The New York Times essay contest, which asks meat-eaters to defend their meat eating, ironically puts carnivores in the crosshairs. While it's doubtful that the contest will do much more than inflame passions on either side of the debate, recent developments in science could solve the problem by subtracting animals from the equation altogether and just growing meat in giant vats. In fact, vegetarians and vegans seem to be all for the idea, and PETA is even offering a million dollar prize to the first scientist to conjure up some vat meat.
But what about people? Or, more precisely, what about people meat?
Cannibalism's status as the last great taboo is probably rooted in the nearly universal prohibition against human murder. But practically speaking, there are plenty of cadavers who meet their death in non-violent ways, and while it may seem a bit irrational to not at least consider them as potential hamburger material, as a rule dead humans are buried, not barbecued.*
However, if the existential slicing and dicing of pork from pig answers the ethical objections to meat-eating, can there be any real objection to the cultivation and consumption of vat-grown people meat?
A quick poll of friends and family revealed three main concerns:
- It's disgusting.
- It devalues the sanctity of human life.
- Maybe the person was sick or did drugs / people meat would be unhealthy.
Let's deal with the objections in reverse order. The concern that people meat might be less-than-healthy is a question for nutritionists, but I think that "everything in moderation" certainly applies here. On the other hand, the idea that a hard lifestyle could taint meat is frankly anti-science. A steady diet of magic mushrooms and Jameson might season the brain and liver, but isn't going to affect brain and liver meat at the genetic level.
As for the second objection, that somehow eating people-meat would devalue the sanctity of human life, I'd propose that the opposite is true. In fact, we can assume that the market would actually put a concrete value on the human, somewhere in the range of $5.99 a pound.
Now for the final objection, that people meat is disgusting. I think it's safe to say that while munching vat-raised people meat may not be unethical, it's still gross. But many cultures prize "gross" delicacies for their supposed therapeutic or aphrodisiac powers. From rattlesnake tequila to tiger penises, the underground meat market is an Interzone of monstrous delights. Many an endangered species got that way because of the magical properties attributed to their flesh -- good-taste be damned. And as a rule, the more dangerous and rare the creature, the more power is ascribed to its meat. Following this line of thought, we can from the outset let John Q Public off the butcher block. The odd cuts are the most delectable. Filet mignon and New York Strip trump chuck and rump.
So, that leads us to the rarest bird, the juiciest morsel, the tastiest delicacy -- the celebrity.
By way of comparison, let's consider the "celebrity effect" on the perfume industry. While many enjoy the low notes of drug-store splash-ons, it was not until the celebrification of scent that perfume could really go blockbuster. From Sarah Jessica Parker to J-Lo, celebrity stink drives billion-dollar sales. There is some mysterious draw to wearing the scent of another (an idea dramatized in the international hit film Perfume, where the most intoxicating scent is synthesized from the literal bodies of women.) In a similar vein, Lady Gaga's upcoming fragrance promises a heady bouquet of blood and semen. More practically, a line of Latino celebrity scents contains pheromones. Consumers are eager to baptize themselves in the alchemical essence of celebrity -- to wrap themselves, as it were, in celebrity skin.
So why not celebrity meat? Lady Gaga, infamous for her meat dress, could put out actual Gaga-meat replicas. Madonna could commit the ultimate blasphemy by producing communion-sized wafers of her own flesh. Vincent Gallo, famous for offering his sperm for a cool million, could limited-edition his member for adoring women everywhere. Presidents Putin and Obama could offer slices of themselves at state dinners. Air Jordans could be produced with real Michael Jordan leather trim. Rush Limbaugh and Steven Hawking could can their brains for ditto-head breakfast burritos and physicist fan-boy scrapple. Imagine Kim Kardashian rump roasts and Snoop Doggy Dog pot roasts. Barbecues could offer braised Bieber, Rihanna ribs, Britney Spears kabobs, Katy Perry patties and shake-and-bake Shakira. Ashton Kutcher, Justin Timberlake, and Chris Brown could be packaged as actual beefcake. You can let Kanye finish -- in the microwave. Carl's Jr. could serve up their newest scantily-clad model on a bun. The possibilities are endless!
Adoring fans everywhere could literally get a piece of their favorite star. The cult of celebrity could be extended past the checkout line to the meat counter at the super-market. Thousands of jobs will be created, as a whole new industry is born. And who knows? Your own 15 minutes might one day consist of finding yourself the main course on the season-finale of Top Chef.
* It should also be pointed out that, generally, those most likely to die are old, and liable to be gristly. And even if you could get away with it, eating children would simply be unhealthy, what with their steady diet of corn syrup and pink slime.
Justin Strawhand writes and makes films. His most recent documentary War Against the Weak details the rise and fall of the American eugenics movement and its direct impact on the Holocaust. He is currently finishing his first cookbook, Eat the Stars: Great Old Recipes from The Outer Dark.