This article was originally posted to the TerraSol Games blog at http://terrasolgames.com on April 27, 2011 and appeared in the September 2011 issue of the downloadable magazine with the author’s permission.
Synthetic meat (aka vat meat, faux meat, tube meat) feeds trillions of humans across the Known Galaxy. The basics of the process involve harvesting a cell culture from an animal, placing it in a mold equipped with self-replicating permeable membranes (produced by nano-technology) which grow along with the culture, delivering all the necessary nutrients and hormones as the culture grows. The small cell culture eventually fattens to the limits of its mold and is ready to harvest, the perfect steak, chicken breast or pork loin.
This is a relatively simple technology that has revolutionized food creation everywhere from deep space habitats on the far frontiers to the dense Hive cities of the Terran Union. Making analogues of beef, poultry, pork or any meat for that matter via this process has had a radical effect on the footprint of meat production and improved the efficiency of human food production enormously. For example a deep space habitat can import a new culture, devote a space for molds and keep churning out meat for years. Raw nutrients for the process can be mined from asteroids or any space debris and hormones can be created using recombinant DNA technology pioneered during the Long Pause. This technique can (in a sufficiently large facility) nearly eliminate the necessity of food supply shipments (other than luxuries and the like). In short, a space habitat can become a sustenance provider for its own population using this technique.
But this technology has much greater implications than just feeding space habitats. It has provided a guilt-free way for those opposed to harvesting animals for food to enjoy meat. This sort of thing plays very well in the Terran Union, where animal rights sensitivities run high, often with laws governing the treatment of animals and in some places even outlawing them for food-use. While some argue that even the momentary sting of tissue harvesting causes animals some pain, most rational people know this process is little different than what most people submit to during some medical checkups.
The process has also greatly reduced the footprint needed to create meat. No longer do you need vast amounts of grazing land to service large numbers of animals. Instead the importance of specific animals has become the norm. A specific cow that produces excellent tasting meat can be harvested literally millions of times a day, all while the animal itself lives a pampered life. Some of the best restaurants have hundreds of different types of beef named for the specific animal it was harvested from. Names like Tender Daisy or Robust Ralph are designed to advertise the taste properties of the source-animal.
Despite this technology and the advantages it provides, there are still some who prefer to the taste of real food. In fact, a rather large segment of the population claims that ‘natural’ meat is far superior to Synth-meat. Some psychologists feel this is merely an effect of socio-psychological dynamics, of people having been told this “fact” year after year. But a good number of these researchers express that they too have a preference for real foodstuffs and can tell the difference. There is at least some scientific backing to this notion: studies demonstrate that at least 25% of the population can indeed tell the difference between vat grown and natural meats.
How does this affect my game? Once again this is mainly background and flavor for a Twilight Sector campaign. However a couple of things do come to mind. Specific animals have become highly valued for the quality of their meat. Protection of, transport of or theft of a culture from one of these animals are all excellent fodder for a scenario.