What will the kitchen of 2115 look like, and will our great-grandchildren be regularly tucking in to delicious stem-cell burgers? William Sitwell ruminates on some possible culinary futures.
As the remnants of the Virgin Galactic spacecraft are picked off the floor of the Mojave Desert and slowly pieced together by safety investigators in a secure warehouse, the sceptics will roll their eyes. Surely the idea of space tourism, or of getting from London to Sydney in an hour, are just fruitless pipe dreams. How could such a thing ever become a regular part of domestic life?
As early airplanes crashed, doubtless the cynics felt the same thing. There was similar tutting when in 1893 an ice-storage plant in Chicago exploded. To make ice in late nineteenth century America, scientists compressed ammonia, which is liable to explode. And then, again in Chicago, an early prototype of a refrigerator used potentially lethal methyl chloride that leaked out and caused a number of deaths.
Next time you open your fridge to pluck out a chilled bottle of wine, or to grab some ice from the freezer compartment, ponder on the fact that people died on the journey to producing a kitchen gadget that you would think absurd not to have.
Try switching your fridge off for a few days and see how long you can cope. How long before the milk goes off, the broccoli tires, until everything needs chucking out? Imagine how our ancestors would have reacted on seeing toasters, blenders, coffee pod machines, taps dispensing boiling hot water.
The fridge began to take off in the US in the 1920s; Britain woke up to them in the 1930s, although by 1948 only two per cent of the UK population possessed one. Today, fridge ownership is almost a right, more crucial to many than having the vote.
So what will our kitchens look like in one hundred years from now? Will they be flooded with new technology that may sound whacky now, but will be considered with little more than a nonchalant shrug in 2115?
Of course, many of the future’s foodie gizmos will be dictated by digital technology. Cookbooks will be antique relics as we conjure up holograms of our favourite celebrity chefs. They’ll talk us through recipes and we’ll be able to stop them, ask questions, or just pause them so we can gaze upon and walk around the ones we fancy.
A computer will also control many of our domestic food needs. Recipes will be suggested to cope with our nutritional needs (following a computerised diagnosis, at the touch of a finger), packaging will sense when the contents are low and re-order them from our favourite megamarket. Our fridges will be as smart as our mobiles, telling us what ingredients are in stock, linking with our store cupboards to suggest recipes. Food that’s nearing its sell-by date will move to the front, encouraging you to polish off that taramasalata, or make a sauce with that moulding cheddar.
Meanwhile, even while we are at work, apps on our phones will switch on our ovens, stoves will sense when things are cooked so nothing burns, and nifty in-built jet sprays will clean the ovens (after the food’s been removed, naturally).
And, as exotic as a fridge once seemed, we’ll have miniature glass-enclosed gardens which will re-create climates from exotic countries so we can grow our own selections of global herbs, fruit or veg. Doubtless, a smart composter will degrade packaging and food waste to produce fertiliser for our tiny, bespoke indoor glasshouses.
It’s likely, too, that 3-D printers will become ubiquitous. Imagine ingredients stored in powdered form in cartridges that at the touch of a few buttons will combine to create food; not just soups, but burgers, chips, pasta, biscuits…the possibilities are endless.
Meanwhile, away from the home, as producing meat becomes economically and ecologically unviable, we’ll see the likes of steak created in labs; and not a single cow will have to die so you can eat its flesh.
Of course, whether a stem-cell burger will taste quite like the real thing is another matter. Imagine no real, juicy fat? But for those who just wish to consume fast food, it will make no difference; the artificial flavour enhancers will continue to satisfy every lardy burger-muncher with their addictive combination of sugar and salt.
Such pronouncements all sound exciting and, indeed, many are not that far from reach already. But the reality may be quite different. Population growth that leads to poverty and power shortages will no doubt mean that the future is, for many, a struggle to switch a light on, or to get some heating, rather than a matter of robotic cleaners or rehydrated kale.
Man/womankind likes to retreat to the basics, minimalism often being the most fashionable goal for the wealthiest. Perhaps a luxurious foodie future will simply be one where we have the time to grow our own food and cook from scratch. There may be holiday resorts where mobile signals are barred, where we live for days without looking at screens and where foodie bliss is learning how to churn your own butter.
While the gastronomic future may well be technologically complex, for many of us who love what’s important about food – sharing, getting as close to the origins of a dish as is possible (growing your veg, keeping your pig) – the most defining characteristic of the next culinary century might just be simplicity.
(reproduced courtesy of HIX magazine) www.hixrestaurants.co.uk