Tag Archives: Overton window

Just beyond the Overton window: lab-grown meat

A version of this post originally appeared in my workplace blog, behind a firewall.

Last week the lunch crowd at Accenture’s Digital Hub cafe in Chicago was buzzing with speculation. Actually, it was buzzing about speculation. An engrossing exercise in a Lunch and Learn presentation called Then & Now: The Evolution of Trends, presented by Fjord, had us reviewing some antique predictions of the future.

I and the rest of the audience was given a reprinted magazine article that our great, great grandmothers might have read and we were asked to summarize its themes. The piece was full of predictions about the last century, written just at the turn of it, in 1900, by The Ladies’ Home Journal.

We found some predictions spot on. Others not so much …

The free university education prediction is of course just depressing. But delivery of products via pneumatic tubes? That’s not far off. Just imagine bolting wings on those tubes, and jet engines on those wings.

Fjord’s predictions — well, actually, more like themes packaged up as trends — were quite good, albeit more conservative. That’s to be expected, since they weren’t boldly looking at a 100-year horizon. Or even one 10 years out. That’s what the excellent Chief Digital Evangelist at Salesforce, Vala Afshar, did in this recent tweet:

Roughly a decade ago I made a prediction. It’s not in the above list, which frankly surprised and saddened me. You see, it will be a game-changer for our planet.

Once the challenge of this innovation’s scalability is tackled, the only major hurdle will be mass acceptance.

Today at least, most people find it kind of icky.

Test Tube T-bones

If you’d like to tuck into the details of lab-grown meat, I urge you to do so. I wrote the post nine years ago, but the facts in it are still correct … and if anything more relevant today than in 2011.

Lab-grown meat can and will someday feed the planet, while simultaneously helping to heal it.

Fun aside: Many before me have made this prediction, but just this year I learned that none other than Winston Churchill predicted lab-grown meat, in the 1930s!

A changed perspective

I’m sharing all of this because, well, as I write this the polar ice caps are melting and Australia is on fire. I find that disgusting.

And although I’m an eager omnivore — I enjoy a real hamburger when I can’t get my hands on an Impossible one — the conditions of the domesticated animals that we slaughter, and the conditions of the underclass forced to do the killing, are also disgusting.

So while scalability is being solved, let’s all think about the tendency toward disgust … the ick factor. I urge you to talk to your friends and family about whether they would eat a hamburger or McNugget made in-vitro. Yes, they’ll say yuck initially. But that’s how societies change — by exposure. It’s called shifting the Overton window.

And if you don’t believe attitudes change, consider that 120 years after that Ladies’ Home Journal prediction, we’ve got legitimate presidential candidates talking about that previously unthinkable free college idea.

Yuck indeed.