Food of the future

Shabnam Minwalla | Updated on August 14, 2014 Published on July 18, 2014


In a dystopian future dreamt up by science fiction, a food writer would be woefully short of employment. And foodies short of joy, macaroons and mint juleps

You’ve got a stuffy nose, your bedroom leaks and your boss is Cruella de Vil’s evil twin. Things are bad. But just remember they could be worse. You could be suffering from that same stuffy nose, leaking wall and nasty boss — and, on top of that, be living in a dystopian future dreamt up by science fiction. The sort of world in which killer androids leap across skyscrapers and casually snap necks. Where oceans are drying and the sun’s rays bring death. Where powerless folk are shipped off to sinister colonies in distant galaxies. And where food is all about rationing and flavourless pills.

In short, a world in which a food writer would be woefully short of employment. And foodies short of joy, macaroons and mint juleps. For the science fiction crowd invariably has a gloomy, doomy take on food in its dark, futuristic novels.

There are, of course, some intriguing delicacies like roasted spider soup or qagh made out of freshly poisoned worms wriggling in a brown sauce, or sodas made out of the secretion of alien slugs. And here’s some gratuitous advice. If you find yourself in a post-apocalyptic, Blade runner-style world with a rumbling tummy, be sure to tank up on the lizard skins and heart of wild tragh, the grunty alien animal in Star Trek. Otherwise you will be compelled to consume abominations like chickie nobs — a transgenic meat product — that is used to feed the voiceless masses in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.

For those who’ve never read that chilling novel, this is how Jimmy describes his first encounter with this monstrous food of the future:

“What they were looking at was a large bulblike object that seemed to be covered with stippled whitish-yellow skin. Out of it came 20 thick fleshy tubes, and at the end of each another bulb was growing.

‘What the hell is it?’ said Jimmy.

‘Those are chickens,’ said Crake. ‘Chicken parts. Just the breasts, on this one. They’ve got ones that specialise in drumsticks too, twelve to a growth unit.’

‘But there aren’t any heads...’

‘That’s the head in the middle,’ said the woman. ‘There’s a mouth opening at the top, they dump nutrients in there. No eyes or beak or anything, they don’t need those.’”

If that’s put you off your chicken jalfrezi, then be warned. There are many more frightening specials in the post-apocalyptic world. For example, you aren’t likely to find Horlicks or rose milk at the Korova Milk Bar. For in the dark, violent tomorrow of Clockwork Orange, innocent milk is mixed with drugs like vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which “sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.” (All of which makes the thick blue Bantha Milk in Star Wars suddenly sound incredibly organic and appealing.)

Then there’s the food dished out in the greasy, low-ceilinged canteen of George Orwell’s 1984. Winston Smith, the protagonist, meditates “resentfully on the physical texture of life. Had it always been like this? Had food always tasted like this… bread dark-coloured, tea a rarity, coffee filthy-tasting, cigarettes insufficient — nothing cheap and plentiful except synthetic gin.”

Eeeps! Given the dreadful, cardboard-andplastic-flavoured future they predict for Planet Earth, it makes sense that so many science fiction writers flee in their imagination to distant galaxies and worlds. In his Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury supplies the Earthlings with food pills that fit in a matchbox but can feed you “all across a wilderness of stars”. But the Martians who live amidst empty seas and crystal pillars cook tempting meals by drowning meats in “hissing fire pools” and “simmering lava”. And always seem to have an oven full of warm crystal buns.

While the Mycogens on Planet Trantor — a fictional planet which Isaac Asimov places at the centre of the galaxy in his famous Foundation series — make magical little spheres called Raw Dainties. “Seldon put his sphere in his mouth and felt it dissolve and disappear rapidly. His mouth, for a moment, ran liquid and then it slid, almost of its own accord, down his throat. He stood for a moment, amazed. It was slightly sweet and, for that matter, had an even fainter bitter aftertaste, but the main sensation eluded him.”

The funniest food scenes in sci fi, however, appear in that mad, wormhole-ridden romp by Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Here the characters partake of bizarre meals hosted by mice, featuring grilled muscle, grated Arcturian MegaDonkey and lumps of evil-smelling meat from a bowl that turns out to be Vegan Rhino’s Cutlet (which, the quailing Earthling is assured is “delicious if you like that sort of thing”.)

Between adventures, the characters pop into the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where they meet the Dish of the Day, before ordering four rare steaks. “A large dairy animal approached Zaphod Beeblebrox’s table, a large, fat, meaty quadruped of the bovine type with large watery eyes, small horns and what might almost have been an ingratiating smile on its lips.

‘Good evening’, it lowed and sat back heavily on its haunches, ‘I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in the parts of my body?’

‘Something off the shoulder perhaps?’ suggested the animal, ‘Braised in a white wine sauce?’

‘Er, your shoulder?’ said Arthur in a horrified whisper.

‘But naturally my shoulder, sir,’ mooed the animal contentedly.

‘Nobody else’s is mine to offer.’

Zaphod leapt to his feet and started prodding and feeling the animal’s shoulder appreciatively.”

After some nervous objections by the wimpy Earthlings, Zaphod settles on steaks, to which the Dish of the Day responds, “I’ll just nip off and shoot myself… Don’t worry, sir, I’ll be very humane.”


Blue Bantha Milk, Star Wars: Makes 2 servings

I’m not a big one for flavourless food pills or alien slug secretions. So we’ll stick to a terrestrial recipe that seems like a fun substitute for their ET, futuristic counterparts.

90ml milk

30ml cream

30ml coconut rum

30ml amaretto

60ml blue curacao

1. Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake for 20-30 seconds.

2. Serve in a chilled glass. This recipe is only for Jedi over the legal drinking age! For the young Jedi trainees, you can use:

1. Almond milk for the amaretto and milk.

2. Coconut water for the rum

3. Dilute a little orange juice with a bit of water and add blue

( This is part of a monthly series that follows a food trail through the realm of fiction.)

( Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and author of 'The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street')

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Published on July 18, 2014
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