Nobody eat animals — not the whole things. Most of us eat animal parts, with a few memorable culinary exceptions. And as we become more aware of the costs of meat — to our health, to our environments, and to the lives of the beings we consume — many of us wish to imagine the pieces apart from the wholes. The meat market obliges. It serves up slices disembodied, drained, and reassembled behind plastic, psychically sealed off from the syringe, saw blade, effluent pool, and all the other instruments of so-called husbandry. But of course this is just cynical illusion.
Imagine, though, that the illusion could come true. Imagine giving in to the human weakness for flesh, but without the growth hormones, the avian flu, the untold millions tortured and gone; imagine the voluptuous tenderness of muscle, finally freed from brutality. You are thinking of cultured meat or in vitro meat, and already it is becoming technologically feasible.
Research on several promising tissue-engineering techniques, being led by scientists in the Netherlands and the United States, has been accelerating since 2000, when NASA cultured goldfish meat as possible sustenance on space missions. Soon it will be within our means to stop farming animals and start growing meat. Call it carniculture.
With the coming of carniculture (a term found in science fiction literature, although, etymologically speaking, "carneculture" might be more correct), meat and other animal products can be made safe, nutritious, economical, energy efficient, and above all, morally defensible. While carniculture may not change everything in the same way agriculture changed everything, certainly it will transform our economy and our relationship to animals.
Grains once roamed free on untamed plains, tomatoes were wild berries in the Andes. And meat once grew on animals.