Fake meat is going mainstream – you can buy burgers at Burger King, White Castle, and Del Taco. Surely Chipotle and McDonalds are not far behind. This is exciting for people like me who are Muslim Eaters obsessed with the halal scene. But plant-based meat is one thing, what about the science fiction dream of totally replicated meat?
The basic concept of the replicator in Star Trek (and now, The Orville) is that food is just molecules, so instead of cooking plants and animals, you can assemble the dish (and the dish upon which it is served) from raw molecules of matter. Which then leads to the inevitable question, would replicated pork be halal or kosher?
Rather than make a theological argument for why it would or would not be, I want to approach that question from the other direction. Why would it be? The basic answer is that the molecules from which we replicate the pork don’t actually come from a pig. They could come from stockpiles of carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen (CHON). There probably would be some trace molecules too, but if the replicator can assemble foods by molecule, then it can probably assemble molecules from atoms. These are just implementation details. Therefore, if the meat doesn’t come from a pig, then there’s no problem. Of course there are additional requirements of halal and kosher with regards to how the animal is slaughtered, etc. But we by removing the animal from the equation, these requirements are moot.
The problem is that the molecules of pigs don’t originate in pigs, either, Ultimately, molecules are formed from atoms, and atoms are formed mostly from cosmological forces (all the good stuff in particular from supernovae). So, consider two groups of molecules. Both are formed from the same supernova explosion of a star that was birthed from primordial hydrogen in the Big Bang. One group of molecules never enters the biosphere and gets processed into raw stock, and then replicated into a pork chop. The other group of molecules ends up in a pig, and then excised into a pork chop. One of these is clearly not halal or kosher. However, the origin of the molecules is identical. It’s purely a matter of how these molecules were arranged since they were created, that renders them non halal/kosher. IN another billion years, both will end up part of the same gas cloud in an expanding red giant anyway, and that brief arrangement into “pig” will just be a tiny blip.
What if you then collected those molecules from the second group, the group that was for an insignificant period of time, a pig, retrieved them from the gas cloud, and then reassembled them into a porkchop? (This is the nonsensical kind of thing that I imagine bored superintelligent post-singularity entities would do for self-amusement, which is so ludicrous but inevitable that it is another reason why I am skeptical of the singularity and AI in general). This reconstituted porkchop is still not halal or kosher.
Think about that. Out of 20 billion years, a negligible period of time being arranged into a pig renders these molecules forever, inescapably, non-halal and non-kosher. There is something profound and eternal about form, about morphology, that transcends time and space.
I don’t pretend to understand my faith rationally. It’s faith, after all. But the above thought experiment says to me that there is something more to halal and kosher, than merely about the animal. There is something inherently impure in the morphology itself. By recreating the morphology, we are in a sense recreating that impurity. So, the only safe answer, is no. Replicated pork is not halal or kosher. Replicate turkey bacon instead.
UPDATE: As a friend pointed out, wild boars do die and decompose, so their molecules can be re-purified if they end up as grass eaten by a cow that is slaughtered according to halal/kosher. So there must be some kind of re-purification process that can undo the impurity of the brief morphological state. So, by analogy, the replicated food in a replicator can be halal/kosher even if the molecules were briefly non-halal/non-kosher. as long as they were “laundered” through the biosphere first. Still, assembling the molecules into a porkchop would still return to the forbidden morphology, so the answer to the main question is still no.
UPDATE 2: In the comments below, J. sends this link discussing in detail whether cloned pigs are kosher. (spoiler: they aren’t). However, the discussion therein still leaves the door wide open for replicated pork. I still hypothesize no.
One thought on “Replicated food is not halal or kosher: a secular argument”
I can’t remember the details of the SF short story about a rabbi asked to rule on cloned/replicated pork, but now it’s being debated by real rabbis. To me, on the outside of both groups, a lot of it seems to be a split between the letter of the law and the perceived intent (“the book says ‘cloven hooves’, do you see any hooves in this vat? and how do you properly slaughter something that was never a living animal?”).
Which brings up two possible experiments: kosher rules supposedly say “has cloven hooves” and “chews the cud”.
1. genetically modify a pig by introducing genes that make it a cud-chewer.
2. genetically modify a cow so that its flesh has the appearance, texture, and flavor of pork, with or without using actual pig genes.
And then of course there’s the possibilities of plant/animal hybrids, where bacon grows on trees!
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