The notion of a food machine that can create food or at least fulfil the nutritional requirements of an aeronaut are a principle, albeit little appreciated, element of any complete science fiction universe. Take, for instance, the ‘Synthetic Food Dispenser’ found in John W. Campbell’s 1934 novel ‘Twilight’. This was a food machine that could create any meal desired from synthetic ingredients – thus disposing man of the need to grow vegetables or breed animals. All meals could be synthesised, perfectly, by the food machine itself. Similarly on board the TARDIS in the Doctor Who series, the creatively named ‘Food Machine’ could dispense any selected meal into foil-wrapped blocks on paper plates. To select a meal, the subject would twist two dials to select an option which the Food Machine would then assemble from molecules of deconstructed fungus. Or, alternatively, take the ‘Nutri-Matic’, the food machine found in the comedy science fiction series “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” written by Douglas Adams. Unlike the ‘Synthetic Food Dispenser’ or the ‘Food Machine’ though, the ‘Nutri-Matic’ was a slightly less successful or appreciated food machine. Though designed to automatically generate a drink that is most likely to be well received by the subject based on the their metabolism, tastebuds and neural pathways – the machine invariably produces “a cupful of liquid that tastes almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea”.
Though such food machines are, to most, a ridiculous and unachievable enterprise confined only to the realm of science fiction, they are not so to the technological innovators of MIT.
Since 2010, MIT researchers have been developing a new concept: ‘digital gastronomy’ in their prototypes donned “Cornucopia”. Not far from the food machines of science fiction, Cornucopia is described by MIT as a digital Chef capable of automatically mixing ingredients and transforming food matter from one state to another to create fully formed meals. Meaning that the food machines of science fiction may realistically be the gastronomy of the future.