In the future, you may be able to print meat in your kitchen. That is the hope behind the Cultivator, a conceptual prototype for a countertop 3D printer made by design students Sarah Mautsch and Aaron Abentheuer.
The Cultivator intends to spark conversation about the future of food production and bioprinting, a technology currently being explored to fabricate human organs in experimental medicine. Inspiration for the Cultivator was based on the assumed development of this technology over the next 30 years.
You won’t exactly be able to print steaks or pork chops. Instead, the Cultivator can be programmed with the user’s preferences to create bespoke meat, printed from muscle and skin cells. The design suggests it will be possible to create flesh and fat, but not bone.
A collection of recipes in the prototype’s interface describes the meat through three parameters: color, juiciness and structure. Users can adjust the recipes according to his/her health requirements with an “Adapt Nutritional Values” tool, which the designers compare to the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop. Fat content, for example, could be adjusted without compromising texture or taste, the designers say.
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In addition to sparking a vision for future technology, the Cultivator designers hope to draw attention to unsustainable meat production in the Western world.
“It is not only about cruelty free production, it is also about 85 percent less greenhouse gases and it is about a growing population,” writes Mautsch, a student at the University of Applied Sciences Schwäbisch, on her website. “In 2050, our population will amount to about nine billion; that is when bioorganic printing is about feeding a world with healthier, more ecological and cruelty-free meat.”
Livestock consumption is a crucial part of the sustainability conversation, the designers argue. We don’t all want to eat vegetarian, but technologies that enable the consumption of meat while avoiding destructive, impactful supply chains may be only a few decades of committed research away.
"This is a speculative design project, so the device itself is not production ready," Abentheuer told Dezeen. "But considering this technology exists today (although it is very expensive), one can imagine that technology will evolve, get cheaper and smaller to produce, so something like Cultivator can definitely exist in 10 to 30 years’ time in the kitchen of the future."
The Cultivator contributes to a global conversation on curbing the meat industry’s vast environmental impacts. Last year, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) ran a campaign urging Americans to “take extinction off your plate” by eating less meat. And while huge beef buyers such as McDonald’s are looking to find sustainable ways to source it, a host of entrepreneurs are advocating an increase in consumption of crickets and other insects as a sustainable alternative protein source.
For meat lovers, the Cultivator may provide an alternative to these calls for abstinence. The future may not be meat-less, but meat-smart.