Holly already wrote about Food for a Science Fiction Today post, but with trying to introduce solid foods to the Geek Baby, it’s a topic that’s certainly on our minds. Holly talked about how we might run into problems with the crops, like in Interstellar. Or else, how we might be able to artificially generate food – like in The Fifth Element.
I think to get to where I want to talk about those, we have to talk about where we are today with food. Which is to say, we’ve gotten pretty far away from the origins of food, the growing of food. Because of that, would we accept a food substitute like in the video?
Go to the store today, and everything is available. All the time, all year. Or near enough as to be the case – maybe you only get pumpkins at this time of year, but that just makes them special. But all these things – they’re growing somewhere, and traveling a short or long distance (depending on season and where you are) to get to us all year. So rather than eating food only based on what season it is, we can eat it whenever we want. And that’s before you get to meat…
We have access to the food year round, then, so we’ve moved away from some of the need for processes and foods that were developed for preservation – like with fruit, jams and jellies, or pies, or dried fruit. Except, we still have all of those things too. Along with all the newer forms of preservation – canned, frozen, what have you. Oh, and then the fresh.
Or thinking of food groups, something that we got to thinking about far more intentionally during the pregnancy and now after – there are all sorts of dishes that I am realizing exist to combine the food groups into one dish. Casseroles, stir fries, heck – pizza. Pot pies and stew and soup in general. Burgers and sandwiches with all the fixings. Things I’m sure we’ll be eating in the coming years, to get the Geek Baby eating all the food groups.
But you take all these things – foods prepared for preservation, foods prepared to combine the food groups – and they’re all available and made and eaten all the time. Along with fresh foods, foods on their own and not mixed, foods in every combination and state. And why? So that we have the option. The choice. So we can eat what we want, when we want it. Because we like the taste, the texture. Because it’ll be handy for this outing, or because they make it well at this restaurant, or because we haven’t had it for a while. Really, for any and every reason.
So now, back to Holly’s two possible future states.
The image from Star Trek is still so strong – tea, Earl Grey, hot. Just ask for food, and you get it. Or stories with pills or other things that give you all your nutrients. Or like in Firefly or Snowpiercer – proteins that include all the vitamins you need, all the energy you need. Or at least, in a land of scarcity, all the energy you’re going to get.
So we see instantaneous or generated or replacement foods like this in both utopian sorts of science fiction and dystopian – as either one of the great solutions once we solve scarcity, or as a result of increased scarcity. However – is it likely anytime soon?
If our relationship with food today is that we eat whatever we feel like or want or decide we ought to have, and are used to access all the time, and the freshness we want… would we give that up for a replacement? For a nutrition pill? Yes, it might give us all we need, but that’s no longer why we’re eating. That might be the secret answer to why obesity is on the rise – we’re not eating because we need to. But because we can, because it’s there, because we like it.
A pill or fortified food just can’t replace that. Not easily, probably not by choice. It may have to be forced on us due to circumstance.
Of course, the other problem is a thought of crop collapse. Maybe it’s changing climates, maybe it’s something to do with transporting it so much, maybe it’s to do with making the same food over and over and not rotating, maybe it’s to do with GMOs… the idea that something will disrupt crops and whole types of food will die off.
And with a globalized food economy, with food moving around as much as it is, the idea that something going wrong somewhere will have a huge impact makes sense to me. The cause? That’s the stuff of a science fiction story. The result? That feels like a very likely future scenario.
But I don’t know what we do to stop it. Even if I knew which of the various possible doom scenarios to be thinking about… the same logic from above holds. We like and are used to having access to food everywhere, all the time, always. Even knowing it could be a problem, would we change how we approach food?
The easiest solution for something like this would actually be the generated food. It would slow down all of these other processes. Alternately, a crop collapse would lead to us turning to generated food. The fate of these possible future does feel intertwined – so I wonder. Which might be cause, and which might be effect?