Thursday, May 1, 2008

Foods of the Future (Past)


"These prophecies will seem strange, almost impossible. Yet, they have come from the most learned and conservative minds in America."

So began a December 1900 Ladies Homes Journal article, What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years. I've been studying that article and similar stories published in 1922 and 1950. Yet another article, 1961's Will Life be Worth Living in 2,000 AD? concluded:

"It looks as if everything will be so easy that people will probably die from sheer boredom."

These various forecasts of the future looked at agriculture, communications, transportation, energy production, warfare, medicine, and daily life. While the commentators were at times uncannily accurate in their predictions, they just as often missed the mark completely.



Take, for instance, the outlook for food production and diet in the year 2000. The LHJ story published in 1900, well before the Wright Brothers' first flight, predicted "fast-flying refrigerators on land and sea will bring delicious fruits from the tropics and southern temperate zones within a few days."

The author continued, "Delicious oranges will be grown in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Cantaloupes and other summer fruits will be of such a hardy nature that they can be stored through the winter as potatoes are now."

And oh how grand the fruits of the year 2000 would be!

"Strawberries as large as apples will be eaten by our great great grandchildren for their Christmas dinners a hundred years hence. Raspberries and blackberries will be as large. One will suffice for the fruit course of each person."



These advances in agriculture were to have been made possible with revolutionary new farming techniques:

"Winter will be turned into summer and night into day by the farmer. In cold weather he will place heat-conducting electric wires under the soil of his garden and thus warm his growing plants. He will also grow large gardens under glass. At night his vegetables will be bathed in powerful electric light, serving, like sunlight, to hasten their growth. Electric currents applied to the soil will make valuable plants grow larger and faster, and will kill troublesome weeds. Rays of colored light will hasten the growth of many plants. Electricity applied to garden seeds will make them sprout and develop unusually early."

Upon reading the next prediction, I immediately thought of chicken...boneless, skinless chicken:

"Food animals will be bred to expend practically all of their life energy in producing meat, milk, wool and other by-products. Horns, bones, muscles and lungs will have been neglected."



Today’s pizza delivery service would have come as no surprise to Ladies Home Journal readers of 1900:

"Food will be served hot or cold to private houses in pneumatic tubes or automobile wagons. The meal being over, the dishes used will be packed and returned to the cooking establishments where they will be washed. Such wholesale cookery will be done in electric laboratories rather than in kitchens."

A 1922 article from a German newspaper didn't have as much to say about food in the year 2000, simply that:

"The people will eat mostly synthetic products."

In 1950, Robert Heinlein compiled his predictions in a magazine article, Pandora's Box. In the year 2000, according to Heinlein, "fish and yeast will become our principle sources of proteins. Beef will be a luxury; lamb and mutton will disappear."

Eleven years after the Heinlein article, the forecast was:

"Food won't be very different from 1961, but there will be a few new dishes - instant bread, sugar made from sawdust, foodless foods (minus nutritional properties), juice powders and synthetic tea and cocoa. Energy will come in tablet form."



The writer from 1961 had the vision to see the potential of solar energy and recycling:

"Cooking will be in solar ovens with microwave controls. Garbage will be refrigerated, and pressed into fertiliser pellets."

So, as Walter Cronkite always said, "That’s the way it is." Or in this case, "that’s the way it almost was."

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