Long Reads

Foods of the Future—Realized?

February 29, 2016

Seeing as it’s a Monday, you probably intend to spend Leap Day's extra 24 hours like any other day. But what if you could use the extra time to do anything you wanted? Maybe you’d make that recipe you’ve been daydreaming about, finally take on a serious baking project, or actually figure out how those crazy milkshakes are held together (Black magic? Pipe-cleaners? We may never know). But what if, what if, you could manipulate the values of every "extra" hour, and essentially bend that time to your will? I’m talking about time travel here, people.

Hollywood—and sic-fi novelists galore—have been asking this question forever, sending characters careening across timelines to futures near and far, or examining the way people interact in established societies of tomorrow. There are several cinematic theories concerning the quality of life in these new settings, but there are also a lot of scripts that address what's in store for the future of our meals. Movies can predict fashion trends and even alter the way we talk for years to come—but have their culinary predictions actually panned out?

A Prediction for 2015

In the sequel movie Back to the Future II (1989), Marty McFly and his girlfriend Jennifer travel to the distant future—the year 2015— to stop their son from getting arrested and squandering his life away. Plans go awry, timelines get skewed, and wacky but totally entertaining hijinx ensue. Among other futuristic inventions, this movie features a pocket-sized Pizza Hut pizza getting sent through a "re-hydrator" to reach its full size, as well as a "retro" 80s-themed diner complete with arcade games and robotic, televised waiters.

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We are now one year past this cinematic time-hop, and it doesn't seem like our food technology is quite as advanced as they expected. Sure, we've got frozen pizza, pizza pockets, and pizza bagels down pat, but it doesn't seem like re-hydrators are a thing (yet). That said, we are getting closer to this projected reality, as businesses, restaurants included, increasingly eliminate the need for human staff. We have self-checkout stations at grocery stores, and tablet-based ordering at chain restaurants. Who's to say televised servers aren't next?

A Prediction for the Years Post 21st Century

The future is a bit more bleak in The Matrix (1999). This science fiction-action flick takes place in an unspecified year sometime post-21st Century, in which humans are hooked to machines and harvested for biochemical energy by rogue computers who now control the world. (Yikes.) The population is kept complacent by living a mental and emotional reality based around the earth's state in the year 1999. When Neo, the film's protagonist, enters the "real" world and joins the group of humans set out to destroy the computers, he is soon introduced to their regular meal, a mush made up of "single celled protein loaded with synthetic aminos, proteins, and minerals." It's "everything the body needs," says Dozer.

While this reality seems a bit more fantastic than that depicted in the film made ten years earlier, it's gastronomic predictions were actually more on point. Mushy, nutritionally beneficial, and nourishing dishes like oatmeal and porridge are increasingly popular on brunch menus at "hip" bistros across the US, and grain bowls packed with vegetables and plant-based proteins have taken off like wild-fire (though, this real-life fare seems a bit more appealing than the slush served in the film).

Also, we can't help but note that the Matrix mush and Soylent sound awfully similar... Which brings us to:

Predictions for 2022

Bleaker still is the 1973 film, Soylent Green. This movie shows the human race as suffering from intense poverty, rampant pollution, and the negative effects of advanced global warming in the year 2022. In such terrible conditions, the bulk of the world cannot afford real food and survives on a genetically engineered product called Soylent Green that is supposedly made from an ultra-nutritious type of plankton. I won't ruin the movie for you, but it's later revealed what the contents of this processed drink actually are. Needless to say, they're not good.

It's not exactly the same, but Soylent is real! Marketed as a meal-replacement, Soylent was invented a few years ago by chemical engineers to be a beverage that is "cheaper, easier to prepare and more nutritious than much of the food that makes up the typical American office worker’s diet today."

Predictions for 2032

Showing a more utopian side of things (sort of), Demolition Man (1993) is a movie about a sadistic criminal and a renegade cop who are cryogenically frozen in 1996 as part of a prison rehabilitation program. They are reawakened in the far-off year 2032 to discover a crime-free world full of serious constrictions on human rights and behavior. As can be expected, the criminal, Simon Phoenix, soon wreaks havoc on the cityscape, while the cop, John Spartan, is recruited to stop him.

To quickly assimilate Spartan into this new society, he is taken out to dinner at one of the classiest restaurants in town—Taco Bell. Surprised? Spartan was too, but a "classy" Taco Bell may be more true today than you think. The public is becoming increasingly educated on the harmful effects of diets that are highly dependent on fast food and convenience items. The industry is reacting in turn, morphing its menus to include "healthier" choices, encouraging the public to linger, and introducing technologies to make service all-around better. At this rate, 2032 may very well see a version of Taco Bell that we dare call "fancy."

Predictions for the 23rd Century

Last on our Leap Day agenda is the futuristic fantasy film, The Fifth Element (1997). Complete with alien life forms and imaginative religious dogma, the survival of the planet in the 23rd-century setting of this cinematic world falls on the shoulders of former special forces major Korbean Dallas, and his ability to reunite mystical stones in a ceremonial temple of ancient significance before time runs out. Food may be the last of Korbean's concerns here, but that doesn't stop him from ordering lunch from a flying Asian food-boat at the start of the film.

Obviously, we don't have any boats or cars flying around delivering food. But food delivery and, moreover, food trucks, are most certainly here to stay. Consumers can now get anything from vegan samosas and wood-fired pizza to kangaroo meat sloppy joes, all freshly made-to-order on the truck itself. With this holding true, it's completely reasonable to assume we will have meals-on-wings as soon as the flying car technology is fully developed.

So did the food predictions of the past stack up? The answer is, actually, sort of. Humans today are collectively more concerned with issues of nutrition and sustainability, two components that seem to have been taken into consideration in the screenplays of these films. Time and technology will only tell, but in a couple decades yet, we may just fulfill some of these culinary destinies of the silver screen after all.

What are your favorite futuristic food moments from film? And what do you hope to see in the future? If you leaped ten years from now, what would you find your future self cooking? Let us know in the comments!

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Sarah E Daniels

Written by: Sarah E Daniels

It's mostly a matter of yeast.