02 April 2010

"You Are What You Eat"

By Curtis C. Chen

Linden approaches the bulletproof glass lobby of NuFud headquarters, fidgeting with his key card. It's almost midnight, and the light from the giant flatscreen inside casts long shadows behind him.

"This isn't cloning," says the recorded image of the company president. "Cloning is brainless, mechanical duplication. What we do here at NuFud is art. We don't just copy. We improve.

"Using a state-of-the-art organic synthesis process, NuFud can fine-tune any food product to your personal taste. You give us five kilos of compost, and we'll give you a gourmet meal..."

Linden looks away from the screen, slides his card across the reader at the door, grumbles to himself.

NuFud's process is useless without good data, and that comes from human technicians. There are hundreds of "artisans" on the payroll, but Linden knows he's the best. His red meat designs are always at the top of the taste-test results. He's even been approached by spies from rival companies. They offered him money, drugs, cars, women.

They never thought to ask what he actually wanted.

He signs in at the reception desk as two guards watch him. Security's been twitchy ever since the most recent protests. Linden keeps his hands visible and away from his body and walks slowly to the elevators.

The eighth-floor overhead lights flicker on as Linden walks past the motion sensors to his cubicle. He doesn't have to wonder if anyone else is here; the complete darkness of the space before he arrived is proof enough.

He kneels down next to the rack of O-synth machines under his desk. The box Linden wants is hidden behind the rack. He pries open the oversized UPS, which can run eight units for a full hour during a power outage, and slides out his secret O-synth box.

Nobody knows about this box, because even though Linden is allowed to requisition additional machines for his project, he's not allowed to do what he's been doing with this one.

Linden's mouth waters. He can see the meat through the clear plastic housing, and it looks perfect, a juicy red slab just starting to brown at the edges. This is the most complex thing he's ever made, down to the denatured proteins which simulate heat-cooking.

The smell reminds him of lamb. He has deliberately avoided researching the taste, wanting to come to this moment without bias. The only thing he did look up was which part of the human body—his own body—would have the most tender flesh.

Linden picks up the meat with his fingers. It's a small piece, just enough for two bites, so he can sample the texture as well as the flavor. He lifts it to his mouth, tears it apart with his teeth, and chews with his eyes closed.

After a moment, he opens his eyes, spits the half-chewed lump into the compost chute, and throws the rest of the failed product in after it.

"Back to the drawing board," he sighs.

It tastes like chicken.


Photo: Sole-Chen Thanksgiving dinner, November, 2005