Artificial ceramic bones for a natural meat experience

The world is developing, climate change is happening and it’s time for us to do something. Now.

One strategy would be to simply stop eating meat — or at least reduce the amount of our consumption. “Why?”, you may think. Well here are some numbers: If you do not eat meat for a week as an adult, you save 130 liters of water, 76 kilometres of driving a car and 770 grams of animal meat.

Sure, some people may find it to be hard to stop eating meat, yet there are innovative solutions on its way that may help you overcome the inconvenience of not eating meat. Like eating in vitro meat!

Grown in bioreactors from animal cells, in vitro meat could be a sustainable and humane alternative to raising a whole animal from birth to slaughter. The first lab-grown hamburger is already here, but in vitro meat technology could also bring us entirely new culinary experiences.

A future scenario

One of these experiences would be to eat from an artificial ceramic bone — for a natural meat experience. And while it may sound farfetched for now, there’s one designer living ahead of us in envisioning such a future.

Meet Yossi Roth, industrial designer based in Jerusalem, Israel. In his latest project, Future Carnivore, he imagined a scenario in which in-vitro meat has become the norm.

As the slaughtering of animals is out of the equation, it’s no longer possible to nibble the remaining bits from the bone. And that’s where his project steps in.

These bone-shaped ceramics emphasise on the gap “between the brutality of slaughtering an animal for our food, as on the sterile process of growing meat inside a lab.” Roth’s eating utensils remind us what savage hunters we once were — or perhaps, still are.

We recently caught up with Roth to discuss the future of meat, how to market such a product, and why industrial designers may be the next butchers.

Tell us a bit about the project, Future Carnivore.

For Future Carnivore I imagined a scenario in which in-vitro meat has become the main source of protein. A future where animal meat is no longer needed. How will everyday events like family meals, cooking or buying meat look like? Today when we go to the butcher and look at the selection of meat we see a lot of dead animals cuts, bleeding red, inner organs, fat and bones… Sounds disgusting, doesn’t it? But somehow we’ve gotten OK with it. No longer do we hesitate to buy the most beautiful dead piece of animal; it has become natural to us to do so.

The objects I created are artificial ceramic bones. They function as tools for eating and cooking meat. The bones are a reminder of the animal we used to kill in the ‘past’. They are here to remind us what savage hunters we were, and how we shouldn’t stray from the path of finding more viable solutions to consume protein — while maintaining a ecological balance on our planet. The bone acts as heat vessel to disperse heat through the meat in the cooking process. In addition it adds weight and visual appearance.

What were the first reactions to the project?

In-vitro meat still seems like sci-fi to some people, even though it’s literally here. People who saw the project, told me they gained a better understand towards the advent of in-vitro meat. My intention was to confront the viewers with the brutal way we are consuming meat today, in which I succeeded: When people were holding and using the artificial bone, this idea of holding and eating from a real bone suddenly seemed violent, brutal and even absurd.

Why did you choose for a ‘bone’ as your medium (as opposed to a different not-animal-related tool)?

Consider this, our hunter-gatherer ancestors used every part of the animal; for food, clothes and tools. With that, the animal bones were used for tool making, hunting, utensils and jewellery. I’ve chosen to use the bone to emphasise the major contrast between the time periods, between the brutal act of killing an animal, and the sterile process of growing meat in a lab.

The bone as such, plays an important role in our experience with meat. I mean, we use it for cooking, we hold the bone while eating, and it gives weight, flavor, heat etc. I used the bone as a gesture and reminder to better remind ourselves where it (and we) came from. The bone says a lot about us, our culture and history.

You could compare it to the shutter sound on our phone; the shutter does not need to make this sound no more, but it does help us understand its function.

Do you eat meat yourself?

I experimented with vegetarianism for couple of years in the past, but only after a few years I returned to eating meat. Today I eat meat scarcely, mainly due to environmental awareness and the problem of meat farms. Yet I have the means in my region to find a cheap and healthy substitute. I believe that many people around the world share this feeling, but experience difficulties to substitute meat (which mainly has to do with its unique flavor and texture).

While researching in-vitro meat, I got very impressed by the advantages of this technology. This led me to think, as a designer, what fascinates me the most is the role of design in this radical revolution. From there I started to wonder how this innovation could affect user experience in the future — which led to the Future Carnivore project.

Do you think that people are ready to stir up an appetite for eating in-vitro meat?

I think we will have to go through a long process until we get used to (the idea of) in-vitro meat — but it’s a process that already has begun. Our habits are hard to change, even harder when it comes to our food, and meat in particular. When I asked people whether they’ll try it or not, the majority told me that they would. I guess we are going to see in-vitro meat in the near future, whether we like it or not.

Any thoughts on how we could introduce eating in-vitro to the world at large?

In 2008 the MOMA hosted an exhibition titled “Design and the elastic mind”. The ‘elastic’ refers to the way we’re accepting and adapting to new ideas and technology. Designers hold to unique opportunity in dealing with and creating this elasticity in our brains. They have the ability to transform science and technology into objects that we can comprehend and use.

I, as a designer, don’t know how to make in-vitro meat more tastier, but I can certainly think about the look and feel of the technology. It’s not only a matter of taste, the “UX” (user experience) of the meat needs to be dealt with. The experience we have while eating a steak has multiple sensory and emotional factors that add to the overall experience – visual, tactile, smell, weight etc. If we can deeply understand this experience, the introduction can be successfully made.

Are industrial designers the new butchers?

Lol. It is pretty hard to find a job as a designer, so perhaps exploring the field of ‘meat design’ would be an interesting opportunity…

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