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Vogue

Will Scientists Determine the Future of Food?

My favorite science-fiction novel many years ago was The Space Merchants, by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth. Planet Earth is overcrowded and running out of everything. Ordinary people must shower and bathe in salt water. The milk they drink is produced in vats through the action of specialized yeast. Most of the animal protein they eat comes from Chicken Little, a vast mass of living flesh kept alive by nutrients circulating through a network of pipes and tubes that run around and through her. All day, workers clamber about this mountain of pulsating chicken protoplasm swinging long, curved, razor-sharp blades, and slice off thick slabs of flesh, which go on to be trimmed, shaped, flavored, cooked, frozen, packaged, and eventually eaten.

The book is a science-fiction classic, but I especially remember the food parts. And they have me worried. The Space Merchants may have been written way back in 1952, but I fear that the Earth is coming to resemble this dystopia—except that we have not yet managed to create a Chicken Little (or begun to relocate underground on Venus). By any measure, Chicken Little is way overdue.

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