Every now and then just as I am about to tuck into a beef steak or carve a roast chicken, I have a moment of pause as encounter a kind of reverse déjà vu, were I can see my elderly future self in the exact same pose, looking at a similar but different scene. As my future self pauses, gazing at the protein I am about to eat, my small grandson looks at me and says “what’s the matter grandpa? Aren’t you going to eat your giant cricket legs?”
You see, I have this sneaking suspicion that lab-grown meat is not our future; specially bred new species is. A change in the meat we eat is hardly new. Over the course of the 20th century the chicken went from a barely farmed, rarely consumed delicacy to the second most consumed meat in America. Selective breeding has resulted in broiler (meat) chickens quadrupling in size since the 50s.
Fascinations about the future of food have been fodder for futurists for forever, and my favorite example of this is a 1913 syndicated newspaper article titled “Our Radium-Raised Dinners” that ran in the The Salt Lake Tribune and The Spokesman Review which predicted that we’d be eating radium-mutated frogs.
Frogs are very easily raised, and when they are bred to a large size one leg will yield a dinner for a large family at very small cost, probably not more than ten cents a pound. Frogs are now quite cheap, and when increased in size they will become relatively cheaper […] Professor Dawson Turner’s discovery makes it a possibility of the future that the housewife will be able to buy exquisite, succulent giant frog’s legs at ten cents a pound instead of coarse, rheumatism-causing beef at forty cents a pound.
This aspect of retro-futurism is, as always, spectacularly lampooned in Futurama with the humble buggalo which is farmed, harvested, milked and eaten like cattle.
And then there’s the Ribwich episode of the Simpsons, Krusty has to announce that they had to stop making the Ribwich since they drove the animal it came from to extinction.
“The pig? The cow?”
Krusty: “You’re way off. Think smaller, with more legs.”
Obviously the source of the humor here is because they’re ridiculous and disgusting. but in the face of a climate crisis, eating bugs, aka entomophagy, is on the rise in the west. Never mind increasing consumption statistics, the occasional opening of a bug-based bakery, or the availability of mail-order bugs for baking (like cricketflours.com, cricketpowder.com and entomofarms.com), the most interesting thing about this new trend is people’s attitude toward it.
Edible insects food products preferred by consumers in the United States as of 2018, by type
And this is all supposing a utopian or moderate outlook for the future. If you’re more bleak in your predictions, you might want to read these articles: