Off the keyboard of RE
Published on the Doomstead Diner on November 22, 2015
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Back when I was a kid in the 60's and a firm believer in Sci-Fi fantasies of how we would eventually be rocketing off the Earth, first to the Moon, then to Mars and then eventually to other Stars and Solar Systems, along with many others of my generation I was a Star Trek fan, or "Trekkie" as we called ourselves in those years.
Amongst the many other far fetched inventions of Star Trek were "Food Replicators". In order to do a work around to the rather intractable problem of how to keep a crew of 400 or so folks fed while doing intergalactic travel, rather than try to set the sets with hydropnically grown food, various livestock, aquaculture etc, they came up with the idea of having a Food "Replicator", which essentially created any food from pure energy, sort of like their Transporters worked. The computer had a complete database of foods from all over the Universe, and could take enrgy from their supply of Dilithium Crystals and directly convert this into any food you had a hankering to eat! A whole lot faster and easier than cooking too!
As it turns out, it wasn't that far fetched, because right around the same time the first "TV Dinners" came out. My particular favorite of the very small selection in those years was the Fried Chicken Dinner, which came with mashed potatoes and a vegetable medley of corn, peas and carrots.
As you will note from the pic at the right, in those days the dinner came in a metal tray, because there were no Microwaves and you had to throw it in the oven for around 30-40 minutes to get it reheated. It wasn't quite as instantaneous as the Replicator on Star Trek, and you didn't have a selection of all foods in the Universe at the time, in fact there were only about 3 or 4 varieties as i recall. "Salisbury Steak", Meat Loaf, Fish Sticks beside the Chicken.
As time went by of course, the number of Frozen Food complete meals as well as specific dishes EXPLODED, and today if you walk into your typical Food Superstore int he FSoA, there are ailes and aisles of Freezers with, well, every food in the Known Universe. Today, you can get Pizza, Chicken Kiev etc and "cook" it up inside of 5 minutes in your Microwve Oven!
We got the Food Replicators after all!. Well almost. It's not quite instantaneous, you do have to drive your SUV to the store to buy the stuff, you can't just tell the computer what to make for you to eat. There is a bigger problem than that though.
No Dilythium Crystals!
How energy intensive it is to supply food this way should be obvious. Not only does it take copioius fossil fuel based fertilizer to grow all the raw foods that go into these pre-packaged meals, they have to be pre-cooked, then frozen and transported, kept frozen until you are ready to eat them, then heated up all over again for consumption! How incredibly wasteful of energy this whole food production, packaging and delivery system cannot be measured, but to anyone brought up with the Star Tek meme, energy just wasn't a worry, not a problem. That endles cornucopia of food selections would not just always be there, but it would keep getting bigger and better in terms of selection all the time, and easier and quciker to cook up too!
In fact, there is a whole generation of people who not only have no idea of how to grow food, they have no idea how to even prepare food for eating if it doesn't come in a microwaveable package or a can, or is prepared for them at Mickey D's.
In my early years I did learn to cook, and got better with it over time, but the convenience and ease of just buying a microwaveable was as seductive for me as anyone else, and for the last 20 years up to just recently I subsisted on these foods. It's a pain inthe ass to cook for just yourself, its' time consuming between the preparation and the cleanup, and then if you spend that much time you want to cook up a decent size batch of whatever it is you are making, and then you have to store the leftovers and want to eat them before they go bad on you. A batch of Spaghetti Sauce is a good example, how many nights in a row of Spaghetti with Sausage and Meatballs do you really want to eat? Much easier just to Nuke a single size serving from a frozen dinner.
The other small problem that Star Trek skirted over with their Food Replicators was the whole problem of actually GROWING it. As many of us are aware now, it takes huge resources of soil and water to get good yields from typical agricultural practices, and there are whole swaths of many countries where they are running out of both. Even if you HAD unlimited energy from Dilithium Crystals, you still couldn't produce food without that other device that magically turns energy straight into food, which along with Cold Fusion still hasn't been invented, 50 years after the original Star Trek.
Again I think it should be obvious this kind of Magical Invention is not coming down the pipe here, but you still constantly read rumours of Cold Fusion, and of course Renewable Energy is quite often touted s a Savior for maintaining this type of techno-cornucopian lifestyle. However, it's just impoossible for any form of renewable energy to prduce the copious amounts burned up here through the Industrial era utilizing millions of years of stored fossil fuel energy. Distributed and basic forms of Renewable Energy can help us to make a transition and REVERSE ENGINEER to more simple lifestyle, but at nowhere NEAR the per capita energy consumption of current Industrial culture.
How much longer will the Frozen Foods be available at your local Food Emporium in your Industrial neighborhood? That is a tough problem to figure, and it's not going to occur in all neghborhoods at the same rate. The monetary system that currently works to produce and distribute said foods is likely to break down before the actual productive capacity disappears.
This would be a good time to start figuring out how you will produce your food more locally, and how you can reduce your energy footprint, because Dilithium Crystals are not going to be arriving in time to keep those freezers operating.