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Does Folding Test Tube Meat Make it More Appetizing?

What can tomorrow's chefs borrow from origami to make in-vitro meat more acceptable to consumers?

Yesterday, my colleague Peter reported on the technical and financial challenges that currently stand between us and our in-vitro burgers. But beyond the sheer cost of production and the fact that lab-grown meat is "chewy and tasteless," there remains the question of how willingly we will adapt to eating industrially produced artificial protein.

One scientist working in the field suggests that "the best way to secure an early market is by turning in vitro meat into a 'functional' food attractive to the rich and famous, perhaps by filling it with compounds that promote health or suppress appetite." In the same article, Nature reporter Nicola Jones puts forward the intriguing possibility that "one could get an edge on the market by making meat products from exotic or even extinct animals, assuming a few of their cells could be saved."

My favorite suggestion, however, comes from the London-based designer Jack Schulze. His starting point was the information that, at least when made using current techniques, lab-grown meat is flat. It has to be, he explains, "for the oxygen to get to it. If it weren’t thin, you’d need to grow blood vessels and that would make it a much more complicated exercise."

He then notes, correctly, that many of the "the practices and language around cooking seems to have come from the materiality of food, and a sensitivity towards its condition and how it will behave as it is cooked."

Super-flat meat will require the invention of new cooking techniques, in other words. Tomorrow's chefs and butchers will need to develop new equipment, new skills, and a new aesthetic language, all of which will initially seem alien, artificial, and probably a little disturbing.

In response (and only semi-whimsically), Schulze proposes borrowing the embedded traditions within a long-established paper art in order to lend equally flat lab-grown meat an aura of authenticity, care, and craft.

Not only could origami presentations restore some sense of expertise and cultural value to the cooking and serving of lab-grown meat, they might also solve the problem of resemblance. As Schulze puts it:

There’s got to be some way to communicate the nature of the meat. With food now, steak looks like steak. Chicken legs look like chickens’ legs.

How do we represent the history or memory of the animal? Origami plays a role in that too.


Of course, steak only looks like steak because humans have spent thousands of years redesigning cows through breeding and codifying their disassembly into culturally recognizable forms. But the current pace of technological change is such that we will only have a decade or so to shape steak's in-vitro replacement. Schulze's proposal is a provocation: how can designers help us adapt to radical shifts in food production by defining and create new patterns for how we eat?

All images copyright BERG London, used with permission.

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