Food For Thought
February 1, 2022
Food For Thought
We're always so big on the next "big thing." As a kid, I remember being blown away by the transistor radio: all your news and tunes on a device that didn't require a ten-pound battery. Then there was cable TV and video games (quite primitive but fun). Next in the mix was the personal computer, a magical box that led millions of professors to say, "I'll never give up my pen and paper." They did. Enter the cellphone, the tablet, and social media and the massive cultural shift from the nineteen fifties to today is complete. Which leaves us with: What's next?
That's a good question. Naturally, change is always with us: big things, incremental things, but the next "BIG thing" requires a major social and cultural transformation. My own thinking here is that it will, or ought to be – food.
Consider that for thousands of years we've ripped food from the ground or killed it in various ways, prepped it, cooked it, stuffed it into our bellies, and developed massive cultural norms around the process. Food literally consumes a major part of every day for everyone and the process has changed little since some nameless human plucked a quinoa berry from the ground and said, "I think I'll bake a loaf of bread." [I might have made that last part up]
We're still killing things to eat and if our plucking today is from a grocery shelf or kitchen freezer a pluck is still a pluck. If we're standing in front of a microwave instead of crouching over an open fire the goal is still to put heat into the food. In other words, if we were to have some sea change in all of this, what would it be like?
Let's assume for a moment that science has found a way to nurture our bodies without all the fuss and bother of food. Science fiction writers often posit some kind of wondrous pill jam-packed with all necessary nutrients – a product of the lab, of course, and not the flora and fauna. We can assume, too, that it would be made available to all, thus ending hunger and soup kitchens and people waiting in long lines for food handouts.
Good enough for our purposes, but of course a major point of a sea change is that we don't know what form it might take, a simple pill just seems too easy. I'm thinking some major change in human biochemistry would be more likely. The consequences, however, would be interesting.
First, we eliminate food-based agriculture. Our soils no longer need to be pummeled with fertilizers and pesticides, and our farmers can pursue healthier pursuits. Food processing, never a jolly job, from the making of Oreos to the killing of chickens goes next, followed by the environmentally harmful manufacture of heavy farm equipment as well as the noxious production of agricultural chemistry.
Supermarkets, of course, would change radically, most likely morphing into something resembling a Lowe's or Menard's as they give up their Jewel or Kroger functions. The onerous chore of food shopping would be gone, thus returning a bit of free time to the harried shopper.
Then there are the restaurants. The social change here will be massive. The work of cooks can be back breaking, the work of wait staffs demeaning. Eliminating those jobs will add measurably to the happiness quotient in the culture, as will the boarding up of the fast-food emporia. Our young will have to find an alternative to that first-date dining out, and the older folks will have to redefine date night – all of which are easily possible. While we still might be able to keep our taverns for those who like to get together for a drink – a bit of agriculture remaining for the growing of fermentable comestibles – it's not hard to imagine that the science behind our biochemical changes could also find ways to give us a harmless buzz.
Banquets will be a thing of the past, which means that all those gathered for conferences and speeches will be able to focus more directly on just why they are gathered. While we may for a time miss the family feast where we are all staring reverently at some massive turkey or roast while our table groans with the weight of calorific side dishes, we might eventually find that there are really special reasons for a get-together other than filling our bellies.
Of course a major criticism of all of this will be, What's going to happen to all these people who've lost their jobs? Forward-thinkers, innovators, futurists never think about these things nor should they, really. Cultural advances of any sort always have residual side effects, quite often varying degrees of unemployment. Our streets, however, are never littered with the jobless dead. With new things happening, new opportunities arise along with new varieties of jobs. People change. They move on.
I think I'm going to move on to the kitchen and have a cookie.
G.K. Wuori ©2022
Photoillustration by the author