The TC&A Semi-Living Steak project is the outcome of a residency at the Tissue Engineering & Organ Fabrication Laboratory at Harvard Medical School in 2000. The first steak was grown from pre-natal sheep cells (skeletal muscle), harvested as part of research into tissue engineering techniques in utero. The steak was grown from an animal that was not yet born.
The project was realised in 2003 as part of the exhibition L’Art Biotech in Nantes, France. Titled ‘Disembodied Cuisine’, the installation played on the notion of different cultural perceptions of what is edible and what is foul. Semi-living frog steaks were grown, thus poking fun at French taste and their resentment towards engineered food, and the objection by other cultures to the consumption of frogs. Frog skeletal muscle was grown over biopolymer for potential food consumption, while the healthy frogs lived alongside as part of the installation. In the last day of the show, the steak was cooked and eaten in a Nouvelle Cuisine style dinner, and the four frogs that were rescued from the farm were released to a beautiful pond in the local botanical gardens.
In the Disembodied Cuisine installation, TC&A ironically offered the possibility of eating meat without killing animals, creating a victimless meat. The meat was formed from cells from a biopsy taken from a live animal proliferated in vitro.
However, current methods of tissue culture require the use of animal-derived products as a substantial part of the nutrients provided to the cells, as well as an essential part of different tissue culture procedures. This point about tissue culture seemed (until recently) to go unnoticed by the advocates of its use as a replacement for animal experimentation. The abstraction of these animal products in the technology associated with tissue culture served to obscure the very real victims.