Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning
Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning
Virginia Postrel: from synthetic meat to synthetic fabric

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Virginia Postrel: from synthetic meat to synthetic fabric

The cultural politics of lab-grown meat and the economic history of fabric

On this episode of the Unsupervised Learning podcast, Razib talks to Virginia Postrel, the author of The Fabric of Civilization, The Power of Glamour, The Substance of Style and The Future and its Enemies. Formerly a columnist at The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg View, and the former editor of Reason, she is now a fellow at Chapman University’s Smith Institute.

First, Razib and Postrel discuss her recently reported piece for The Wall Street Journal, Synthetic Meat Will Change the Ethics of Eating. In the wake of the stagnation in the plant-based meat market the eyes of many futurists are turning to the technically difficult task of growing real cells and eventually tissue in the laboratory, basically detaching the production of meat from living animals. Postrel notes that the price for some synthetic meats are now starting to be competitive with the higher-end fare. She discusses in her piece eating synthetic salmon in sushi. The salmon’s appearance was a bit artificial in its geometrical regularity despite its entirely natural taste and texture. To her surprise, she observed on her Substack that some of the strongest reactions to the idea of synthetic meat came from conservatives, as many evinced horror and disgust. Though the companies that create synthetic meat are generally focused on critiques from the “crunchy” anti-GMO Left, Postrel wonders if perhaps a more robust reaction might not be from the populist Right which perceives these new technologies through a tribal and politically polarized lens as many of these entrepreneurs sell their value-proposition as furthering the rise of a green carbon-neutral economy.

Razib and Postrel also discuss her 2020 book The Fabric of Civilization, a cultural and economic history that spans the Pleistocene to the age of “fast fashion.” In addition to unpacking the fortuitous genetics of cotton (of course), Postrel also explains how clothing today is so much cheaper than in the 1970s. Razib also asks her about the rise, fall, and now rise again of synthetics and the various fortunes of linen, cotton, hemp, and wool.

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