by Sherif M. Awad
Have you ever watched the movie Soylent Green? If you have, you probably remember the shocking twist at the end: Soylent Green, the food supplement that everyone eats in a world plagued by overpopulation, pollution, and climate change, is actually made from human corpses. If you haven’t, you might have heard the famous line: “Soylent Green is people!”
But how realistic is this movie, which was released in 1973 and set in 2022? How does it compare to the current reality of synthetic meat, which is meat produced from animal or human cells or plant-based proteins using biotechnology or 3D-printing methods? Is synthetic meat a more sustainable and ethical alternative to animal meat, or is it a slippery slope to cannibalism and environmental disaster?
In this blog post, we will explore these questions by comparing and contrasting the movie Soylent Green and its depiction of a dystopian future in 2022 with the current reality of synthetic meat and its implications for society and the environment. We will also discuss some of the benefits and drawbacks of synthetic meat for human health, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability. Finally, we will offer some recommendations or suggestions for further research or action on synthetic meat.
Here is a table of contents for this blog post:
- What is Soylent Green?
- What is Synthetic Meat?
- How Does Soylent Green Compare to Synthetic Meat?
- Frequently Asked Questions
What is Soylent Green?
Soylent Green is a 1973 American ecological dystopian thriller film directed by Richard Fleischer, and starring Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, and Edward G. Robinson in his final film role. It is loosely based on the 1966 science-fiction novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, with a plot that combines elements of science fiction and a police procedural.
The story follows a murder investigation in a dystopian future of dying oceans and year-round humidity caused by the greenhouse effect, with the resulting pollution, depleted resources, poverty, and overpopulation. New York City has a population of 40 million, and only the elite can afford spacious apartments, clean water, and natural food. The homes of the elite are fortified, with security systems and bodyguards for their tenants. Usually, they include concubines (who are referred to as “furniture”). The poor live in squalor, haul water from communal spigots, and eat highly processed wafers: Soylent Red, Soylent Yellow, and the latest product, far more flavorful and nutritious, Soylent Green.
New York City Police Department detective Robert Thorn lives with his aged friend Sol Roth, a brilliant former college professor and police analyst (referred to as a “Book”). Thorn is investigating the murder of the wealthy and influential William R. Simonson, a board member of the Soylent Corporation, which he suspects was an assassination. With the help of Simonson’s concubine Shirl, his investigation leads to a priest whom Simonson had visited shortly before his death. Because of the sanctity of the confessional, the priest can only hint to Thorn at the contents of the confession. Soon after, the priest is murdered in the confessional by Fielding, Simonson’s former bodyguard. Under direction from Governor Santini, Thorn’s superiors order him to end the investigation, but he continues.
Thorn soon becomes aware that an unknown stalker is following him. As Thorn tries to control a violent throng during a Soylent Green shortage riot, he is attacked by the assassin who killed Simonson. He kills his attacker but is wounded himself. He then learns from Roth that Soylent Green is made from human remains, processed at a facility called the “Exchange”. Roth has obtained a Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report, 2015 to 2019, which reveals the truth: the oceans are dying, and plankton is no longer a viable food source. Roth is so disgusted by his discovery that he decides to end his life at a government-assisted suicide center, where he is euthanized while watching beautiful videos of nature.
Thorn rushes to stop Roth’s body from being processed into Soylent Green, but he arrives too late. He follows the disposal trucks to the Exchange and sneaks in. He witnesses the gruesome process of human corpses being converted into Soylent Green wafers. He is spotted and wounded by security guards, but he escapes and makes his way to the church where the priest had been killed. He contacts his police chief, Hatcher, and tells him what he has seen. Hatcher is shocked and promises to send help. Thorn collapses on the church steps, repeating “Soylent Green is people!” as the crowd gathers around him.
What is Synthetic Meat?
Synthetic meat, also known as cultured meat, lab-grown meat, cell-based meat, or in-vitro meat, is meat produced from animal or human cells or plant-based proteins using biotechnology or 3D-printing methods. Synthetic meat is not the same as plant-based meat alternatives, such as tofu, seitan, or Beyond Meat, which are made from soy, wheat, peas, or other plant ingredients. Synthetic meat is intended to mimic the taste, texture, and nutritional value of animal meat, without the need for slaughtering animals or using large amounts of land, water, and feed.
Some of the companies and products that are developing and marketing synthetic meat are:
- Redefine Meat: A company that uses 3D-printing technology to create plant-based steaks and other products that resemble animal meat. The company claims that its products are more sustainable, ethical, and affordable than animal meat.
- BiteLabs: A company that proposes to use human cells to create human salami. The company aims to get celebrities to donate their tissue samples and then market their salami products to their fans. The company says that its products are a way to challenge the taboo of cannibalism and raise awareness about the environmental and ethical issues of animal meat.
- Impossible Foods: A company that makes plant-based burgers and other products that look, cook, and taste like animal meat. The company uses a molecule called heme, which is found in both plants and animals, to give its products a meaty flavor and color. The company says that its products are better for human health and the planet than animal meat.
Synthetic meat has some potential benefits and drawbacks for human health, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability. Some of the benefits are:
- Reducing animal suffering and death: Synthetic meat could eliminate or reduce the need for raising and killing billions of animals for food every year. This could prevent animal cruelty, disease outbreaks, antibiotic resistance, and zoonotic infections.
- Conserving natural resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions: Synthetic meat could use less land, water, and energy than animal agriculture, which is one of the major contributors to deforestation, water pollution, soil erosion, and climate change. Synthetic meat could also reduce methane emissions from livestock, which are a potent greenhouse gas.
- Improving food security and public health: Synthetic meat could provide a more reliable and affordable source of protein for a growing global population. Synthetic meat could also reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses, such as salmonella or E. coli, which are often associated with animal meat.
Some of the drawbacks are:
- Raising ethical and social concerns: Synthetic meat could pose some moral dilemmas and cultural challenges for consumers. Some people may find synthetic meat unnatural, unappealing, or disrespectful to animals or humans. Some people may also question the safety, quality, or authenticity of synthetic meat.
- Creating economic and environmental trade-offs: Synthetic meat could have some negative impacts on the economy and the environment. Synthetic meat could disrupt the livelihoods of farmers and workers in the animal agriculture industry. Synthetic meat could also generate new forms of waste, pollution, or energy consumption from its production processes.
- Facing technical and regulatory barriers: Synthetic meat is still in its early stages of development and commercialization. Synthetic meat faces some technical challenges in scaling up its production, improving its sensory attributes, and lowering its costs. Synthetic meat also faces some regulatory hurdles in getting approval from authorities and consumers in different countries.
How Does Soylent Green Compare to Synthetic Meat?
Soylent Green and synthetic meat are both products that aim to provide an alternative to animal meat in a world facing food scarcity and environmental degradation. However, they differ in many ways, such as their production processes, ingredients, nutritional value, taste, ethical issues, and social acceptance. Here are some of the main similarities and differences between Soylent Green and synthetic meat:
|Aspect||Soylent Green||Synthetic Meat|
|Production process||Made from human corpses processed at a facility called the “Exchange”||Made from animal or human cells or plant-based proteins using biotechnology or 3D-printing methods|
|Ingredients||Human remains||Animal or human cells or plant-based proteins|
|Nutritional value||Unknown, but presumably high in protein and low in other nutrients||Varies depending on the type and source of synthetic meat, but generally similar to animal meat in terms of protein, fat, and calories|
|Taste||Described as more flavorful and nutritious than Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow, but still bland and unappealing compared to natural food||Designed to mimic the taste, texture, and appearance of animal meat, but still not identical or satisfying for some consumers|
|Ethical issues||Involves cannibalism, deception, exploitation, and disrespect for human dignity and life||Involves biotechnology, genetic engineering, animal or human rights, and respect for nature and culture|
|Social acceptance||Widely consumed by the masses who are unaware of its true nature, but rejected by the elite who have access to natural food||Increasingly adopted by some consumers who are concerned about animal welfare and environmental sustainability, but resisted by others who prefer natural food or have moral or cultural objections|
As we can see, Soylent Green and synthetic meat have some common goals and challenges, but they also have some significant differences and implications. Soylent Green is a fictional product that represents a dystopian scenario of human desperation and degradation. Synthetic meat is a real product that represents a possible solution to some of the problems that Soylent Green depicts. However, synthetic meat is not a perfect solution either. It has its own advantages and disadvantages that need to be carefully weighed and evaluated.
Ads for Synthetic Meat and Celebrities
Another aspect of synthetic meat that is worth exploring is how it is advertised and promoted to the public. Synthetic meat is a relatively new and controversial product that faces some challenges in gaining consumer acceptance and trust. Therefore, some companies and organizations have resorted to various strategies and tactics to market synthetic meat and persuade consumers to try it or buy it.
One of these strategies is to use celebrities as endorsers, investors, or donors of synthetic meat. Celebrities are influential figures who can attract attention, generate buzz, and shape opinions among their fans and followers. Celebrities can also lend their credibility, image, and personality to synthetic meat products and brands. Some examples of celebrities who have been involved in synthetic meat ads are:
- Marco Pierre White: The celebrity chef and restaurateur has been championing Redefine Meat’s products, which are 3D-printed from plant-based proteins. He has been cooking with Redefine Meat’s steaks and other products at his restaurants and events, and he has been featured in videos and interviews praising their taste, texture, and sustainability.
- James Franco, Ellen DeGeneres, Jennifer Lawrence, and Kanye West: These celebrities have been proposed by BiteLabs as potential donors of human cells to create human salami. BiteLabs has created mock-up ads and flavor descriptions for each celebrity’s salami product, and it has been trying to get their attention and consent via social media and email.
- Serena Williams, Jay-Z, Katy Perry, and Jaden Smith: These celebrities have invested in Impossible Foods, a company that makes plant-based burgers and other products that look, cook, and taste like animal meat. They have also been promoting Impossible Foods’ products on their social media platforms and public appearances.
Another strategy is to use humor, satire, or irony to create memorable and viral ads for synthetic meat. Humor can be an effective way to capture attention, elicit positive emotions, and diffuse negative reactions or objections among consumers. Humor can also be a way to challenge stereotypes, norms, or taboos associated with synthetic meat. Some examples of humorous ads for synthetic meat are:
- The Center for Consumer Freedom: This organization, which is funded by the food industry and opposes synthetic meat regulation, has launched a series of ads mocking synthetic meat as unnatural and unhealthy. The ads feature slogans such as “Fake Bacon: Lab-Grown Pork That’s Not Quite Right” or “Lab-Grown Chicken: It Tastes Like Sadness.”
- Impossible Foods: This company has created a series of ads spoofing pharmaceutical commercials to highlight the benefits of its plant-based products. The ads feature actors pretending to suffer from various ailments caused by eating animal meat, such as “meat sweats”, “burger belly”, or “meat hangover”. They then switch to Impossible Foods’ products and experience relief and happiness.
- Redefine Meat: This company has created a series of ads parodying famous movie scenes to showcase its 3D-printed products. The ads feature actors recreating scenes from The Godfather, The Matrix, or Titanic with Redefine Meat’s steaks or sausages replacing the original props.
(2) 3D-printed steak, anyone? I taste test this ‘gamechanging’ meat mimic …. https://www.theguardian.com/food/2021/nov/16/3d-printed-steak-taste-test-meat-mimic Accessed 6/26/2023.
(3) This company wants to make in-vitro meat from celebrities’ stem cells. https://www.salon.com/2014/02/28/this_company_wants_to_make_in_vitro_meat_from_celebrities_stem_cells/ Accessed 6/26/2023.
(4) Lab-grown meat is cleared for sale in the United States – CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2023/06/21/business/cultivated-meat-us-approval/index.html Accessed 6/26/2023.
In this blog post, we have compared and contrasted the 1973 movie Soylent Green and its depiction of a dystopian future in 2022 with the current reality of synthetic meat and its implications for society and the environment. We have also discussed some of the benefits and drawbacks of synthetic meat for human health, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability.
We have seen that Soylent Green and synthetic meat are both products that aim to provide an alternative to animal meat in a world facing food scarcity and environmental degradation. However, they differ in many ways, such as their production processes, ingredients, nutritional value, taste, ethical issues, and social acceptance. Soylent Green is a fictional product that represents a dystopian scenario of human desperation and degradation. Synthetic meat is a real product that represents a possible solution to some of the problems that Soylent Green depicts. However, synthetic meat is not a perfect solution either. It has its own advantages and disadvantages that need to be carefully weighed and evaluated.
So, how accurate and impactful is Soylent Green as a sci-fi film? We can say that Soylent Green was ahead of its time in raising awareness about some of the pressing issues that humanity faces today, such as overpopulation, pollution, climate change, food shortage, and social inequality. It also offered a shocking and memorable twist that has become a cultural reference and a warning for future generations. However, we can also say that Soylent Green was not entirely realistic or plausible in its predictions and themes. It exaggerated some of the consequences and solutions of the environmental crisis, and it overlooked some of the technological and social innovations that have emerged since then.
What can we do about synthetic meat and its implications for society and the environment? We can say that synthetic meat is a promising and innovative product that has the potential to reduce animal suffering and death, conserve natural resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve food security and public health. However, we can also say that synthetic meat is not a panacea or a magic bullet that can solve all the problems that we face today. It also raises some ethical and social concerns that need to be addressed and respected. It also faces some technical and regulatory barriers that need to be overcome.
Therefore, we suggest some recommendations or suggestions for further research or action on synthetic meat:
- Educate yourself and others: Learn more about synthetic meat and its pros and cons from reliable sources. Share your knowledge and opinions with others in a respectful and constructive way. Engage in dialogue and debate with people who have different views or preferences.
- Make informed choices: Decide whether you want to try or consume synthetic meat based on your own values, beliefs, needs, and tastes. Consider the impacts of your choices on yourself, other beings, and the planet. Be open-minded and flexible to change your choices if new information or circumstances arise.
- Support innovation and regulation: Support the research and development of synthetic meat and other alternative food sources that are safe, healthy, sustainable, and ethical. Support the regulation and labeling of synthetic meat and other food products that are transparent, fair, consistent, and consumer-friendly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some interesting and relevant questions and answers about Soylent Green and synthetic meat:
- What is the origin of the name Soylent?
- Is Soylent Green based on a true story?
- Is synthetic meat safe to eat?
The name Soylent is a portmanteau of “soy” and “lentil”, which are two plant-based ingredients used in some food products. The name was coined by Harry Harrison in his novel Make Room! Make Room!, where he described Soylent as a ration made from soybeans and lentils. The name was adopted by the movie Soylent Green, where it was used for different types of wafers made from plankton or human remains. The name was also adopted by a real-life company called Soylent, which produces meal replacement drinks and bars made from soy protein isolate and other ingredients.
No, Soylent Green is not based on a true story. It is based on a science-fiction novel by Harry Harrison called Make Room! Make Room!, which was published in 1966. The novel was inspired by Harrison’s concerns about overpopulation and environmental degradation in the world. The movie Soylent Green, which was released in 1973, was loosely based on the novel, but it added some elements that were not in the original story, such as the twist that Soylent Green is made from human corpses.
According to the experts and the companies that produce synthetic meat, synthetic meat is safe to eat. Synthetic meat is made from animal or human cells or plant-based proteins that are grown or printed in controlled and sterile conditions. Synthetic meat is subject to rigorous testing and quality control before it is released to the market. Synthetic meat is also regulated by the authorities and labeled accordingly in different countries. However, some consumers may have doubts or concerns about the safety, quality, or authenticity of synthetic meat, and they may prefer to avoid it or wait for more evidence or experience before trying it.