February 15, 2004
The Really 'Other' White Meat?

I suspect some science-fiction writer has already thought of this, but I haven't read it anywhere else, so . . . .

If scientists ever succeed in cloning extinct animal species, as in Jurassic Park, how long will it be before someone tries out what they taste like? Most living creatures are edible, and I can't think of any reason why the dead ones would be different. Of course, it would take a lot of courage to be the first to take a bite of roast dinosaur. All the more so, if it had died of natural causes, and I don't suppose they would ever be abundant enough to be slaughtered while healthy.

For all we know, trilobites might taste better than lobsters. The fact that they're extinct suggests that they weren't exactly unattractive to predators.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at February 15, 2004 08:53 AM

Only if trilobites were killed off by predation, which is probably quite rare.

Posted by: charles austin on February 16, 2004 02:49 PM

Dear Dr. W,

Yes, there is at least one sci-fi tale on this subject: Isaac Asimov's 1958 "A Statue for Father." Brief plot summary: A physicist comes up with a means for retrieving things from the distant past, and manages to get ahold of a clutch of eggs of a small, birdlike dinosaur. Soon there's a small flock of them in the lab, and one day one accidentally runs into a live wire, frying both itself and all the equipment. The accidentally-fried dinosaur smells so delicious that the physicist and his son sample it . . . and a culinary sensation is born. The equipment can't be salvaged, and the physicist never can manage to replicate the experiment, but he is hailed everywhere as The Man Who Gave Dinachicken To The World.

Asimov could be pretty silly when he put his mind to it.

Posted by: Michelle Dulak on February 16, 2004 03:12 PM

I thought of the Asimov story immediately, which can be found in his collection, "Buy Jupiter". And Larry Niven uses the idea in many of his stories. I recall one in which the protagonist is eating moa (which actually might be revived sometime).

One problem with really old DNA is racemization, the tendency of left-handed molecules to flip into their right handed forms over time. As I understand it, that would probably rule out restoring dinosaurs or trilobites, at least any time soon. So, don't expect to order trilobites in butter or dinosaur stew within the next decade. Mammoth steak or barbecued moa? Maybe.

Posted by: Jim Miller on February 18, 2004 08:06 AM

I would also like to try dodo. I wonder: all other things being equal, are dumb animals tastier than smart ones?

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on February 18, 2004 08:23 AM

I wonder: all other things being equal, are dumb animals tastier than smart ones?

I suspect that the best way to answer this question is to survey cannibals. Of course, your sample size would thankfully be pretty small....

Posted by: Pious Agnostic on February 18, 2004 09:01 AM

I doubt that dodos were any dumber than the average bird; they'd just evolved in an environment without predators large enough to hurt them. Then humans discovered them, thought "Woo-hoo! big, fresh, juicy fowl that can't even fly!", and proceeded to whack the bejeezus out of them until they were all gone.

Posted by: Michelle Dulak on February 18, 2004 08:37 PM

There was a strip ('Flesh') in the UK sci-fi comic '2000 AD' where food shortages in the future led hunters with time machines to go back to the Triassic to hunt dinosaurs so that they could be shipped to the starving masses...

Actually the whole idea of resurrecting long-extinct creatures is a crock (for the forseeable future). It really is a chicken and egg situation - building a dinosaur needs a lot more than DNA. How do you manufacture a viable zygote with the attendant embryological support systems from whole cloth?

Posted by: David Gillies on February 19, 2004 01:01 AM

There's also the Northern Exposure episode in which Dr. Fleishman thinks he's going to be famous because he's found a thawed-out mammoth, only to have it disappear at the last minute because Holling makes off with it; Fleishman finds him butchering it, something Holling suggests he's done before.

Posted by: Dodd on February 20, 2004 03:20 PM

Keith Laumer's "Dinosaur Beach" does, indeed, feature trilobite feasts. He makes the comparison to lobster. The story is one of the most convoluted time travel stories you will ever read.

Posted by: CGeib on February 21, 2004 02:19 PM

Some not-so-long-extinct creatures, though, you probably could revive. A modern elephant likely could bring a mammoth to term -- though it probably wouldn't be good for the elephant. They could use kiwis (which are closely related) for moas, at least the smaller species.

But anything older than humanity is probably lost.

Posted by: Mac Thomason on February 22, 2004 07:14 PM

There is an Arthur C. Clarke short-short (can't recall the title) in the form of someone giving testimony before a Senate investigating committee sometime in the future. By that time, raising animals for meat is obsolete, having been replaced by meat grown in culture-tanks, and the whole idea of slaughtering animals to eat makes people nauseous.

Said committee is looking into strange charges leveled against a food-manufacturing company that recently introduced a wildly popular new cultured-meat product to the market. And the witness is having to explain to the Senators an obsolete word: cannibalism.

Posted by: F451 on February 23, 2004 02:21 PM