I’m a bit of a foodie, and own a sizable collection of eclectic cookbooks. My favorite cocktail hour pastime is to peruse one of many food magazine subscriptions, reading the latest recipes. The cocktail stimulates my virtual tasting acumen. I’m at a point where I can imagine how something tastes by reading the ingredients, but it’s a limited window, disproportional to the quantity of alcohol consumed.
While sifting through past issues, I stumbled across an article in the March 2013 issue of Food &Wine, The Plate Project: What We’ll Be Eating in 35 Years. What made this article unique was not gastronomical guessing by famous chefs. The project was more of a lighthearted prediction that had to be drawn, or displayed, on a paper plate. The results were as unique and original as the personalities of world famous cooks, artists, and designers. As a writer of sci-fi, it had me pondering what influences would decide what’s on our plate two-hundred years from now.
It’s not the first time I’ve highlighted potential food of the future (see How Do You Like Your Schmeat?). Growing up in a typical American household of many kids, with fare meant to fill bellies, not tantalize taste buds, probably had something to do with my obsession of food. Spending two years on a small Southeast Asian island as a Peace Corp Volunteer, where dried fish and rice was haute-de-cuisine, pushed it to new levels.
I am part of the first generation with front row passes to the world’s dinner table. Past generations had to settle for whichever ethnic dietary tradition was available. With the exception of small pockets of ethnic neighborhoods, early American fare up to the fifties could be considered a contestant in the most blasé tasting food in the world (behind the British). Thanks to our notable ethnic diversity, ease of crossing borders, and pioneers like Julia Childs, James Beard, and Craig Claiborne, our part of the gastronomic world began to discover more to eating than meat and potatoes.
Back to the article of what we’ll be eating in 35 years, my favorite entries said much about what was on the mind of the contributor. Anthony Bourdain drew a picture of an insect. A designer cleverly played on words with “Pharm to Table”, a display hypodermic needles filled with sustenance. A pastry chef offered a colorful presentation of pills, and called it Supplemental. How very George Jetson. A three-dimensional printer style meal made me think of Star Trek’s replicator. One entry was a “deep-fried” paper plate. Now that’s ironic.
Tuning the crystal ball further in the future, it is easy to imagine, but hard to guess, where we’ll be in two hundred years. Will we be closer to the dream of an idealistic future world where conflict, starvation, and poverty are things of the past? Will Mother Earth still have clean skies and pristine waters, or blanketed in the result of our environmental excess? Will we experience a calamity of the cosmos or nature? Will our swelling human existence in sheer numbers overcrowd resources necessary to sustain us?
These questions will determine what’s on our plate.
To preserve the fun spirit in which F&W’s plate project was fostered, I’ll offer a glass-half-full prediction of my own. Manufactured food will be a part of our future. As much as we relish organic farm to table, it is a way to ensure we avoid a Malthusian event if human population swells beyond the natural food chain. We may discover it to be a good thing, and if done well, minus the hyper-charged outrage of GMO food. I love the three-dimensional printer concept of food preparation, which could also be visually appealing. I hope that it leaves a little room to nurture organic agriculture, so we never forget how wonderful great-great-grandma’s pasta sauce tasted.
In my current dystopian project where population is a fraction of what it is today, a socialist government ensures availability of basic foodstuffs. What makes it palatable is a cottage industry of family-run agriculture to preserve culinary diversity.
Oh, I forgot. Bugs. I’m betting it’ll be big. Bourdain’s on to something.
What do you think will be on the dinner table in two hundred years?