Second Helpings

Future Shock: Remember the movie Soylent Green? It's set in the nightmarish future, a time of Malthusian misery and want. Everyone's hungry -- there's almost nothing we'd call food available. Instead, folks are nourished by "soylent green." The movie's shocking finale: It turns out that soylent green is made from human flesh. ("It's people! It's people!")

Woody Allen took a more optimistic view of the food future. In Sleeper, he wakes up after a 200-year nap to discover that steak and hot fudge sundaes have become scientifically recognized health foods.

Beard House, the James Beard Foundation's magazine, has also gone into the predicting business. They asked food industry professionals to imagine what we'll be eating in the year 2050.

The answers are all over the map -- some frightened, some hopeful and some just plain silly.

One chef fears everything we eat will be uniform and boring. "All foods will have company-owned patents on flavors and products," he says. A supermarket operator thinks the days of fresh produce will be over, as bruise-resistant fruits and vegetables are genetically bred for longer shelf life, not taste.

A dairy farmer worries that we'll be eating things "derived from things that we are not too happy to hear about." He calls them "analog products. . . . It looks like cheese, it tastes like cheese, but it's really made out of sawdust or kelp."

The owner of New York's famed Carnegie Deli doesn't think pastrami sandwiches are in our future. "There will be nothing on the plate. You'll eat a pill. It'll be pre-measured and pre-planned. You'll get a balanced diet in one pill. You wake up, you take the pill, and that's it." (At the Carnegie Deli, it will no doubt be served by a surly waiter.)

A restaurant entrepreneur isn't so gloomy. "The generation of 2050 will discover the purity of flavors. The now-trendy usage of a multitude of irrelevant herbs, spices and other ingredients will be used only for campy parties that poke fun at the absurdity of the past."

An agriculture professor looks forward to bio-engineered foods, and believes consumers will be happy to pay a premium for them: "These products will be engineered for optimum nutrition, health and food safety. Who would want to back off from that?"

A winemaker also thinks the future looks good. There will be famous grape-growing regions that we don't even know about today. "Heck," he marvels, "they may be growing grapes on Mars."

Faith Popcorn, who makes her living predicting trends for corporate America, foresees "antibiotic spices." And, next to our plates, alongside the fork and knife, "there will be an instrument that tests foods for things like E.coli and influenza."

And what does the one teenager surveyed think about eating in 2050? "People aren't going to have the time to eat, so there's going to be fast food in your home. You'll just go to the kitchen, and instead of a kitchen, you'll have a McDonald's concession."

Start the future without me. -- Howard Seftel

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