Meals to Come
A History of the Future of Food
Publication Year: 2006
Published by: University of California Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
Food is important. In fact, nothing is more basic. Food is the first of the essentials of life, our biggest industry, our greatest export, and our most frequently indulged pleasure. Food means creativity and diversity. As a species, humans are omnivorous; we have tried to eat virtually everything on the globe, and our ability to turn a remarkable array of raw substances ...
PART I. Debating the Future of Food
1. The Stakes in Our Steaks
Stories about the future tend toward large abstractions. In part this is simply because the future is an abstraction; it has not happened yet. And it is also because futurists like to think about major dynamics and drivers: population growth, demographic variables, renewable resources, carrying capacity, economic development, industrialization, and so on. Similarly ...
2. The Debate: Will the World Run Out of Food?
The Anglo-American debate about future food supplies has gone through several spikes or cycles, becoming more pressing at particular periods— for example, the 1790s, 1890s, 1920s, late 1940s, 1960s and 1970s, and 1990s. Why has anxiety about food running out been higher in certain periods? What events and crises have aroused such worries? How has ...
3. The Deep Structure of the Debate [Includes Image Plates]
Having identified the conditions that precipitate food security worries— inflation, demographic spikes, environmental crises, cultural anxieties— it is time to take stock of the enduring conventions and patterns, the deep structure, of the debate about the future of food. While many historians might hesitate to speak in generalities about a two-century period, such ...
PART II. Imagining the Future of Food
4. The Utopian Caveat
While all forecasts aim to be self-fulfilling—to invent the future—not all forecasts are equally effective. For a forecast to make its mark, it needs to be communicated well. In the business of communication, it is the superior storytellers who can parlay their skills to gain power. Take Ronald Reagan or, even better, Walt Disney, whose “imagineers” literally engineered ...
A vibrant forum for discussion of social and scientific hubris, the dystopian story dates at least as far back as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). Utopia’s evil twin, the dystopian story starts with the same speculative question: Can we invent a better, indeed a perfect, world? But the answers are quite different, mainly because dystopian writers refuse to ...
PART III. Things to Come
6. The Classical Future
If we were to focus solely on recent policy debates (part I) or on the more vivid, predominantly dystopian fantasies of the past half century (part II),we could quite possibly become terminally depressed, for according tomost of these visions tomorrow’s dinner prospects look precarious indeed. Even many cornucopian think tankers stipulate that the world ...
7. The Modernist Future
The modernist future is one of radical discontinuities, of unprecedented needs, drives, and breakthroughs. It celebrates purity, shortcuts, simplification, automation, and mass production while dismissing soil,sweat, labor, craftsmanship, and ornament. Its favorite forms are tubes,beakers, buttons, domes, dials, and tunnels—the tools of engineering. ...
8. The Recombinant Future
As reductio ad absurdum expressions of modernism, both algae and the meal pill broke too sharply with traditional food practices and values. Foods of the recombinant future are by comparison less threatening because they blend the radicalness of the modern with the familiarity of the classic. Recombination reflects the fact that people will accept only ...
So where are we headed? How do we decide which trends, inventions, and ideologies will transform the future and which ones will be remembered as laughable nonstarters? It is all too easy for a history of the future to dwell on “famous last words,” those confident predictions that prove to be dead wrong. Take, for example, Victor Cohn’s scenario from ...
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a whole world to write a book. Thanks first of all to that wondrous global data depot, the Library of Congress, which once again overwhelmed me with more sources than I could possibly handle. The University of Maryland Baltimore County gave me several semesters off, some research and travel support, and ...