‘A love medallion of cultured meat from your own cells. Horror or poetry?’

Koert van Mensvoort picks some chives and violets for the alcohol-free gin and tonic from his ‘Click and grow’, a container with LED lighting above where you place cups with seed. And soon after, plants grow out of it. “It doesn’t get any fresher.” He has four of these tech gardens, and he picks something every day.

As a philosopher and designer, he explores the future of nature and technology. You imagine: futurologist with smart garden in a sleek apartment in the city. But these mini-gardens are more like a relic from the past: Koert van Mensvoort (46) and his wife Mieke Gerritzen (58) moved from Amsterdam to Vinkeveen last winter, to a house on the water with a “ridiculously” large garden. “So now the question is, how am I going to do that? How do I get a grip on that garden?”

Just a round then. Along the fig, over a bridge to the legakker on the water to pick blackberries. “You can eat all the ripe blackberries and tomorrow there will be new ones. The Paradise!”

His grandfather was a farmer, his father preferred to work at Philips. „And I am a child from the suburbs, Veldhoven, of the first generation of gamers. I know more logos and logos than birds. All this here is new to me.”

Is living outdoors a step back to nature, or is it just visionary to get out of the city at this time? “That’s what they say, that you’re leaving the city, but you can also say: we’re here on the edge of Central Park, in the middle of Nederland City. From space, the Amsterdam-Brussels-Cologne triangle is one big spot of light at night, a mega city.”

Anyway, it was unintentionally well timed. The lockdown started shortly after the move. It feels safe here, you can sit in the garden with friends. Where else would you like to go? “In Amsterdam, we went to Albert Heijn or the market for every whim,” says Mieke. “That’s not possible here, I think that’s an improvement in life.”

Cannibalism

Koert had already warned: “You don’t think we’re going to eat cultured meat, do you? Because that is not possible yet.” Ten years ago he designed the restaurant of the future with others and wrote it there The Cultured Meat Cookbook with fantasy dishes of lab-grown meat from cells of living animals. Pookie sausage, from a piglet still foraging in the garden. lab sweetbreads. Knitted steak. Dodonuggets. A love medallion grown from cells from your own body – so human flesh. “It goes beyond cannibalism. Do you think that’s horror or poetry? I say poetry.”

But it’s not for sale yet, cultured meat. And Koert van Mensvoort is only a man. “I’m not a macho, but I like to light a fire and barbecue.” More specifically: from his aluminum Blaze kamado, a modern version of the ancient egg-shaped wood oven that the Japanese used to cook on. He stands on rocket legs. “An upper-middle-class achievement.” He just says it himself. “You can go very far. Of course, special Japanese coals must also be used, which last longer and do not smell. Do you see smoke?”

‘The first person who came up with the idea of ​​milking a cow. That must have looked very perverse.”

On each plate is an artichoke with homemade mayonnaise. Under the lid of the kamado, a bowl of cauliflower with kummel is cooking, in the coals a leek stalk is scorching black. And then there is palm cabbage with Parmesan cheese and spaghetti with tomatoes on the table. “There have been few times in history when people ate so well.”

Mieke serves Limburg pinot grigio. A symbol of transformation, in this case of climate change. “A drama for the world, but Limburg farmers can now make good wines,” says Koert. “It sounds crude, but climate change also has winners.”

When he tries to imagine the future, Koert thinks in dreams and nightmares. Sometimes he doesn’t even know whether the objects he designs, the scenarios he sketches, bring humanity something good or something bad. Disgust and fascination are closely related. Who wants an artificial uterus? Or charge his phone with energy from belly fat?

In the beginning he was hesitant about cultured meat, but his view has changed. If you can get rid of factory farming and eat meat with ten billion people, „I think: let’s explore all options. Face all dreams and nightmares. Can we at least talk about it?”

‘Upper-middle-class-boerderijwinkel’

“And now I have to…” All concentration to the rack of lamb of the upper-middle-class farm shop in Baambrugge. He makes fun of himself and his expensive stuff. But he is also serious. “I can afford it, so I think: pay it. Why should I buy a chicken with only one Better Life star? Then find the most animal-friendly chicken out there and pay for it.”

He especially feels guilty about non-descript meat. “I remember that a friend, I was about thirteen, only wanted to eat meat in which you do not recognize the animal. Chicken breast and fish fingers and stuff. I thought that was so hypocritical at the time.” So no sausage rolls from the supermarket for him. “But if I see tripe (tripe) on the map in France, then I will.” O? You can say that sausage has been used from head to tail, and tripe is also offal, right? That tripe, isn’t that exoticism? “Yes maybe. But for me it’s about being transparent about what you eat. And presentation also helps.”

Badly prepared food, also very bad, they say at the same time. “Not paying attention to what you are preparing,” says Koert. “Then I feel guilty towards the cow. Have you lived for my fumbling?” “I also have that with fruit and vegetables,” says Mieke. “I don’t throw anything away.”

The leek stem is removed from its charred outer skirt. A buttery smoky bit remains. “Taste how delicious!”

He could have bought another spit at the barbecue. But there was a plug. “And I don’t want a plug on my kamado. I don’t like an oven either. This is real fire. You can’t quite master a barbecue, apparently that’s attractive. Innovative nostalgic.”

Back to nature

If you think about technology and nature, future and past, and how they relate to each other, such a barbecue is a strange thing. The barbecue stands for everything that is primal. Hunting, loot, being outside, making fire, large pieces of animal with bone, chewing. Back to nature! “But cooking on fire,” says Koert, “was once a very innovative technique with major consequences for humans. When we started cooking raw food, we were able to digest more calories and have bigger brains. There was also mobile fire, a huge invention.”

Koert van Mensvoort is not like back to nature. False romance. As if living in nature in the past was such fun. And as if the way we used to live was so natural. “The first person who came up with the idea of ​​milking a cow. That must have looked very perverse. ‘Gosh, what are you doing!’”

You can also forward with nature, he says. “Humans are technological animals. We transform nature and thus create a new nature. Everything we make is nature.” Next nature are therefore called his book and the network of which he is director. The next nature.

Making up nightmares is good for discussion. “But lately I’ve been leaning towards: let’s bring dreams closer. That turns out to be much more difficult.” What can you say against climate change, against obesity on one side of the world and hunger on the other? “It’s easy to imagine a world where everything goes wrong. It takes a lot more imagination to think of what world you want to live in yourself.”

The rack of lamb is a beautiful rosé. What if you could grow lamb on a porcelain bone in the bioreactor, and you grill the chops while the sheep is standing next to it. “That would completely change our relationship with animals.” But Koert does not agree that we will no longer be slaughtering animals in fifty or a hundred years. “Maybe it will be different, as hunting has become a kind of sport. But eating meat is so deeply rooted in our culture and a hundred years is short, you know. For the time being, we are only eating more meat.”

Then there is vanilla ice cream with whipped cream and blackberries from the garden. Koert and Mieke would prefer to replace all the plants that have to be removed with something edible. There’s a vegetable garden on the left, Mieke points out. And on that piece of land by the water they would like to grow a food forest, with trees and shrubs for nuts and fruit. At the very end a bench by the water. And then look over the puddles there while the robots mow the grass softly.