If nothing else, a synthetic hamburger makes you think — about the fundamental philosophies of nutrition and nourishment, about 7 billion people on the planet, about dystopian futures and Soylent Green, about science saving us all, about late-summer barbecues:
“Hey, y’all! Come ‘n get your BeefBot hot off the grill!”
When Dr. Mark Post of Netherlands’ Maastricht University unveiled his lab-grown meat Aug. 5 — in the form of a patty that cost an estimated $330,000 to develop — it stirred the pot, so to speak, and far, far away from Dutch labs, in the high desert of the American West, the thing to do was put strawberries in a bag and freeze them.
Synthetic meat made, in part, with cultured muscle created from bovine stem cells may represent The Future, but it still seems like the most speculative of science fiction — wildly distant and a little unreal. Yet whether it’s a conscious or unconscious thought, the human genome always has contained some niggling little reminder to put a nosh away for later.
In this season of bounty, the impulse is to can, to dehydrate, to freeze, to save for later what is abundant today.
“I think a lot of people don’t really think about it, it’s just something they do,” said Pamela LeBaron, co-owner of Harvest Reserve in Grand Junction. “Maybe they just like their home preserves better than store-bought because they can control how heavy the syrup is for fruit, they can control how much salt in the vegetables. And it’s just nice to have access to all this produce when you can’t get it in winter, or when it’s so much more expensive.”
Having become used to grocery store shelves that are always full, it can be difficult to envision a scenario in which they wouldn’t be. But then the 24-hour news cycle reveals towns leveled by tornadoes or shredded by hurricanes, streets flooded, neighborhoods charred by wildfire and the depressing thought: Anything could happen, and this whole thing is teetering on a razor’s edge.
So, absent the ability to stop natural disaster, the thing to do is pull the dehydrator out of the cupboard and load it up with apple slices. People have been doing it for years. In fact, archaeological evidence suggests that Middle Eastern and Asian cultures began drying food as early as 12,000 B.C., according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation (nchfp.uga.edu).
Save a little for later. Just in case. It’s been a subconscious human mantra for millennia. Among the things for which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is known is encouraging its members to gather a year’s supply of food, water and basic necessities “so that, should adversity come, we may care for ourselves and our neighbors and support bishops as they care for others,” according to lds.org.
LeBaron said that a common thread she hears from her customers “is the economic hardship, they’re so worried about that collapse coming so they can and they preserve food.”
But aside from preparing for possible disaster, people preserve summer’s bounty for myriad other reasons.
In a report for the National Center for Home Food Preservation, Dr. Brian A. Nummer wrote, “Some historians believe that food preservation was not only for sustenance, but also cultural. They point to numerous special occasion preserved foods that have religious or celebratory meanings. In America more and more people live in cities and procure foods commercially. They have been removed from a rural self-sufficient way of life. Yet, for many, a garden is still a welcome site. And, annually there exists a bounty crop of vegetables and fruits. It is this cultural nature of preserved foods that survives today. Interests have shifted from preserve ‘because we have to’, to ‘preserve because we like to’.”
Homemade jam? So tasty. Self-canned pickles? Yum. Palisade peaches pulled from the freezer in frostiest January and baked into a pie? There’s nothing better. With some food safety training — the Colorado State University Extension offers information at coopext.colostate.edu/TRA/cfs/index.shtml — and common sense, that which is delicious today can be delicious months from now.
And perhaps that’s the heart of it. Whether it’s the actual conscious thought of preparing for possible hard times ahead, or just the passing fancy of wanting to have blueberries in December, people have always preserved food.
So right now, as the fruits and vegetables roll in, in kitchens throughout the land, peaches are slid into Mason jars, strawberries line drying racks, rhubarb is put into freezer bags. Pickles are made, jam is concocted, game is smoked for times to come. And the future, regardless of whether it contains synthetic meat, seems tasty.