The Futuristic Food We’ll Be Eating in 2018
From upscale gelatin to lab-grown meat, futuristic food is taking a campy turn.
Image credit Donald Iain Smith
We used to know what the future looked like. There would be flying cars, enlightened space travel and glittering cities that pierced the clouds; or, alternately, brains in jars, people eating people, and nuclear war survivors racing across the desert. But today, you can get a pair of “Back to the Future” power-lacing Nike Mag sneakers on Grailed for $9,000, hoverboards are banned by the MTA, and the first robot citizen just issued her first blasé rejection of a marriage proposal. The bits of fictionalized future that have wormed their way in the present aren’t all that scintillating—they’re subject to return policies and transit etiquette.
This, perhaps, is why futuristic food is experiencing such a campy, maximalist moment. The initial shock of dystopian products like lab-grown meat and Soylent has been felt and absorbed. (The first lab-grown burger was consumed in 2013 and Soylent’s meal-replacement powder debuted in 2014.) We’re no longer asking how society changes when we genetically manipulate our food, but whether we’re the type of person who picks up veggie burgers engineered to “bleed” at Whole Foods, or if we prefer the grass-fed, local beef behind the meat counter. Either choice can feel utopian.
“There is a kind of escapism to food,” said Amanda Shapiro, the editor of Bon Appetit’s Healthyish site. “If you look at the extremes in all aspects of our culture right now, people are falling to these polar opposites.” Contrasting modern frontiersmen with Silicon Valley Solyent-guzzlers, Shaprio told me, “It can seem unrealistic to say that meat grown in a Petri dish can cure climate change, and it’s also unrealistic to say that everyone should have a pig in their backyard to slaughter. I think there’s an equally delusional aspect to both sides.”
So raise a glass of meal-replacement drink to the futuristic food trends of 2018, from algae bars to dressed-up gelatin. If it looks, smells, and tastes like science fiction—even when the science doesn’t entirely add up—it can be fun, and works as a distraction from the dystopias of the present. And who knows? Some of it might end up shaping the future.
The meal replacement goes self-aware in 2018. Founded by artist and former Soylent flavorist Sean Raspet, nonfood's first product is the Nonbar, a petrol-black Klondike-esque square made of algae, an ingredient chosen for its low environmental impact and nutrient density. Raspet told me over email that nonfood challenges dichotomies between nature and technology. “We see Nonfood as not just a food brand but a culture as well,” he wrote. “A lot of us have a background in art and culture and we want to see it as a platform for experimentation in terms of how the product is presented and advertised. We’ve obviously ignored the advice of the brand consultants and food industry people we've met, many of whom tell us to change our name.” (Check out their website, which looks like a fun, earnest cousin of disimages.)
Vegan food startup Hampton Creek raised eyebrows last June when they announced their foray into the cutthroat world of lab-grown meat—and promised that a product would reach stores by the end of 2018. They would be the first company to do so. (Already on sale are plant-based facsimiles like Impossible Burger and the Beyond Meat Burger.) Lab-grown meat uses a small sample of animal cells to grow flesh in a lab, without injuring the donor livestock. Hampton Creek’s competitors include Mosa Meat and Memphis Meats, but none has yet cracked the code to make a meat palatable and inexpensive enough for commercial production. There hasn’t yet been a public test of Hampton Creek’s futuristic meat, but Mosa Meat’s 2013 one-off burger, which cost $325,000 to produce, tasted “like an animal-protein cake.” That might change in 2018.
From the purgatory of Jell-O shots and quivering 1960s tuna salads, I predict that gelatin will make a comeback in 2018 and assume its rightful place on minimalist menus. It’s an easy way to distill food to a limited set of variables: flavor, color, opacity, firmness. I first noticed Cool Gelatin on the monochromatic menu of food visionary Jen Monroe; in one Instagram post, she refers to a grid of milky gelatin cubes as swatches.
ALL THE RIGHT PATHOGENS
Juicero founder Doug Evans, presumably still smarting from the unsurprising collapse of a company that sold a $400 juice-packet-squeezing machine, has found his new calling in raw water. The trend isn’t Evans’s sole invention, though: popular in Silicion Valley and sold by companies like Live Water and Tourmaline Spring, the spring water is bottled at its source and eschews any water treatment processes that would remove minerals (and dangerous pathogens like E. coli and giardia). The raw water movement takes the baton from probiotic and biodynamic foods and runs back around to the 1850s, when outbreaks of cholera were common and life expectancy was around 40 years. “I feel very vibrant on its consumption,” Evans told the Washington Post.
Conspiracy theories about government mind control abound and we’re all a bit anxious about our own redundancy. Enter nootropics, the brain-capacity-boosting drug of choice for the age of late capitalism. They’re for everyone , and everything—one memory-improving ingredient, bacopa, appears in both Gwenyth Paltrow’s “Why Am I So Effing Tired?” vitamin pack and Alex Jones’s Brain Force Plus capsules. You can start with Nootrobox by HVMN, and more arcane fare abounds on Reddit. (Please consult your doctor before doing Reddit nootropics.)