A week earlier, Nelson Magar had been quietly munching his McDonald-McDonald’s burger in the UWI Student Union. He wasn’t much surprised by the nutritional value of the meal. What really surprised him was how delicious the burger, manufactured in vitro in the lab, really was.
“Best human ever,” he told his lunch date, the ravishing grad student Amie Emig from English.
“What?” she asked, only half aware of the conversation.
“I said, best human ever.”
“What do you mean, ‘best human ever’? Where is the best human ever?” Amie looked around at the surrounding tables, trying to discern which admirable person Nelson was referring to.
“The burger,” Nelson motioned. “The McDonald-McDonald’s is made from artificially grown human stem cells. And delicious. It’s a work of art.”
“Oh Jesus, Nelson. I wish you wouldn’t talk about it that way.”
“What way?” Nelson asked.
“You know what I mean,” Amie rolled her eyes. “Acting like you’re a cannibal because your meat comes from a human being.”
“But it does,” Nelson replied. “And it’s totally scrumptious. This McDonald fellow, or whatever his real name is, tastes just like a Petit Jean ham.”
Amie stood up, and then sat down again. With a suddenly faraway look in her eyes she asked Nelson to tell her again how North Americans ended up eating burgers seemingly more artificial than the styrofoam clamshells they came in.
“It’s really pretty amazing,” said Nelson, now holding up his last bite of greasy flesh as if it were a museum piece. “Around 2010 scientists at the University of Maryland discovered that they could grow meat in a bioreactor in sheets — that’s why they jokingly called it “shmeat.” Meat was already getting scarce after the droughts of those years, and ranchers couldn’t keep up with the demand. So most of them, the successful operators anyway, sold the last of their animals for slaughter and invested in meat making technology. It’s healthier and victimless. Even PETA came around to accepting it, even though the first cells harvested came from live animals. But those animals weren’t killed, just had their cheeks scraped.”
“That must have been amusing to watch,” said Amie.
“Yeah,” said Nelson. “But the real leap came when those same Maryland researchers discovered that they could make allergy-free meat products by using stem cells from the end-user, the customer himself. You can’t be allergic to your own self, and that meant that people who had allergies to, say, glycerin or natural flavorings or gelatin — which is in everything — could finally eat everything that the rest of us ‘normal’ folks could eat. They were just consuming little bits of themselves.”
“You make it sound disgusting.”
“Not really. No more disgusting than biting your nails and ingesting the little slivers that come off. Or swallowing the saliva in your mouth, which is pretty much inevitable. … Or eating your own boogers.”
“Yech. See what I mean? Disgusting.” Amie made to stand up again. She looked cross-eyed for a moment, focusing her attention on the timestamp imprinted on her head-mounted, stylishly baroque spectraglass.
Nelson leaned in to Amie, putting his hand on her knee. “The rest is history. Now I can enjoy just about any flavor of human I want, including this Scottish fellow who is probably right now living it up on the Spanish Riviera. All he had to do was give up the private ownership of his body parts.”
Amie still looked non-plussed. “What’s that called again?”
“Autophagia, Amie. It’s not a crime and not a mental disease. … Go out with me Friday night?”
“Nelson, I’ve got work to do. I’ll never finish my thesis if I’m at the bar, eating Nelson fingers or whatever it is you intend to do with your cells.”
“Is that an offer or an invitation?” smiled Nelson as the two stood, hugged, and parted ways.