Feb 26, 2021
JERUSALEM WEATHER

A startup is adapting the technology behind lab-grown meat to produce a do-it-yourself kit for growing meat from your own cells in order to dine on them. 

Design of the Year: DIY Self-Cannibalism

Beazley Designs of the Year awards organized by London’s Design Museum featured many creative designs but one stood out. Scientists and designers collaborated on conceptualizing a kit for culturing cells at home. The display featured bite-sized pieces of lab-grown meat. The cells, taken from the inside of the cheek and fed serum derived from expired, donated blood.

The creators, scientist Andrew Pelling designer Grace Knight and artist and researcher Orkan Telhan, were motivated by their belief that despite being harvested without killing any animals, lab-grown meat still represents a threat to farm animals. Commercially culturing cells relies on fetal bovine serum (FBS) as a protein-rich growth supplement for animal cell cultures. FBS is derived from the blood of calf fetuses after their pregnant mothers are slaughtered by the meat or dairy industry and costs about $400-$900 per liter.  Developers of lab-grown meat estimate that it takes 50 liters of FBS to produce a single beef burger. 

The samples presented at the awards were grown using human cell cultures, which can be purchased for research and development purposes from the American Tissue Culture Collection (ATCC).  The bite-sized chunks of cultured human cells were encased in clear resin and not intended for consumption. 

“Fetal bovine serum costs significant amounts of money and the lives of animals,”  Pelling told Dezeen.  “Although some lab-grown meat companies are claiming to have solved this problem, to our knowledge no independent, peer-reviewed, scientific studies have validated these claims, As the lab-grown meat industry is developing rapidly, it is important to develop designs that expose some of its underlying constraints in order to see beyond the hype.”

“Expired human blood is a waste material in the medical system and is cheaper and more sustainable than FBS, but culturally less-accepted. People think that eating oneself is cannibalism, which technically this is not,” said Knight. “Our design is scientifically and economically feasible but also ironic in many ways,” Telhan added.

“We are not promoting ‘eating ourselves’ as a realistic solution that will fix humans’ protein needs. We rather ask a question: What would be the sacrifices we need to make to be able to keep consuming meat at the pace that we are? In the future, who will be able to afford animal meat and who may have no other option than culturing meat from themselves?”

The design team envisioned kits for home use grown on mushroom mycelium scaffolds. The cells, harvested with a cotton swab, will be stored in a warm environment and fed with human serum until the steak is fully grown, a process estimated to take about three months. 

But Is it Kosher?

The development of lab-grown meat holds great potential for an industry that could drastically reduce the environmental impact of meat production in a manner that also assuages the concerns of people who object to consuming meat for moral or health reasons. But growing meat in the laboratory has implications for Jews who keep kosher and non-Jews who observe the Noahide laws. Some 25 companies around the world have managed to grow cells from cows, chickens, pigs, and even fish, and two have produced hamburgers from cow cells. As commercialization becomes more viable, Halachic authorities are trying to find Biblical precedents to answer questions that could not have been envisioned just a few years ago: 

-Is meat grown from non-kosher animals now kosher for Jews to consume?

-Is lab-grown meat actually meat or can it be eaten with dairy products?

Is taking the stem cells from a living animal considered ever min hachai, ripping a limb from a living creature, which is forbidden to Jews and non-Jews, according to the seven Noahide laws?

Meat From Heaven

Some rabbis suggest that the basis for lab-grown meat was described in the Talmud. In tractate Sanhedrin 59b, the rabbis discuss “meat that descended from heaven”.

They tell of Rabbi Shimeon ben Chalafta, who was walking on the road when lions came and roared at him. He quoted, “The young lions roar for prey and beg their food from God” (Psalms 104:21), and two lumps of meat fell from heaven. The lions ate one and left the other. Rabbi ben Chalafta brought a piece of this meat to the study hall and asked: Is this fit to eat or not? The scholar answered: “Nothing unfit descends from heaven.” Rabbi Zera asked Rabbi Abbahu: “What if something in the shape of a donkey were to descend?” He replied: “You howling bird, did they not say that no unfit thing descends from heaven?”

The same tractate, on page 65b, deals with a similar issue, reading: “Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Oshaia would spend every Sabbath eve studying the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation, one of the early books of Kabbala) by means of which they created a calf and ate it.”

Rabbi Yeshayah Halevi Horowitz, a 16th-century rabbinic authority, ruled that meat created in an unnatural manner, such as by Kabbalistic methods,  is not considered a real animal and does not need ritual slaughtering. The Malbim, a 19th century Torah scholar,  commented that meat created this way is not considered meat and can be eaten with milk. He suggested that this is the type of meat Abraham offered the angels (Genesis 17:7-8), and was, therefore, able to serve them milk at the same time.

Rabbi: “The Worst Curse; Eating Whatever You Want”

Rabbi Moshe Avraham Halperin of the Machon Mada’i Technology Al Pi Halacha (the Institute for Science and Technology According to Jewish Law) noted that even if the method of growing human cells for consumption is determined to be technically kosher, it is, in its essence, a curse.

“The question of whether or not lab-grown meat is still being determined,” Rabbi Halperin said. “But this particular example of growing meat from a human body has spiritual and ethical implications that go beyond the technical kashrut of the material.”

“Eating human flesh in any form, even eating your own flesh, is entirely forbidden by the Torah, Rabbi Halperin said. “It is, essentially, the same as eating the meat from any forbidden animal that does not have the required Biblical signs of cloven hooves and chewing its cud, or an animal that has not been properly slaughtered. On a technical Biblical level, they are all expressly forbidden to the same degree.”

The rabbi explained that cannibalism in any form transcended Halchic (Torah law) considerations. He cited a verse in Ezekiel who prophesied that one of the horrors that will appear in the end of days will be men eating each other:

Assuredly, parents shall eat their children in your midst, and children shall eat their parents. I will execute judgments against you, and I will scatter all your survivors in every direction. Ezekiel 5:10

“On a moral or humanitarian level, eating human flesh is one of the worst curses that a man can bring upon himself; to eat from Man who was created in the image of God,” Rabbi Halperin said. “This lowers man to the level of animals, removing his aspect that was created in the image of God.”

Rabbi Halperin emphasized that dietary restrictions indicated a higher spiritual level and endeared the person to God. 

“Adam, who was personally created in the image of God, could only eat plants,” he noted. “After men became debased in the generation of Noah, they were permitted to eat meat. Adam and Eve were blessed by being prohibited from eating meat or from the tree of knowledge. The snake, the most hated animal in God’s eyes was cursed with being able to even eat the dust.” 

It is interesting to note that the design team chose to name their vision the Ouroboros steak. The ouroboros is a symbol in ancient Egyptian idolatry centering around Ra and Osiris, the gods of the netherworld and death. The symbol depicts a serpent eating its own tail. Adopted by the Greek magical tradition and Gnosticism, the symbol also figured prominently in alchemy. The symbol is often interpreted as a symbol for reincarnation, embodying the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The skin-sloughing process of snakes symbolizes the transmigration of souls with the snake biting its own tail as a fertility symbol. The tail of the snake is a phallic symbol, the mouth representing the womb.

Rabbi Halperin explained that eating, bringing sustenance inside the body, is an intimate connection between man and his creator. This was especially evident in the Torah mandate that prohibits eating bugs and other forbidden animals.

You shall not draw abomination upon yourselves through anything that swarms; you shall not make yourselves unclean therewith and thus become unclean. Leviticus 11:43

 

The term used in this verse for ‘abomination is אַל־תְּשַׁקְּצוּ אֶת־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם, which literally means ‘do not make your soul detestable.’

“Eating in an unbridled fashion lowers the man, even on a soul level, to the level of animals,” Rabbi Halperin said.