For­get the food­ies — the fu­ture is fast food

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - by Chris Nut­tall-smith

A in Mi­lan, Ikea un­veiled a pro­to­type for its kitchen of the fu­ture. The fu­ture, for all its prom­ise, looked grimly sim­i­lar to the now. The space fea­tured fall-apart saucepans and imsy plas­tic uten­sils that dan­gled from a peg­board, and its colour scheme fell some­where on the con­tin­uum be­tween “Ash­tray” and “Deathly Pal­lor.” There were, how­ever, some prop­erly fu­tur­is­tic touches. There was a “mind­ful” wa­ter sys­tem for re­duc­ing waste and a magni cently com­pli­cated re­cy­cling area. And, in place of a stove, there was a “Ta­ble for Liv­ing,” over which the home cooks of to­mor­row will not only eat their three square but also re­search recipes (via the Ai-equipped in­struc­tional pro­jec­tion sys­tem), weigh their fresh toma­toes (via its built-in scale), and sauté chicken thighs (cour­tesy of in­vis­i­ble in­duc­tion burn­ers) — all, one hopes, with­out set­ting the kids on re. What Ikea’s de­sign­ers didn’t seem to have con­sid­ered, though, was that the kitchens of the fu­ture won’t need scales or saucepans, much less whole in­gre­di­ents, be­cause at-home food prepa­ra­tion will be re­served for the very poor and the idle, if idio­syn­cratic, rich. Al­ready, in 2018, “cook­ing at home” is as likely to mean as­sem­bling a pro­cessed meal or re­heat­ing a frozen dish as it does work­ing with whole in­gre­di­ents. Ac­cord­ing to one mar­ket­ing-anal­y­sis com­pany, Cana­di­ans now spend fewer than fteen min­utes pre­par­ing a typ­i­cal meal, and re­searchers from Dal­housie Uni­ver­sity and the Uni­ver­sity of Guelph have said that, in fewer than twenty years, Cana­di­ans may be spend­ing half of their food bud­gets on take­out and pre­pared foods. Fol­low that trend line an­other few decades, and it’s hard to imag­ine that any­one will re­mem­ber how to hold a chef ’s knife. Our march to full fast-food na­tion­hood won’t be all that bad, though. In re­cent years, the cat­e­gory has grown to in­clude more than Big Macs and party-sized Grease Lover’s piz­zas — it’s the or­ganic salad sta­tion in your neigh­bour­hood gro­cer, the made-to-or­der masala dosa in the food court, and the cor­ner food truck’s slow-growth, free-range chicken with cous­cous and apri­cots. Given all of fast food’s pos­si­ble per­mu­ta­tions, it seems rea­son­able that our din­ing choices will soon be lim­it­less. Crav­ing a raw açaí bark and va­le­rian-root sun­dae while on your couch at 2 a.m.? Watch for it at your drone port in ex­actly ve min­utes (no tip­ping re­quired). Yet while fast food will largely sever us from our kitchens in the short term, ad­vances in food tech­nol­ogy will de­liver the inal cut not long af­ter. In the com­ing years, lab­grown stand-ins will likely re­place many of our cur­rent gro­cery-store sta­ples, and “cook­ing,” such as it is, will be re­served for the spe­cial­ists. In Sil­i­con Val­ley, one com­pany has cre­ated pass­able cow’s milk and other “dairy” prod­ucts with­out the need for an ac­tual cow. Ge­net­i­cally modi ed yeasts are used to pro­duce milk-speci c pro­teins and chem­i­cals to brew the sub­sti­tute bev­er­age. An­other com­pany, this one backed by Bill Gates, uses a sim­i­lar yeast tech­nol­ogy to man­u­fac­ture a plant-based heme, which mim­ics the mol­e­cule that gives beef much of its meaty avour. That lab-made heme has be­come the key in­gre­di­ent in the busi­ness’s veg­e­tar­ian Im­pos­si­ble Burger, which re­cently launched in the United States. Given these break­throughs, it isn’t hard to imag­ine that, with a few decades of progress, the pro­duc­tion of whole foods — milk and meat, spices and avour­ings, even fruits and veg­eta­bles — might soon be­come un­nec­es­sary and even ir­re­spon­si­ble. Take the peach: to grow a sin­gle fruit, farm­ers in Ge­or­gia need to plant a tree on valu­able land, ir­ri­gate it with near-price­less wa­ter, and treat it with nox­ious pes­ti­cides. Once the peach has been har­vested, work­ers need to truck it half­way across the con­ti­nent. All of this takes a lot of time and money — not to men­tion its eco­log­i­cal im­pact. Now what if I told you that a Mas­sachusetts rm is brew­ing the same chem­i­cal com­pound that gives fresh sum­mer peaches their taste, no trees nec­es­sary? Syn­thetic food might soon be­come the only rea­son­able choice. This might all sound slightly dystopic. If it’s any con­so­la­tion, there’s no rea­son that home cook­ing can’t live on as a strange and en­dear­ing a ec­ta­tion, sort of like sock darn­ing or mag­a­zine read­ing. I, for one, plan to sup­ple­ment my diet of fast-food sal­ads and cryo-frozen faux­tuc­cini with boot­leg home-baked cob­blers and semi-an­nual black-mar­ket beef­steaks. My great-grand­kids will prob­a­bly cluck their tongues and call me a di­nosaur. Which is ne, I sup­pose. It’s prob­a­bly bet­ter that they don’t know what they’re miss­ing.

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