In reading Matthew Cobb‘s fascinating new book on the history of ethics and genetic engineering I came across this quote from Martin Apple, president of the world’s first transgenic plant research institute, the International Plant Research Institute, in 1981:
We are going to make pork chops grow on trees!
Of course, long before the first soy latte was even a twinkling in the woke barrista’s eye, people were concerned with plant-based substitutes for meat and dairy for religious reasons. And this reminded me obliquely of the myth of the barnacle goose.
In the Middle Ages it was widely believed that this bird grew from its snout from trees hanging over the water, or out of a barnacle attached to the bottoms of ships or loose pieces of wood. This raised a conundrum for medieval rabbis: For purposes of kashrut, should these geese be classed as fish, meat, or something else?
Some authorities said they were neither fish nor fowl, but rather like shellfish were impermissible no matter how they were slaughtered. But Rabbi Mordechai ben Hillel Ashkenazi of Regensburg said that, effectively, they are fruits:
Regarding birds that grow on trees, there are those that say that they do not require shechitah [ritual slaughter], because they do not reproduce sexually and are like any wood. (Quoted in Sacred Monsters: Mysterious and Mythical Creatures of Scripture, Talmud and Midrash, Nosson Slifkin, p. 319.)
Truly the world’s first plant-based meat!