terça-feira, 28 de julho de 2015

Food production’s Post-Animal Turn? In Vitro Meat, the Subsumption of Nature, and Non-existence as Animal Liberation

by Erik Jönsson

At the same time that social scientists have initiated an animal turn for academia, a number of erstwhile biomedical researchers - aided by activists and venture capitalists –have instead striven towards a post-animal turn in food production. The key idea among these is to utilise tissue engineering technologies to culture meat, and to produce leather, without slaughtering livestock. So called in vitro meat, meat produced through culturing cells in nutrient solutions, is here envisioned as the route to produce food in a sustainable, safe, and humane way.
These projects are still mostly in a ‘fictional’ stage, a stage where prognoses and projections dominate (Latour, 1996). Hence any attempt to determine in vitro meat’s eventual effects would therefore be too speculative. But already now an analysis of its guiding principles, and of how projects to culture meat sit within a longer history of produced natures (cf. Landecker, 2009; Smith, 2008), is possible. This is the focus of this presentation.
Drawing on interviews with academics, activists, and in vitro food researchers as well as on how in vitro meat is represented in previous publications, I explore the world-views in vitro meat embody. Among activists these products furthers an animal liberation attitude where the non-existence of animals forms a key priority (PETA, 2014; Singer, 2013), and a tendency of viewing non-human animals in terms of their efficiency. Livestock are regarded as unsustainable since they do not convert feed to (human) food efficiently enough. This attitude is even more remarked among producers and researchers. The story of in vitro meat here aptly forms as recent chapter in the much longer story of natures increasingly subsumed to fulfil requirements determined by human producers (Boyd et al. 2001; Smith, 2007).
But simultaneously, potential tensions become evident in relation to both the hopes displayed by animal liberation activists and the hopes of fully subsumed natures displayed by producers and financers. The idea that the grimness of meat, and leather, production could be alleviated by technological means has spurred objections among those activists less optimistic about technological solutions. Meanwhile, producers struggle with how nonhuman natures are not stripped of their agency merely because nonhuman animals are made away with. Rather, recalcitrant nature reappear at the scale of cells. Where meat or leather producers previously struggled with the uncontrollability of livestock they now come to struggle with cells as partly uncontrollable entities.

Erik Jönsson is a Post Doc at the Department of Human Geography, and a visiting scholar at the Geography department at University of California, Berkeley. Combining STS and Political Ecology, his current research concerns the ways that in vitro spur new visions for the kinds of relationships between various human and nonhuman animals that food is constituted through. 

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