Future Food

Future Food

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Future Food:  supersonic dinner ala Concorde

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Mmmmm....  Soylent Green!

Want to see a predication fly clean over the mark, veer to the left and auger into a stone wall?  Then consider the case for future food.  Look at any of the prognostications about what the Dinner of Tomorrow would be like and you'd probably find something on the order of the Soylent Green factory on the left.  Whether the raw material was people, soy, or chemicals, the end product was something that looked suspiciously like floppies and tasted about the same. 

Granted, there are any number of microwave meals that are indistinguishable from the packaging, but that's the fault of convenience rather than necessity and it's equally possible to get a meal that's more like the dinner above that used to be served aboard Concorde.  In fact, if you walk into any supermarket you'll see something that just about everyone missed: overwhelming abundance and staggering choices.  Whether the future was going to be one of rationing or full bellies, the one thing that both the optimists and pessimists agreed on in the area of food was that the exploding population of the Earth would mean that even in the wealthiest countries people would be relying on synthetic foods for most of their calories.  I mean, once the United States reached a population of 200 million what choice would they have but to make steaks out of coal tar?  No one imagined that the 21st century would be a time when obesity would be a major public health issue, food shortages would be more a matter of corrupt governments instead of absolute shortages, or that the average shopper in industrialised nations would be faced with sixteen varieties of apples to select from year 'round. 

SCIENCE!For the citizen of Future Past, however, synthetics and technofood would be everywhere.  They would be the staple; the meat and potatoes of commoners and kings. Even that wild techno-optimist Hugo Gernsback in his novel Ralph 124C41+ envisioned a world where traditional farms and foodstuffs couldn't hope to feed a groaning world of four billion souls.  To avoid starvation, the masses have to rely on industrialised farms where wheat is grown like over-hormoned battery hens, sugar is only available as a synthetic made from sawdust, and milk comes from mechanical "cows" that reduce lactation to the level of an oil refinery: in goes grass, out comes grass-coloured... uh, milk, I guess.

What few people realised was that even though synthetics would show up by the second half of the 20th century they would never replace bread, or even nachos, as the staff of life.  Far from being a substitute for ordinary foods, synthetics are usually too expensive for a steady diet, but they have found their niche on the market as supplements, diet foods, and as an ingredient in that weird field known as "food engineering" that manipulates foodstuffs as if they were plastics to produce snacks that taste like  plastic.  They have also found their place, oddly enough, by acting as substitutes, not for the dinner table, but for industrial materials such as making soaps that perfectly good food was once used for instead of feeding people. 

But what really sailed over everyone's head was the rise of fast food in a world of drive-through breakfasts, bento lunches, and delivery pizza suppers; a world where hunger could be satisfied with a phone call.  Even bbq, a food that is normally cooked in the backyard, surrounded by friends, family and outdoor festivities, can be delivered. There is no doubt, it is much easier to dial a number and have a driver deliver slow-cooked and smoked meat, but this realistic future prediction takes away that good old fun of barbecuing in the yard.

One prediction that, thankfully, never came to pass was Gernsback's restaurant of the future, where old fashioned cuisine is replaced by "scientific" food.  Gernsback seemed to have the idea that the healthiest of food is that which has been pureed and liquefied for easy digestion, so his future eatery is notable for a lack of plates and cutlery.  Instead the patrons stick tubes in their mouths and have liquid entrees squirted down their throats.  Hopefully with minimum drowning.  Yes, it's the All Soup Restaurant.  No chewing needed.

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