As the future approaches like a runaway train, one of the more pressing issues facing our species is how we plan to feed our ever-growing population. Rob Rhinehart, a software engineer from the United States, thinks he has a solution: Soylent is an “open-source” nutritional drink which can be used as a complete food replacement system. The raw materials for Soylent are purchased in bulk from the website, and Kickstarter backers received their first shipments this May. All you really need to do is add water, but as the “source code” for basic human nutrition is now available, many enterprising food futurists have begun tweaking the recipe for themselves. The name for the system comes from Harry Harrison’s 1966 science fiction novel Make Room! Make Room! which was adapted into the paranoia-inducing Charlton Heston film Soylent Green in 1973.
As this is a case where reality is literally stranger than the fiction that inspired it, we here at the pulp thought we’d introduce you to some more unorthodox approaches to food from pop culture. While The Matrix brought us discussion of what flavours will mean once robots are in charge, and Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer is revolting viewers with what its underclass is forced to subsist on, here’s a few deeper cuts. Who knows, maybe some of these ideas might make it on to your plate in the near future.
Slurm and Bachelor Chow
Futurama, Matt Groening’s chronicle of the year 3000 and beyond, appears to finally have met its end after numerous resurrections, but over the years it’s given us at least two hilarious future foodstuffs. Slurm is a radioactively-green soft drink much beloved by Philip J. Fry, the cryogenically-frozen main character of the series. In the episode “Fry and the Slurm Factory,” Fry and friends feature in many Willy Wonka-inspired gags before the truth of how they make the delicious concoction is revealed: the secret, and only, ingredient in Slurm is actually the secretions by a giant alien Slurm Queen! Fry is horrified by the revelation, but then he takes another sip of the highly addictive beverage, warm from the process. Futurama also features the prominent placement of a hilarious meal replacement called Bachelor Chow, which essentially beat Soylent to the punch by about ten years. On the show it basically looks like dog food for lazy humans, but the wonderful YouTube channel Feast of Fiction makes it seem like more chocolatey breakfast cereal:
(Bachelor Chow is also the name of a popular Soylent recipe as well.)
The Space Merchants
This novel by Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth was originally serialized in Galaxy Science Fiction under the name “Gravy Planet,” and hit store shelves in 1953. If you’re a fan of Mad Men and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, I would definitely recommend this novel, as it deserves to be much more well-known. The Space Merchants deftly satirizes the duplicitous worlds of advertising and big business, and extrapolates upon how they might continue to be used to pacify people. Mitch Courtenay is a hotshot copywriter working at an ad agency in the overpopulated Earth of the near future. He gets his big break when he’s tasked with putting together a new campaign to get colonists to move to Venus, soft-pedalling the arduous terraforming operations needed to sustain life, of course. Soon he gets mixed up in a madcap series of adventures leading him to question the hyper-capitalist society that grants him his privileged status.
The book is especially prescient in its use of language, as it marks one of the first instances of the word “muzak” in pop culture, and it also pioneered the term “R&D”. It also features something called “Chicken Little,” which our horrified protagonist finds out is a gigantic vat-grown organism fed by algae scum. Slices of the giant, pulsating mass are sheared off by workers, and sent to fast food joints all across the planet. Yum!
Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
The Oddworld video games were some of the most well-loved and critically acclaimed on the original Playstation and Xbox systems, devilishly hard platformers that valued careful thought, planning and logic over twitchiness and speed. There’s also a speech system in the games, revolutionary for their time, which allows the main characters to talk to other creatures onscreen and get them to help you with puzzles. Abe starts the first game of the series working at RuptureFarms, a gigantic meat processing plant where his people, the Mudokons, are enslaved by the money-grubbing Glukkons. RuptureFarms is running out of products to sell, as Meech Munchies have gone extinct, and Paramite Pies and Scrab Cakes are not appetizing enough to make up for it. When buffing the floor outside an office, Abe wanders into earshot of a board meeting and finds the Mudokons to be next on the menu as the upcoming “New n’ Tasty”! He then sets out to brave the industrial hellscape that is the factory and break out his fellow Mudokons in the process, dodging traps and guards along the way. The game is full of dark humour and over the top violence, and has a surprising amount to say about our industrial food production system and the plight of working people across the world. This was further expanded upon with the sequel to Oddysee, Abe’s Exoddus, where the Mudokons who did not escape the first time are further endangered as their tears and bones are used in the production of a new product, Soulstorm Brew.
Oryx and Crake
Darren Aronofsky, director of Noah, The Wrestler and the massively-underloved The Fountain, plans to make his next project an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy for HBO. This series of books by the preeminent Canadian author of the fantastic features numerous instances of weird food, as it takes place in the remnants of a world where genetic engineering has gone mad. The titular Oryx and Crake have become unto gods to the genetically scrambled remnants of humanity, and we get their story related to us via Snowman, the sole unmodified human on the planet. Among the many nefarious uses of genesplicing pre-apocalypse are ChickieNobs, chickens engineered to have no head, wings or feathers and instead featuring multiple breasts (logical extensions of The Space Merchants’ Chicken Little). There’s also Pigoons, which are half-pig-half-human and originally bred to create transplantable organs for humans, but it’s also joked about that they’re on the menu as pies. As with her most famous book The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood’s depiction of the future seems on the outset to be ridiculous, impossible even, but keep an eye on the news, as every day we’re getting closer to her strange future.
Did I miss any of your delectable dishes from science fiction? Let me know in the comments section below.
CC cover photo credit: wallpapervortex.com.