Food printing right now is limited to stuff like pasta and candy. Simple stuff with few ingredients.
But imagine a day when it’s quick and simple to print a burger or pizza or steak.
I don’t know that day will come — it’s difficult to imagine the incredible advances it would take to do such a thing.
But if it gets done it seems likely to proceed like computer tech, from bulky and expensive to cheap and ubiquitous in a generation or two.
Maybe by 2218 we’ll see something like that. It would knock the guts out of the restaurant industry. Make famine response easier. Probably make us all even fatter. It might kill the cooking professions, or make them boutique commodities for rich showoffs.
I would totally buy a food printer. I’d print a box of meringues right now.
(This first appeared on my Patreon page a full week ago. Become a patron and see posts early!)
The internet of things and 3-D printing may soon combine to create a powerhouse of personal convenience. Kitchens that order groceries and cook them for their owners, printers that can print out many simple and some complex foods. It’s beginning now — pilot devices and services like instant-order buttons for staple items that work great until a kid gets hold of them or there’s a glitch and a pallet of laundry detergent or flour sitting in front of your door next time you come home.
3-D printers are already printing simple candies and pasta and breakfast cereal in complex shapes and colors.
Add in a household robot and you have a kitchen that orders starch cartridges and a robot that prints pasta when you run low and cooks it for you. Very convenient — or it may be in a few years.
There are, as I suggested above, some bugs in the process to work out.
Malware is a big one.
There has already been an internet of things ransomware incident, for example. Ransomware demands a cash payment or it will set your thermostat at 99 degrees F in 24 hours.
No reason it couldn’t do the same to your 3-D printer or kitchen or household robot.
But not all malware is ransomware. Some of it is malicious for ‘fun’. And occasionally it’s really vicious.
There is malware that wrecks your computer — which can set someone back some serious money, and cause less well-off households a serious crisis. If something like that hit our household PCs… well, I have no damn idea how my wife and I would do our online coursework from mobile phones, we couldn’t afford to replace the PCs for a good long while, I’d have a hell of a time publishing anything here or anywhere else much less submitting short stories anywhere. And perhaps we could accomplish some of those things at a local library. I’d love to plug passwords that control my Patreon and WordPress and Smashwords and Amazon and Google accounts into a public computer… you see my point.
Or, as the internet of things becomes more pervasive, malware may affect your home in different ways, as in this thirteen word story.
With great convenience comes great peril, Peter Parker might say. Or something like that.
Could the future be so cruel?
I love food, and it shows in my fiction. There aren’t many stories I write that go by without the characters having a meal. I’m working on a story now, and my characters just finished a Kazakh-inspired meal of mutton and rice with dried fruit and garlic. In Kitty Itty And The Seawall Broke, mother and son enjoy a lunch of bread with ham-seasoned foraged beans on a North Carolina coast impovershed by the effects of sea level rise. Sudden homelessness does not deter the hero of Isolation from munching down on some hot crispy cuy in an underground kitchen. Even in super-short Labor Of Love, the alcohol-addicted protagonist takes time out from his quest for drink to scarf down a couple of “Kraut and Cheezies” from a fast-food joint.
It’s not that I always write when I’m hungry — though I can just about always find room for a snack. It’s that food is often forgotten in fiction. Food, after all, is not the main part of the story. It’s not the point. It shouldn’t be center stage, except in the rarest of circumstances, as in Pig where the central situation is that the main character’s food begins talking to her, begging her piteously not to consume it — much to her dismay.
But most of the time, the food is an aside, and it’s a challenge to integrate it into a story and not have it stick out like it doesn’t belong. But, for me, writing is about life, just as eating is about life. In the real world, people socialize around food. They think about food. They worry about whether they have enough money to buy groceries that will last until next paycheck, they worry if the meat department will have the right sized rib roast for Easter dinner, they’re afraid they’ve burnt the toast, they invite colleagues to talk business over tapas, they stop for food on the way to the hospital to visit a sick relative, they ask the kids how the school week went over Saturday morning eggs and bacon.
They’ll do all of these things in the future, too. Oh, some details may change. Maybe the kids will go to school via internet instead of taking the bus. Maybe the meat will be grown in a nutrient solution rather than on the hoof. Maybe the pasta will be made in a printer instead of rolled out in a factory. Interstellar colonists may eat alien fruit, or aliens might come to nosh on us, as so many stories have suggested.
But unless something very radical indeed happens, like the whole world up and loading itself into a virtual reality, we’ll always have the social nexus and sensory joy of eating food. And maybe, if we’re all virtual beings, we’ll still choose to do it anyway, even if it’s unnecessary.
Because food is comforting. Eating is primal and elemental to us. Mealtimes, for time immemorial, have cemented families and friendships. So given how vital it has been and is to human society, I like to carry that vitality into the future as I imagine it.