The unveiling of the world’s first stem-cell burger has divided opinion between those who think it is the answer to the world’s food problems and those who believe it is the start of a slippery slope to culinary catastrophe. But there is one thing I think we can all agree on – what on earth should we call it?
The creation, cooking and eating of the burger, which cost more than £200,000, has been reported under various names. Let’s be honest though, the official terms such as ‘in-vitro meat’, ‘cultured meat’, they don’t really trip off the tongue. Equally, I’m sure the scientists behind this venture don’t want it entering the vernacular as a Frankenburger, a Test Tube Burger or a Stem Cell Burger, all pejorative terms of varying degrees.
The myriad of epithets is fascinating. Here is a brand new concept, and something which could quite easily become a staple part of our diet and lives in years to come. So what we end up calling it will be quite important.
I suspect that if this does actually take off, a brand new word which we haven’t yet thought of will emerge. There are all sorts of good reasons why something which references meat may not the word that is ultimately used. It will need to be a word that shows that this is something else, derived from meat but in many ways different. Quorn has succeeded well with this, establishing itself as a food group in its own right away from its fungal ancestry.
Equally, any word suggesting it is some kind of alternative meat is bound to divide opinion, as however it is slated could be grist to one side or another. And ‘meat substitute’ as a name just won’t wash, and will simply bring Basil Fawlty’s infamous veal substitute to mind.
So I think this is a story to watch with interest, because if this is a concept that is truly something for the future, then the linguistic ramifications will be enormous.