Unimaginable Meats

Oct '15

A roundtable discussion with Erik Jónsson

Benevolent Technotopias, and Hitherto Unimaginable Meats: some remarks on promissory in vitro meat discourse.

Livestock lives have today become a prominent focal point for discussions on environmental issues ranging from climate change to local land degradation. Thus, a range of projects to alter diets, and production processes, have been initiated. A high-profile example of such a project, and the ways this project is made sense of, is at the centre of this article.
This project, in vitro meat (In vitro, Latin: in glass), involves several attempts to produce meat outside of animal bodies, primarily by culturing cells. Through thereby overhauling conventional meat-production technologies, researchers working on in vitro meat promise that meat can become healthier, environmentally friendly, and kinder to the animals now subject to biopsies rather than slaughter.
But in this article I problematize this promissory, pro in vitro, discourse to instead scrutinise the kind of world that proponents envision, and the world from which promises emerge. First, I trace the increasing number of publications striving to pin-point what in vitro meat is to unveil the creation of an in vitro meat canon where perceived possibilities of this novel technology become taken-for-granted. Second, I investigate how promissory discourse frequently provides accounts relatively silent on key aspects of how this technology could remake the world. Wet laboratories, animals, and end-products become foregrounded, at the expense of both political economy and the biophysical properties of cell cultures. Thus, questions concerning how funding requirements shape representations of this new technology together with in vitro meat’s particular socio-spatial and socio-ecological implications are problematically de-emphasised.

Meat, in vitro, neoliberal science, political ecology