Some works present this as being an extreme or outrageous thing to do, while others explore the conflict between the Squick factor of cannibalism and the logical point that this is a completely harmless activity, so why not? Works with magical settings also include this as a solution for beings who need to eat human flesh.
In hard science fiction the meat is usually cultured from human muscle biopsies. Works at the softer end also use other methods of production, including Matter Replication, magical materialisation and "human flavoured" vegetable protein.
This is a speculative trope for now, but given the progress being made on cell culture for food production it may be only a matter of time.
This trope also includes the following edge cases:
- Other sapient species which either practice artificial cannibalism or eat the artificially produced flesh of another sapient species (even though the latter isn't technically cannibalism).
- Human (or non-human sapient) flavoured products, such as salt-and-human crisps.
- Antiviral takes place in a world where celebrity worship is such that fans are willing to shell out serious cash to eat the cloned tissue of big stars from licensed, mainstream "meat markets." The company "Astral Bodies" is one such provider, selling items like sausages, bacon bits, and "1st Grade Stem Cell Meat" taken from movie star Hanna Geist.
- In one Science Fiction story by Arthur C. Clarke, "The Food of the Gods", people stopped killing animals for meat long ago and instead grew it in vats. Indeed, the idea of eating the flesh of dead animals is enough to turn people's stomachs. Then one company hit upon the idea of cloning and growing meat cloned from humans, which proved a wild success. However, their competitors insinuated there was something wrong with the food, and when the Senate decided to investigate, they were only too happy to explain the problem:
Yes, Triplanetary's chemists have done a superb technical job. Now you have to resolve the moral and philosophical issues. When I begin my evidence, I used the archaic word "carnivore." Now I must introduce you to another: I'll spell it out for the first time: C-A-N-N-I-B-A-L...
- Two examples by Charles Stross:
- Rule 34 mentions the Morningside Cannibals, a club of middle-class people who held dinner parties where they served meat cultured from each other. The police wanted to charge them but couldn't find a law they had broken. Then the press got hold of the story.
- Accelerando includes a description of a party where "long pork" was served. It isn't explicitly stated that this was artificial meat, but the setting would imply it.
- In Strata the Shand are ritual cannibals. At one point Silver is fed meat cultured from her own cells because there is nothing else with a compatible biology to use as a pattern.
- Iain M. Banks's The Culture does this in State of the Art. While a Contact ship visits Earth, one of the crew arranges a feast including the power figures of 1977:
- In The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, artificial human tissue is used as a substitute in modern Aztec Human Sacrifice. Some people still use real humans.
- In Project Hail Mary, at the end of the novel Ryland Grace ends up subsisting on what he calls "me-burgers" — meat made from his own cloned muscle tissue. He acknowledges the Squick factor, but given that he's living on a planet unsuited to humans or their nutritional needs, it's not like he has many other options.
- Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I.: "Tastes-just-like-human" meat products (mostly derived from chicken or pork) become a vital commodity to ensure peaceful human/Unnatural relations in the wake of the Big Easy.
- In Nightflyers, the Nightflyer comes across a rundown old ship whose crew have survived by cloning human meat as a food source.
- In Catholic theology the bread and wine served in the Eucharist are miraculously changed into the body and blood of Christ, although they still appear to be just bread and wine.
- Shadowrun. In the Shadowrun universe, people infected by a certain magical virus turn into ghouls, who must eat metahuman flesh in order to survive. One of the bequests in the will of the dragon Dunkelzahn was to give 2 million nuyen to anyone who developed artificial metahuman flesh that could satisfy a ghoul's hunger.
- In Transhuman Space, one of the weird subcultures that have sprung up is "Clonabilism", in which people eat cultured protein cloned from themselves. The frontispeice of Toxic Memes shows a man cheerfully eating a duplicate of his own head, which looks equally cheerful.
- Fallout: New Vegas: The side-quest "Beyond the Beef" involves a cannibalism plot. One option to foil it is to create a substitute dish that tastes just like human — and after the speech at the banquet, you then expose Mortimer about the plot.
- SCP Foundation: SCP-604, "The Cannibal's Banquet", is a magical rather than technological version of this trope. It is a dinner set which converts any food or drink placed on it into human flesh and blood, usually that of infants. Before the Foundation got hold of it, it was owned by the evil corporation known as Marshall, Carter and Dark Ltd., who used it to provide Exotic Entrees at some of their more exclusive business functions. The Foundation's interest in it seems to be no more than scientific curiosity, but they are considering using it to feed SCP-352, aka Baba Yaga, as a "more efficient" alternative to her usual diet.
- Adventure Time: At the end of the episode "Her Parents," Lady Rainicorn's parents introduce Finn and Jake to the delicacy "soy people." Humans have seemingly been extinct for centuries in Ooo, so Rainicorns can't actually taste the real thing, but the soy version apparently has an identical taste. Finn hesitantly takes a bite...and ends up enjoying the taste.
- Hufu was a short-lived tofu product parodically marketed as "the healthy human flesh alternative" for "cannibals who want to quit."
- The Ouroboros Steak may be the first true real-life example; it enables the user to grow pieces of human meat from their own cheek cells (so technically Autocannibalism as well) and feed them for several months with expired human blood. However, it was created as a criticism of the cultured meat industry, rather than a serious proposal for people to actually eat cultured human meat.