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Richard Dawkins: Overcome taboo on cannibalism

Says lab-grown meat may be cultural gateway to overcoming aversion

Famous atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins

Famous atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins wants to know: Will Americans ever overcome the “taboo against cannibalism” and eat lab-grown “human meat”?

Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” posed the question in response to news that lab-grown “clean meat” could hit restaurant menus by the end of this year. So-called “clean meat” is a food product made from stem cells harvested from animals and grown in a lab for several weeks.

Some environmentalists are embracing “clean meat” because they claim it’s a way to slow global warming and slash greenhouse emissions by up to 96 percent, according to a report in the U.K. Independent, which did not mention lab-grown human meat.

Josh Tetrick, CEO of “clean meat” manufacturer JUST, told CNN that the U.S. and Asia could see lab-grown chicken nuggets, sausage and foie gras sold in restaurants “before the end of 2018.”

Still, “clean meat” derived from animals is a far cry from lab-grown human meat on America’s dinner plates. But Dawkins appears quite open to the idea.

“Tissue culture ‘clean meat’ already in 2018?” Dawkins tweeted to his 2.7 million Twitter followers on March 3. “I’ve long been looking forward to this. … What is human meat is grown? Could we overcome our taboo against cannibalism? An interesting test case for consequentialist morality versus ‘yuck reaction’ absolutism.”

It’s not the first time Dawkins has proposed eating human “road kill.” He also brought up in the issue during a 2010 discussion with Australian moral philosopher Peter Singer. 

Dawkins’ Twitter comments sparked a flood of criticism, approval and even some references to “Soylent Green,” a 1973 science-fiction thriller in which the government feeds people rations of green Soylent products that turn out to be human remains.

“Personally, I wouldn’t consider eating the material that humans are made from as cannibalism, although I suppose most people would,” tweeted Mark Dawson, who appeared to approve of the idea. “Whatever the DNA, to cease the annual suffering of billions of animals should be a primary goal.”

Peter Gandolfi replied: “Hurrah! Perhaps we are approaching the beginning of the end of non-human animal slaughter.”

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“Imagine, #Trump steaks,” said “OKnaomi,” “but literally.”

“Sentiment Ape” enthusiastically embraced the idea: “No ‘Yuck’ factor here. I’d be all over that stuff. Hopefully it’ll eventually be indistinguishable from the ‘real’ thing.”

But others weren’t so keen on the idea of eating lab-grown human meat.

“I’m totally against this kind of food science,” said Shoshana Kaliski. “It reminds me of the movie ‘Soylent Green.'”

Dan said: “More to the point, though, why would we want to overcome that taboo!? Pretty sure we didn’t evolve to eat each other, so can’t see any convincing reason for it whatsoever!”

Steven Bateson commented: “Sounds to me like a d–n good motivation to go vegetarian. I’m definitely with the yuck factor.”

“Gross!” said a Twitter user using the handle “The Proud Athiest” [sic]. “Even the slightest thought sends shivers down my spine.”

Art Schnurple added: “I don’t think I could get past the cannibalism taboo, not because of absolutism but because of sheer visceral reaction, and I think a lot of other people would be the same way. I’d try it, but I would gag for sure.”

Throughout his career, Dawkins has famously expressed his disdain for religion. During a 2012 interview with Al Jazeera, Dawkins claimed a child being raised by a Catholic is worse than the child experiencing abuse at the hands of a priest.

“Telling children such that they really, really believe that people who sin are going to hell and roast forever, that your skin grows again when it peels off, it seems to me intuitively entirely reasonable that that is a worse form of child abuse,” he explained. “That will give more nightmares because they really believe it.”

In 2012, theoretical physicist Peter Higgs said Dawkins’ anti-religious “fundamentalism” is “embarrassing.”

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