Hannah chewed the mouthful of steak with a delicacy that was only slightly spoiled by the look of astonishment that spread across her face as she ate. She swallowed and wiped her mouth.
"Thats … incredible" she murmured, looking at the steak in awe "how the hell did they get it to taste that good". I gave her my most benificent smile.
"You get it off the back end of a grass fed bullock and hang it for twenty days. I had it shipped in on the fast courier. Makes quite a change from tank meat doesn't it?"
"But that must have cost…"
"Quite a lot of money. But then as far as I'm concerned you're worth every penny."
This is what happens when animal cell culture becomes industrial meat production - good for scenarios set half an hour or so into the future, or in space.
Basically, the majority of the population eats meat that is grown in culture tanks rather than as a free living animal - possibly healthier, likely cheaper, more efficient certainly, and 'cruelty' free, but probably bland, flabby and tasteless.
This is 'science conjecture' at the moment - it probably wouldn't take much to make it into a viable technology, but at the moment there's no market for it and no-ones putting up the money for research.
Also the manufacturers would have to overcome the hurdles of it being "Frankenstein Food" (as GM products are known to the stupid) and being basically a slice of tumor.
A little more public interest in carbon efficient food, or a greater desire to put feeding people ahead of feeding prejudice and the idea might be back on the table … it surfaces every now and again in 'blue skies' thinking from the journals (e.g. Scientifc American or New Scientist) but doesn't usually make it into a citable article.
In fiction, this has been known to crop up in a good few places: 2000AD strips often feature it (most recently it appeared in Kingdom: The Promised Land), whilst earlier strips have featured intensively GM'd animals filling the same slot.
Game and Story Use
- This is good flavour material rather than serious plot works - it allows you to explain where the remote space station or long range ship gets a fresh steak from (or even passably edible sushi).
- As in the flavour text the difference between animal meat and tank meat can be detectable, and can be used as a contrast when your PCs get to see "how the other half live" - or even just a matter of prestige, when the fact that your meat has a bone in it allows you to show how wealthy you are.
- On the 'cruelty free' issue, real meat may be illegal if there's an alternative that is considered an equivalent - bootleg steak may be a valuable commodity.
- If your PCs are from a culture that's used to eating tank-meat they could be even more squeamish than modern city dwellers when confronted with the reality of old fashioned meat production: "you're in a slaughterhouse and there's blood and bits of animal everywhere. Roll your fright checks people!"
- They may offend a host from another culture who takes them pot hunting out of courtesy.
- Or they may just be grossed out when served real meat at dinner: "eww… there's … bits in my meat"/"That's just the bone"/"Bone? You mean this came … <retching noises>"
- The meat vats are probably a common feature of an Arcology
- Contamination of the vats could lead to a food panic - or some, more insidious threat.
- They're an obvious place for the alien swarm to hide and multiply.
- They're likely to be a large, restricted area. Meat growing might not be the only thing going on down there.
- In a crisis, production might be cut in favor of protein items for efficiency reasons, with all the difficulties that suggests.
- One possibility for people interested in ethical cannibalism.