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Serving up the origins of our meals

Is DNA in the ether?

It's been around for millennia but recently it's been much more in your face, so to speak. Not only do we have the mind-boggling Scotland's DNA Project featured in tomorrow's Herald Magazine where, by spitting into a tube, a cluster of intrepid writers find out where their ancestors migrated from several thousand years ago; now a Glasgow restaurant is to mount what's believed to be Scotland's first DNA Dinner.

Next Thursday about 60 diners will be invited to guess the main ingredients of the three-course meal they're served at Stravaigin restaurant as part of the Glasgow Science Festival. The only clues they'll be given on the menu are the extraneous ingredients, while the primary ones will be described by a DNA code. While diners try to guess what they're eating, helped along by a range of silhouettes printed on the menu, a team of proper scientists will be parked outside in mobile labs doing the actual scientific analysis. After the dinner, they'll come in to announce to the diners what food groups they've been eating. We're promised some real surprises.

The idea is to find out how much we really know - or care about - what we're eating. Chef Kenny MacKay and the restaurant team have tasted and enjoyed the menu, which to maintain the suspense must sadly remain an enigma until the night itself. I'm told everything on it is edible and delicious; but that if diners were told beforehand what they were about to eat, they probably wouldn't touch it.

So there's a serious message to be learned from this too. If we don't know or care about what we put in our mouths, who's to blame for food scandals like Horsegate?

And if we insist on sticking to our narrow concept of what we like to eat, do we then have the moral authority to question the dominance of the supermarkets and their procurement policies, or the stealth growth of GM crops? I reckon this DNA dinner is about all of us taking responsibility for the food we eat. It's also, I suspect, a way of getting us to look more closely at the health, economic and environmental benefits of sourcing fresh local produce.

Given that - as The Herald writers will elucidate upon tomorrow - we're the descendants of early pioneers, farmers and foragers, it seems perverse that while we relish animal flesh, the idea of eating insects, unfamiliar animals, rare plants and berries is repulsive. What a bunch of Western wimps, eh?

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Food and drink

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