“You are what you eat” – EAT A SWEDE, 2021

The world’s most popular pastime is eating. Plants “eat” carbon dioxide and water and turn it into carbohydrates, which animals then eat. Some animals then eat those animals. The theologian William Ralph Inge described nature as “a conjugation of the verb to eat, in the active and the passive”. Everyone is eating most of the time. When appetite becomes too voracious, we end up eating each other, or being eaten.

The video starts with members of a focus group being told they were trying human flesh.

The video shows Erik Karlsson as an entrepreneur who is trying to persuade investors to back his project to grow human meat for sale in supermarkets, and especially meat that is grown from the cells of Sweden’s national treasure, the actor Alexander Skarsgård. He then tries to persuade Skarsgård to donate some cells, for which he offers a partnership in the company. No dice.

The trailer at the top of this blog links to a website which explains the theory behind the longer clip, which is also available on YouTube: Eat a Swede (which has subtitles) or at the Eat a Swede website. Karlsson tells us that

“In 2050, the global population will reach 10 BILLION. The demand for food is expected to increase by 98%.”

There is no doubt that current meat industries are environmentally unsustainable. Humans slaughter some seventy billion (70,000,000,000) land animals every year for food, and trillions of sea animals. Yet most of the world’s people eat far less meat than Americans or Australians, and biologist E.O. Wilson estimated that for the rest of the world to reach those levels of consumption would require four more planet Earths. Other options for replacing meat include fungus, insects, larvae, etc. But why would we eat maggots (or pigs) when we have flesh from clean-living, environmentally conscious Swedes?

So anyway, meticulous detective work (AKA a quick glance at the website) revealed that this is not in fact a real company, nor are they growing real human flesh in the lab. It’s what they describe as “edutainment” or “mockumentary”. The Swedish Food Federation – an industry organization with about 800 member companies from Arla and Absolut to Oatly and Orkla – wanted to share their knowledge about sustainable food production, and in the process increase the competitive edge for Swedish food. Release a website on sustainable agriculture and you may get a few dozen likes. Make a “mockumentary” on growing human meat and

The people in the focus were actually eating “Swedish tenderloin” cut from the loin of an animal who had no doubt suffered and died at a tender age (as the name seems to imply). Probably a cow, although there is also a cut known as tenderloin from chickens, but for this process, I would think they would choose a cow because, apparently, our flesh tastes like beef, according to some people who have tried it (others say pork from wild pigs).

But the technology is already here. It is possible to grow cells in the laboratory, taking cells from an animal (and let us not forget that we ARE animals) and culture them into, well, meat. Clean meat, often called in vitro or lab meat, is meat grown in sterile laboratory conditions from animal cells. It is not plant-based meat, as so many supermarkets now offer, but actual flesh, grown in a nutritional medium, instead of cut from the carcass of a slaughtered animal. The idea is the basis of Brandon Cronenberg’s film Antiviral. While this may be a potential threat to the meat industries if /when it becomes commercially viable, it presents an immediate challenge to our culture of carnivorous virility, the ideology that makes us feel superior to other animals, demi-gods, the sacrificial violence that maintains the abyss between humans and other animals while bolstering the image of masculinity in most cultures.

More relevant to this thesis is the fact that clean meat could be grown from any animal cell. Want to try whale meat? Like to see what dodos or dinosaurs tasted like? Find a readable chain of DNA and contract the lab. And of course, the easiest cells to source are human ones – we hand them over to pathologists and crime scene investigators all the time. If clean meat becomes a reality, there is no reason (other than administrative) to assume we could not grow human steaks, livers or sweetbreads.  And as Erik says:

“It’s the only product where we have consent that it’s fine to eat it. We have a donor – that person has said ‘you can take my cells, you can grow them, and it’s fine with me that you eat them.’”

The artist Diego Rivera claimed in his memoir that human flesh is the most “assimilable” of foods for humans. Most testimonies by actual cannibals attest that human meat is not unique, and tastes similar to veal or pork. Erik says, tongue presumably in cheek, that human meat tastes like crocodile. Which, he says, tastes like – chicken.

“Since they say you are what you eat, why not eat a Swede?”

It is fascinating that polite society finds perfectly acceptable the confinement and torment of billions of animals in wretched conditions until they are slaughtered, yet so many people are shocked and repulsed by the idea of meat from a different animal, Homo sapiens, grown in sterile conditions with no need for branding, castration, confinement, slaughter and disembowelment.

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