Fine dining featuring extinct animals

Sean Talbot, a member of Science Gallery Dublin's Youth Advisory Board, the Young Leos, joined us for last month's De-Extinction Dinner as part of our events series for FAKE — read on to hear about his take on raising (and eating) the dead...

Imagine dining on an extinct dodo. Having a woolly mammoth steak for dinner. Eating fried velociraptor. Last month in Science Gallery Dublin, I had the opportunity to try out some fine dining on extinct animals — or at least, a recreation of what that might be like — at the De-Extinction Dinner. Curated by Science Gallery Dublin as a part of their current exhibition FAKE and hosted by the Science Gallery café, it was created by the Center for Genomic Gastronomy, an artist-led think tank studying the biotechnologies and biodiversity of human food systems.

This was a food event inspired by the science of de-extinction: the very real science of reintroducing extinct animal species through breeding and cloning. Think Jurassic Park, but with more pigeons and ibex than dinosaurs. Although it might seem like a totally impossible science fiction trope, it’s actually becoming more and more scientifically possible. With emerging technologies and new scientific techniques, we're closer than ever to bringing extinct animals back using the same technology that brought us Dolly the cloned sheep.

This event was designed to raise some interesting ethical questions: should we focus our efforts and money on bringing back extinct animals, or focus on conservation for the survival of still-living species? How would an ecosystem cope with these extinct animals being reintroduced? Many of these species were hunted to extinction by us, and if we bring them back, is it right to eat them again? They were great conversation starters for a dinner table. 

And what a dinner table it was! We were seated in the Science Gallery Café and immediately welcomed with an old-fashioned, called that because the whisky in the drink is actually from an old unpopular strand of barley, now extinct. So, off to a good start thematically and tastewise. I came alone, and was slightly apprehensive sitting through the whole meal with strangers, but I actually had a great time chatting away with my friendly neighbours about science, food and art, some of my favourite topics — all this while making our way through a whopping nine courses, all inspired by extinct plants and animals.

Although we never actually ate any extinct animals, we did dine on wood pigeon as a delicious approximation of what an extinct passenger pigeon might taste like. As a vegetable side to the pigeon, we ate plants that the passenger pigeon ate and fertilised itself. For a bread course, we had sourdough with an approximation of bog butter, ancient butter that can be preserved for 2,000 years or more in our bogs. My favourite course was the egg course, where we took boiled chicken and duck eggs and as a group took out the cooked yokes and blended them together to make a hollandaise sauce that was a blend of the two different eggs. We did this ourselves at the table, as a kind of hands-on metaphor for how somatic cell cloning works, by taking the nucleus of the parent cell and putting it into another cell that had its nucleus removed. This was a very fun little experiment to let us get our hands dirty (don't worry, we did have food-safe gloves on) to showcase the science behind the dinner's theme.

After we finished the meal, we were invited to write postcards outlining our opinions of the science of de-extinction to be sent to a science centre related to the topic. All in all, I had a fantastic evening, learned a lot about this niche branch of science fiction turned real science, and (most importantly) had a delicious meal and some great conversations.

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