Food technology: Space food for today


On the subject of protein, it would be remiss of me to omit one of the most talked-about future foods of them all – Soylent green. Harry Harrison wrote a novel called Make Room! Make Room! in which he detailed life in a dystopian 1999, an overcrowded world in which people clamoured for food. A local shop has a sale on Soylent (soya and lentil) steaks and a riot breaks out. The film Soylent Green, with Charlton Heston takes a different slant on the same story, but if you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it. A modern company has somewhat bravely appropriated the name, apparently oblivious to the negative connotations and is now producing Soylent 2.0 in drink and powder form – a small step away from the meal-in-a-pill concept. The idea was set in motion by a software engineer called Robert Reinhart, who postulated that the body doesn’t need food as such, merely the nutrients. This has been widely disproven, but sales remain steady as fad diets come and go. Let’s face it, if you are too busy to figure out what to eat in order to stay alive, you should probably slow down a bit.

Freeze-dried Neapolitan ice cream (photo: Evan-Amos)

As for the protein pills, they are very much in the same category as the flying car in that they don’t really exist yet. We have seen cars you can strap wings to in a clumsy attempt to bring science fiction to life and pills as food are in about the same state of development. Yes, there’s the ubiquitous vitamin pill or dietary supplement as the more expensive varieties are known, but they only give you vitamins and some amino acids, and the jury’s still out on just how many of these vitamins the body retains without any bulk in the stomach. There’s the problem, you see – the stomach needs something to work on and fibre is usually the one favoured by doctors. To provide enough substance and as many calories as a regular human needs, you’d need to be swallowing a kilo or so of pills at least. This negates the point of the dinner-in-a-pill strategy required for deep space flight or Parisian catwalk models. You may as well have a bacon sandwich – with lettuce and tomato, of course. I certainly wouldn’t relish a world without a decent three courses and wine. Check please.