If there’s one thing we should have learned from science fiction, it’s that if a car drives down the street with a revolving camera on top, we should shoot at it. But, clearly, Google street view is a noncontroversial thing. I really don’t know, should we live in an engineered society or not? Adult beverages produce a lot of CO2e. Eating does too, and takes a bunch of time besides. Sex, don’t even get me started on the inefficiencies inherent in that method of reproduction. Still, I can always trust that my food lacks surveillance capability ((?)!).
Traditionally, the people who create food have an agenda: to make money. Even the unhealthiest of genetically manufactured, wet milled, deconstructed junk food has at least the purity of the motivation of its creators and investors. Neither Frito Lay nor Taco Bell has won the argument that their products are intended to comprise the majority of a healthy diet. When pressed as to why they do the things they do to corn, wheat, and soybeans, they insist: Our products are intended as treats, not a steady diet unto themselves. Great, now we just have to convince everyone they don’t deserve a treat just for being.
Not so for the new breed of food technologist. When you take good-old-fashioned greed and extrude it through the impulse of silicon valley to better the world through “hacking” and “disrupting,” you get an uncannily efficient way to eat. Note how the senses of those words differ from Tech speak to Regular speak. To “disrupt” is what one rudely does to another’s household, or meal. To “hack” is to make a fucking mess of. A hack is someone who lacks competence: skill, suavity, fluidity.
Efficiency sounds like a good thing to everybody now, but has anyone ever asked you to perform oral sex more efficiently? If the answer is yes, you presumably stopped immediately and never spoke to that person again. When cooking, we talk about being efficient, but we generally mean something very specific and low-tech, like never traveling with empty hands, or immediate and zen, like economy of motion. Engineers, be they genetic, chemical or agricultural mean something quite different. Generally, I think they mean minimum inputs for maximum outputs. That’s great because, population and climate. Right?
Genetic engineering has, for two decades now, been the target of food system critics everywhere. The basic reasons for that, as near as I can tell, are twofold:
– Genetic engineering, despite the insistence of its proponents and supporters, is radical and novel. The potential long-term consequences are largely unpredictable.
– Genetic engineering creates a new level of commodification. The consequences of that are completely predictable and have already begun to be seen.
Genetic engineering firms respond, appropriately, by touting their technology as the wave of the future, the only way forward in a world on it’s way to 10 billion inhabitants. Take a look at Monsanto’s website, where they lay it all on the line: We are saving the fucking world, you lazy stoners.
“Some people believe the correct answer to our challenges is to move backwards in time toward an agricultural system that relies less on human innovations and more on human labor. While we respect that opinion, we don’t share it. Agriculture has benefited from technology and the people who grow our food have sought new ways to improve their own lives—and ours—by producing more with less.”
People — is the object noun of that phrase. Notice how in this passage innovation is synonymous with technology. To believe in progress is to hold faith in high technology. Also note, primitives, that Monsanto respects your opinion. That should comfort your crying heart.
I’m sure they believe it too. Just as Sergey Bryn believes that what the world needs now is meat, in vitro meat. That’s why he bankrolled the world’s first lab grown hamburger patty, which debuted this past August. It garnered lukewarm reviews, but not as bad as you might think. It was only a prototype and will likely improve with refinement. But will it ever be as good as the best meat from an actual steer? I’m pretty sure that doesn’t matter since people, like dogs and pigs, seem to accept whatever they’re given. Rob Rheinhart, who I blogged about before, seems to be on a mission to prove that, especially where sustenance is concerned, people are little better than livestock.
You might remember that Rob has a food replacement product called Soylent. Rob hopes it will make eating a thing that driven people like himself do only for pleasure, on the weekends, like World of Warcraft, or hitting up Farenheit Lounge for single malt and marketing grads. Rob and his ilk wonder: what could be more inefficient than cooking food and cleaning up? Shouldn’t we just leave cooking to the pros? That’s what we do with every other chore. He’s kind of right though: too lazy to cook (or driven, depending on your POV), should mean too lazy to eat. Maybe a techie pouts, “But Gangster is too lazy to build his own website, just uses WordPress and prebuilt theme.” And I would reply, “I’d be fine without a website, try eating code.” Which is essentially what Soylent is, edible code. It’s even open source. So, you got me, Rob.
There must be a middle path, right? Can’t we all at least chew our radically rearranged biomass? We could. We could become vegans and eat… Oh, I hear the vegan diet is so varied and flavorful… Hampton Creek Foods mayonnaise and Beyond Meat’s chicken will make a fine salad. We could eat lentils. As a lad, I worked at a restaurant that made a fine lentil burger. And it was fine. Not as good as I could do nowadays. But no, it will never do to eat grains crudely forced into the image of the carnivore’s desire. We shall teach them through science. We will deconstruct the kingdoms plantae, fungi, protista and bacteria, and rearrange them into Improved Proteins®.
Funded by prominent Silicon Valley investors and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Hampton Creek Foods seeks to disrupt a global egg industry that backers say wastes energy, pollutes the environment, causes disease outbreaks and confines chickens to tiny spaces.
With unexpected modesty, founder and CEO Josh Tetric tells Mother Jones that, “Our processing isn’t any more intensive than chickpea flour that you might buy from your local organic grocery store”. Aw shucks, that? That ain’t nothin’ but regular ol’ flour that we extracted from the backside of a pea plant, jus’ usin’ regular old gel electrophoresis to isolate the exact proteins involved in lipid suspension. Hain’t nothin’. I’s jus’ proprietary knowledge is all.
We could try to create a better egg industry, but then we’d have to make a better economy and that would be like, way too much unprofitable work. Like, what a pain in the ass labor is, right? Also, we’d still have to kill animals…