In-Vitro Kebabs

14.09.11 | London



photo by We Made That

“The A11, Aldgate, Whitechapel High Street, Whitechapel Road, Mile End Road, Bow Road and Stratford High Street. The Unlimited Edition is a super-local newspaper focused purely on this strand of London. The intention is to record and explore the familiar, and to celebrate and speculate on the possibilities that lie in its future.”

Short story for We Made That‘s 2nd issue of The Unlimited Edition: Speculation (09/11). The story is based on the fact that the Whitechapel area combines a wide variety of kebab houses and fast food joints, as well as the Centre of the Cell, a brand new scientific research facility. This makes the neighbourhood an ideal setting for solving the problem of how to make in vitro meat a commercially viable product.


Did he really want to be here? It was boiling, and he’d turned that date down, he would be better off sipping a fresh cocktail in good company right now. The sunday PETA demonstration was marching on, his T-shirt read MEAT IS MURDER (not anymore).

Animal Rights activists had been the only ones receptive enough to support his invention back then, and yes, he went along with it. In-Vitro meat was a perfect match for even the most radical ideologists amongst People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Even though it was also vegan, halal, kosher and fat-free, these people were the only ones to welcome his samples with other words than “ieeew! why would I eat that?!”.

It was almost five years ago, and the initial euphoria was fading. It had been so easy, since no one had claimed the $1 million prize in 2012. Even though he wasn’t growing chicken, they gave him the money, and it was more than enough to scale up the production and retrofit over 1200 kebab grills all over London in the first year alone. He threw himself in the community spirit. The meetings, action-teams, and press conferences now seemed like the biggest shift in this whole adventure. Social activities and ethical causes, let alone speaking in public, weren’t really a big part of his life before, and the loner in him felt exhausted. 

He embraced the cause without too much effort, I mean seriously, who would openly argue for being mean to animals? He’d never felt a particularly strong bond with other multicellular species though, and his scientific education and rational thinking had to be put on hold for this whole time. In the beginning he tried to have discussions, ‘no actually, most lab tests don’t do any harm at all’ and ‘without the protein from cooked meat, we humans wouldn’t even be here anymore’, but he soon learned to keep these thoughts to himself, especially after he quit his job. He missed the nerds from the Centre of the Cell. The few he ran into since leaving ignored him at best, some yelled at him. 

He remembered that night, like so many others, when he locked up the lab, leaving a bunch of cultures to grow overnight. Shalamar kebab house had become darkly familiar and he now sat down to eat his doner and chips. Drifting away, he wasn’t even looking at the rotating grill when the idea hit him. In-vitro meat exploited the same technology he used to grow organ tissue for patients, and advances in the field were often discussed at the coffee machine. He even tasted samples at a conference. Neither the numbers to make it profitable nor the aesthetic to make desirable had been cracked by anyone though, which made Keith, his bench neighbour, increasingly sarcastic about the whole thing. Yet there was a solution, staring him in the face most nights of the week at around 10.30pm, a kebab grill. The people who enjoyed this kind of delicacy surely weren’t too regarding as to what the meat looked like, wouldn’t they go for a healthy lab-grown alternative? and once they ate it, the rest would see, it was perfectly fine. Leaving half of his wrap and a full portion of chips on the table, he ran home to start working out the details during the first of many sleepless nights.

Further Reading:
PETA $1 million prize
New Harvest
Burgers From a Lab (NPR)
Artificial meat could slice emissions, say scientists (Guardian)



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