Food has gone from something that we had to seek out, to something we cultivated, and now is becoming something we create. Continually questions get raised about where the food we eat actually comes from and whether we really recognize all the chemicals that we are adding to our food. There has even been discussion of being able to use 3D printers for food.
Food supply can often be either a main issue or a side issue in science fiction stories because food is a vital part of keeping a society alive. Some of the problems I can see is usually in the examples of the future either there is a food crisis or we have switched to entirely created food and “all natural” is a luxury.
The food crisis scenarios are ones where the food sources that we have are either drying up or just not enough to support the growing population. This can be seen in movies such as Interstellar or books like The Wind Up Girl. In both of these situations an infection of our food source begins to destroy crops and the world cannot find a way to fix the problem.
An infection of the world’s food source is not the only potential problem that could happen – there is also the fact that the world population keeps growing beyond the real limits of what the food source can actually hold, but we keep finding a way to supplement it. In many of these situations it is just about finding a way to get people some kind of nutrition, but often it is not enough.
When I talk about created food I am thinking of things such as the replicator in Star Trek or the scene in Fifth Element where they put in a small pill in a machine and out comes a whole chicken. This is a situation where there is no food crisis because we have figured out a way to generate food. The big problem I can see with this is that there would still be pockets of natural food, but it is either by people farming for themselves (like Picard’s family) or a luxury paid for by the rich.
There are a lot of people, even in today’s society, who talk about not wanting to put unnatural things into their body. I don’t know how people would react to food that just creates itself! There is a distrust of things that are viewed as artificial and I cannot imagine that generated food would not be completely artificial. But it does also contribute to the option of the population just continuing to grow.
There are trade-offs to being able to create a never-ending food supply and being able to just have the population keep growing. At the same time down the road will we discover that some of our choices about what we put into our food have actually created other complications?