tube steak at my local butcher shop, the thought isn’t too far from a reality. So if engineered meat is the culinary future, who decides what it should look like?
Artist James King already has. In a fascinating exhibit entitled ‘Dressing the Meat of Tomorrow,’ King explores what synthetic meat should (and could) be donning for its big debut. By imagining the world in which we might willingly ingest in vitro meat, he remarks that our future chefs will likely have very little information about the anatomy of true livestock. In an article for Scientific American, King writes:
“Let’s imagine an enterprising and creative chef of tomorrow… he does his research and reads old text books that detail the historical animal known as the cow. He becomes excited by the false color illustrations of their anatomy. He selects the parts he finds most interesting. Not the boring bits we eat today, but the more intricate shapes found in the abdomen and the brain. From these patterns, he constructs a mold into which he cultures his cells and serves the result to an appreciative clientele.”
Appreciative, indeed. Studies show that when it comes to food, presentation is everything. In a recent experiment, 57 participants were asked to sip hot chocolate from different-colored vessels: orange, cream, red and white. Time and again, the cocoa served from the orange cup was the clear winner in terms of favored taste. “The color had nothing to do with this difference, neither physically nor chemically, but apparently the drinkers’ brains thought they detected a difference,” notes Spanish researcher Betina Piqueras-Fiszman.
The same study also reported more obvious relationships between food and perception, like the idea that yellow packaging enhances lemon flavoring, or blue drinks appear to quench thirst more than red ones. There’s a physiological reason for this, of course. Writer Amy Castle explains:
“Your brain is programmed to choose foods that will give your body the greatest nutrients. To get a balanced diet, you need a mixture of foods that are different colors – dairy is generally pale and white, vegetables and fruits a mixture of bright yellows, greens and red, meats often a rich brown. Your subconscious knows this, which is why you pause over the fruit bowl to pick an item you find visually appealing.”
And with the controversial (and admittedly unappetizing) subject that is synthetic meat, “visually appealing” could mean life or death for the cultured meat industry. Writes King, “My intention was to design a piece of in vitro meat that was made with craft rather than mass produced homogeneity and, depending on your taste, appeared just palatable enough to eat.”
With the exception of an earth-shattering pork chop, in vitro meat needs all the help it can get. Notes vascular biologist Mark Post (who hopes to create the world’s first synthetic hamburger – a $345,000 piece of meat), “It’s not very tasty yet.”
Image Credits: James King