Fava beans, anyone? Growing steaks from human cells not ‘technically’ cannibalism, makers say 

It’s time to break out the fava beans and a nice Chianti, Clarice!

The makers of a ‘DIY meal kit’ for growing steaks cultured from human cell samples have offered the reassurance that the concept is not ‘technically’ cannibalism.

Ouroboros Steaks — named for and resembling the icon of a snake eating itself — were nominated for the London Design Museum’s 2020 ‘Designs of the Year Award’.

While one could culture meat from cells taken by a self-administered cheek swab, the team instead used research cells from the American Tissue Culture Collection.

The cells were grown on a fungus scaffold in warm conditions for three months by feeding them with human serum sourced from expired, discarded blood donations.

The resulting product — bite-sized human steaks — have been preserved in resin and put on display in both the Design Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

Those actually keen to put a little more of themselves in their cooking, however, will find themselves disappointed — as the kits are unlikely to end up going on sale.

Instead, the designers said that they developed the concept to highlight some of the current limitations with lab-grown meat generally — and how such still harm animals.

The makers of a 'DIY meal kit' for growing steaks cultured from human cell samples (pictured) have offered the reassurance that the concept is not 'technically' cannibalism

The makers of a 'DIY meal kit' for growing steaks cultured from human cell samples (pictured) have offered the reassurance that the concept is not 'technically' cannibalism

The makers of a ‘DIY meal kit’ for growing steaks cultured from human cell samples (pictured) have offered the reassurance that the concept is not ‘technically’ cannibalism

Ouroboros Steaks — named for and resembling the icon of a snake eating itself (pictured) — were nominated for the London Design Museum's 2020 'Design of the Year Award'

Ouroboros Steaks — named for and resembling the icon of a snake eating itself (pictured) — were nominated for the London Design Museum's 2020 'Design of the Year Award'

Ouroboros Steaks (pictured) — named for and resembling the icon of a snake eating itself — were nominated for the London Design Museum's 2020 'Design of the Year Award'

Ouroboros Steaks (pictured) — named for and resembling the icon of a snake eating itself — were nominated for the London Design Museum's 2020 'Design of the Year Award'

Ouroboros Steaks (right) — named for and resembling the icon of a snake eating itself (left) — were nominated for the London Design Museum’s 2020 ‘Design of the Year Award’

WHAT DOES HUMAN FLESH TASTE LIKE? 

It is unclear whether Professor Pelling and colleagues have taken a cheeky sample of their Ouroboros Steaks.

Based on its concentration of myoglobin — the protein that gives muscle its colour — our flesh would likely be classified red meat, like beef. 

However, it has been claimed that cannibals on the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia once referred to human meat as ‘long pig’, given its resemblance to pork.

This assessment seems to have been shared by the noted German cannibal Armin Meiwes, who told RTL journalist Günter Stampf in a 2007 documentary that human flesh ‘flesh tastes like pork — a little bit more bitter, stronger.’

Similarly, the serial killers Karl Denke and Fritz Haarmann were said to have sold human flesh at market, passing such off to their customers as pork. 

On the other hand, the preparation of the flesh would likely play a significant role in setting the final taste. 

In fact, New York Times reporter William Seabrook wrote in his 1931 book ‘Jungle Ways’ that hospital-sourced human flesh he cooked — having been inspired reportedly observing ritualistic cannibalism in West Africa — tasted instead ‘like good, fully developed veal.’

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‘Our design is scientifically and economically feasible but also ironic in many ways,’ Ouroboros project artist Orkan Telhan told Dezeen magazine.

‘We are not promoting “eating ourselves” as a realistic solution that will fix humans’ protein needs,’ he explained.

‘We rather ask a question: what would be the sacrifices we need to make to be able to keep consuming meat at the pace that we are?’

‘In the future, who will be able to afford animal meat and who may have no other option than culturing meat from themselves?’

The Ouroboros Steaks the researchers produced were made entirely from human products — and therefore involved no harm to animals.

While such is often promised with lab-grown animal meat, the production of such at present is still dependant on foetal bovine serum as a protein-rich growth supplement — belying claims of a cruelty-free and sustainable food source. 

Derived from the blood of calf foetuses after their pregnant mothers are slaughtered, foetal bovine serum costs around £300–700 per litre.

‘Foetal bovine serum costs significant amounts of money and the lives of animals,’ Ouroboros Steak developer and biologist Andrew Pelling told Dezeen.

‘Although some lab-grown meat companies are claiming to have solved this problem, to our knowledge no independent, peer-reviewed, scientific studies have validated these claims,’ the University of Ottawa researcher explained.

While no lab-grown meat has yet to be approved for sale in any country, the concept has already fostered considerable interest.

The market is currently estimated at some £155 million, a figure expected to reach £431 million in the next five years. 

While one could culture meat from cells taken from a cheek swab, the team instead used research cells from the American Tissue Culture Collection to grow their meat (pictured)

While one could culture meat from cells taken from a cheek swab, the team instead used research cells from the American Tissue Culture Collection to grow their meat (pictured)

While one could culture meat from cells taken from a cheek swab, the team instead used research cells from the American Tissue Culture Collection to grow their meat (pictured)

 

The cells were then grown for three months by feeding them with human serum (pictured) sourced from expired blood donations that would otherwise have been wasted

The cells were then grown for three months by feeding them with human serum (pictured) sourced from expired blood donations that would otherwise have been wasted

The cells were then grown for three months by feeding them with human serum (pictured) sourced from expired blood donations that would otherwise have been wasted

‘It is important to develop designs that expose some of its underlying constraints, in order to see beyond the hype,’ Professor Pelling added.

‘Expired human blood is a waste material in the medical system and is cheaper and more sustainable than FBS, but culturally less-accepted,’ the team’s industrial designer Grace Knight told Dezeen.

‘People think that eating oneself is cannibalism, which technically this is not.’

Those actually keen to put a little more of themselves in their cooking, however, will find themselves disappointed — as the kits are unlikely to end up going on sale. Instead, the designers said that they developed the concept to highlight some of the current limitations with lab-grown meat generally — and how such still harm animals. Pictured, Ouroboros Steaks

Those actually keen to put a little more of themselves in their cooking, however, will find themselves disappointed — as the kits are unlikely to end up going on sale. Instead, the designers said that they developed the concept to highlight some of the current limitations with lab-grown meat generally — and how such still harm animals. Pictured, Ouroboros Steaks

Those actually keen to put a little more of themselves in their cooking, however, will find themselves disappointed — as the kits are unlikely to end up going on sale. Instead, the designers said that they developed the concept to highlight some of the current limitations with lab-grown meat generally — and how such still harm animals. Pictured, Ouroboros Steaks

Samples of the bite-sized human steaks — have been preserved in resin and put on display in both the Design Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Samples of the bite-sized human steaks — have been preserved in resin and put on display in both the Design Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Samples of the bite-sized human steaks — have been preserved in resin and put on display in both the Design Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art

HOW IS ‘TEST TUBE MEAT’ GROWN IN A LABORATORY?

‘Test tube meat’ is a term used to describe meat products grown in a laboratory

‘Test tube meat’ is a term used to describe meat products grown in a laboratory.

They are made by harvesting stem cells from the muscle tissue of living livestock.

The cells, which have the ability to regenerate, are then cultured in a nutrient soup of sugars and minerals.

These cells are then left to develop inside bioreactor tanks into skeletal muscle that can be harvested in just a few weeks.

Lab-grown beef was first created by Dutch scientists in 2013. A test tube hamburger was served at a restaurant in London to two food critics.

In March 2017, San Francisco firm Memphis Meats successfully grew poultry meat from stem cells for the first time.

In March 2017, San Francisco firm Memphis Meats successfully grew poultry meat from stem cells for the first time. The company also makes lab-grown meatballs (pictured)

In March 2017, San Francisco firm Memphis Meats successfully grew poultry meat from stem cells for the first time. The company also makes lab-grown meatballs (pictured)

In March 2017, San Francisco firm Memphis Meats successfully grew poultry meat from stem cells for the first time. The company also makes lab-grown meatballs (pictured)

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