Neon Samurai: You know, in all my 29 years, I've never had a real steak.In the future, things are going to change drastically — including our diets. Whether it be from the destruction of arable land, food processing technology becoming cheaper, or just plain ethnocentrism, eventually, real food will become a luxury item, unavailable to all but perhaps an elite few. So, what does the rest eat? Junk food and processed foodstuffs, based usually on soy or yeast or clones, loaded up with artificial flavors and engineered to be nutritionally completenote — but not the least bit tasty or satisfying. Future Food Is Artificial is a staple of Cyber Punk and other Dystopias because Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap, and is often first clue that the Utopia we see isn't quite what it seems. However, it is also common in the Harder varieties of science fiction, particularly Space Operas; gardens on spaceships are Truth in Television, but battery farms on board anything less than a Generation Ship strains just about everyone's Willing Suspension of Disbelief. The Darker And Grittier version of Food Pills (it probably first appeared in fiction as a subversion thereof), and the black sheep cousin to Veganopia. Assuming it's not recycled, this sort of future food usually comes from a Multipurpose Monocultured Crop. If you discover to your horror that the artificial food is people!, that's Human Resources. If it's made from icky vermin because normal livestock are no longer abundant, that's Reduced to Ratburgers on a commercial scale. It's also a component of many Utopias as well; if synthetic food is impossible to distinguish from the real thing, then why would you want to consume the parasitic organisms that pervade just about all food? It is possible that once tasty synthetic food is invented, awareness of contaminated food could become comparable to current awareness of sanitation as opposed to The Dung Ages. The average person might find the idea of choosing to risk food poisoning to be similar to the notion of choosing to risk cholera and dysentery by drinking Cool, Clear Water. Artificial Meat is a specific subtrope where it's only meat that isn't real.
Feral: Meat is overrated. Fruit, on the other hand... You haven't lived until you've tasted real, fresh fruit.
Digger: Drek, I'd be happy to know I was eating every night.
Feral: Meat is overrated. Fruit, on the other hand... You haven't lived until you've tasted real, fresh fruit.
Digger: Drek, I'd be happy to know I was eating every night.
— Shadowrun: Shadowtech Sourcebook
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Anime and Manga
- In Rebuild of Evangelion this is partially the case for humanity. Following Second Impact sea life is all but extinct and many of the coastal arable lands are now underwater. Additional climate changes have devastated agriculture and wildlife, further reducing food sources. The exact amount of replacement food in any given meal is never explicitly stated but what passes for meat is at least two-thirds artificial.
- Also implied in the original series Neon Genesis Evangelion. The fact that Misato, a Colonel working for the agency saving the world, would break her bank buying three steak dinners says something about the new pricing of meat.
- In Vandread the Men of Tarak subsist off of Pellets. Some of these might be better than others.
- In Future Police Urashiman the protagonist Ryuu is hilarious about an deli offering original spaghetti. Sadly it's only for upper class g-men.
- In Psycho-Pass, 99% of Japan's food in 2113 is artificial. It is also all produced in one place, which allows Makishima the chance to destroy Japan's food supply, in order to create societal collapse to make the Sibyl System irrelevant.
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.
- In "FAKE FOOD" Togusa isn't happy when he takes a bite from the lunchbox and finds himself eating food meant for cyborgs.
Togusa: UGGH! What the- This food is for cyborgs — it's gross!
Batou: Relax, it won't kill ya. The only stuff it's made of is 90% gluten with amino-acid based micromachines.
- Subverted when Togusa then hungers for a meat dish that Batou reveals is actually a vegetarian meal made of shiitake mushrooms and gluten, set up to look and taste like meat, a style developed long ago by Buddhist priests.
- In "FAKE FOOD" Togusa isn't happy when he takes a bite from the lunchbox and finds himself eating food meant for cyborgs.
- Judge Dredd
- "Munce" is the staple diet of Mega-City One citizens. It's a kind of high-protein plant, usually highly processed by the time it gets to the consumers because it happens to look like a human head. Sometimes munce is even made out of dead humans.
- Another example is the Gunge product line, consisting of delicacies like the Slime Sauce, Bacteria Soup, Maggot Steaks, Black Widow Spider Wine matured for a week in an old boot, and Mould Jam. When the initial release sparks huge protests, the Justice Department outlaws Gunge, buys the factories, blends the foodstuffs together until it is indefinite mush and re-releases the products under an artificial brand.
- The Treen from Dan Dare have food baths, of all things.
- Transmetropolitan has human meat come from "bastards," cloned humans grown without neural tissue, here the central product of a growing restaurant chain. And a lot of the food is produced by "Makers".
- Seen on a vending machine in The Punisher 2099, "SlimSynth Burgers. Food so good, you'll think it's real!"
- In the Superman universe, this is usually the case for future or alien civilizations. In Argo City -Supergirl's hometown, which survived the destruction of Krypton-, people subsisted on food replicators because the soil was radioactive, ergo, incultivable.
- A Discussed Trope in the Star Trek Online fic Bait and Switch. Eleya opines in an internal monologue that replicated food never tastes quite right, and theorizes that it's because every helping is chemically exactly the same.note Chapter three makes mention of her bringing a big takeout box of handmade jumja sticks back to the ship from an eatery on Deep Space 9.
- Aen'rhien Vailiuri: Sahuel complains that, as oversweetened as she thinks Morgan's tea recipe is, it beats what comes out of the replicator because "replicated just tastes fake."
- In Superman story Superman of 2499: The Great Confrontation, set in the 25th century, most people use artificial food generator units. At one point Kath eats an apple and is shocked by the taste.
She still remembered the tart, crisp taste of her first apple. A real one, not a soysub. The way her blue eyes widened at the unfamiliar, mouth-puckering taste had delighted Adam.
- In Supergirl fanfic Survivors food in Krypton was artificially created. When Kara tastes Earth food for first time she is shocked by how good it tastes.
- In Alien the crew eats synthetic "food" which resembles spaghetti or cabbage. In the movie, there is not much talk of what it is actually made of. In the novelization however, Parker says something to the effect of "Why would you care what it's made of? It's food now." - and it's strongly implied that the "robochef" actually uses the crew's waste to produce the meals.
- Humorously depicted in Brazil, in which meals at a fancy restaurant after an extravagant ordering ritual turned out to be scoops of mush along with a picture of the original meal they were intended to simulate.
- Apparently Luke's ration bars are this in The Empire Strikes Back. Yoda actually asks him "How you get so big eating food of this kind?"
- Judge Dredd has its own send up of this: "Eat recycled food. It's good for the environment and OK for you!"
- Sly (Sylvester Stallone) eats a hamburger made from a rat in Demolition Man while in the Wasteland. Curiously, he seems to dig it, though he seemed a bit surprised/disgusted for a brief moment. Probably because it's the best food period he's had in years. Being in suspended animation for a few decades tends to do that for you, especially with the revelation that he was conscious the entire time. He may also have been playing it up to freak out the surface-dwellers that were with him; they were horrified by the notion of eating meat, and he seems to enjoy making fun of their delicate sensibilities.
- The Matrix
- The disgusting tapioca-like goop that the Neo and his fellow rebels eat. Talked up as "single cell protein combined with synthetic aminos, vitamins, and minerals," which nevertheless tastes like snot.
- When Cypher makes the deal to rebel, he notes that he'd rather be eating virtual steak than that real protein... stuff. In an early draft of the script, the meal of choice is giant cockroach; whether that'd be better or worse than the runny synthetic gruel it ended up being is debatable at best.
- Zion inhabitants manage to grow some mushrooms, but everything else is off-limits, without any sunlight whatsoever.
- They also produce a very small amount of seemingly ordinary bread. A tie-in comic explains that one man went on a suicide mission just to obtain a few grains of wheat from a Machine archive; the Zionites have to grow it using artificial means, and can only make enough bread for a small amount to go around on important holidays, but it's deemed enough of a break from the other stuff to be worth it.
- Flavo Fibes from Overdrawn at the Memory Bank.
- In Soylent Green, the people are forced to subsist on unappetizing synthetic red and yellow biscuits made of soy and lentils, until a novelty product is released... green biscuits. Of course, if the idea of eating plain artificial food wasn't bad enough, the movie has one more gut-punch for you...
- Implied in Trancers. Jack Deth has been sent to the past from the future and is given beef Chinese food, prompting him to say "Beef? Like from a cow?"
- In Snowpiercer, the people at the back of the train all live off of strictly rationed "protein bars", which appears to be a rectangular block of dark, dense gel. After making their way about half-way up the train, the main character finds out protein bars are made of ground up cockroaches. This happens about ten seconds after they find a ton of them and are happy to have as much as they want. He decides not to mention it.
- Pretty much the only type of food available on Earth in Silent Running. And Lowell Freeman, who has eaten vegetables he has himself grown on the ground of the remaining forests of Earth, is the sole member of the crew of the Valley Forge that laments this.
- The plastic porridge in the absurdist Soviet sci-fi comedy Kin-Dza-Dza!. On a planet where even all of the water has been processed into the "lutz" (AKA fuel), so they now need to convert lutz back to just drink, you're lucky to find even that.
- In Blade Runner 2049, due to extensive damage to the ecosystem, all of Earth's food is produced artificially by the Wallace Corporation.
- In William Sleator's House of Stairs, meat is a luxury.
- Isaac Asimov:
- In a good many of his novels, especially the Elijah Baley series, people are vegetarian through no particular choice of their own — the Earth is so overcrowded that real meat is a luxury most people can't afford, and artificial yeast-based proteins grown in vats ("zymoveal") are the food of choice for the working class. Quorn is a real-life equivalent, made from molds instead of yeast.
- His short story The Evitable Conflict features pleasant yeast-copies of steak, and mentions they can copy anything from meat to crystallized fruit.
- But in the late Foundation novels, some of these yeast-based proteins are luxury foods grown on Trantor in the Mycogen sector. Bland gloop exists, too, for mass consumption. And the Mycogenians keep the very best for themselves; our protagonist gets to try one little morsel that is described in almost orgasmic terms.
- Another short story, "Good Taste," focuses on the orbiting colony Gammer, where fungus/yeast based cuisine is Serious Business and all recipes are based on standard extracts. The protagonist enters (and wins) the annual cooking contest, and the chief judge raves about his entry until he admits that the key ingredient was a ground bulb of naturally-grown garlic. The judge immediately vomits at the idea of having eaten "A growth from the dirt" and the protagonist is banished. His mother's parting words are; "Can’t you see, Minor-mine, that what you did was not in..."
- In his Lucky Starr juvenile novels the yeast farms feature again and are often a plot point.
- The Lost Boys in House of the Scorpion live off of plankton. Subverted in the fact that it is not done out of necessity, better food exists and is obtainable, but because the Keepers won't feed them anything more decent. One character mentions the plankton is used only for animal feed.
- In The Space Merchants (by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth), there's a giant growing fleshy lump called "Chicken Little" (it was originally a piece of chicken heart tissue) that they carve slices off: the working man's "meat". Better yet, it's fed by hundreds of tubes carrying raw yeast in from a multi-story yeast farm above it, tended by hordes of perpetually abused sweatshop workers.
- One of Kilgore Trout's stories in Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions tells of a planet where all food is made from petroleum and coal, because its animal and plant life had been destroyed by pollution. The planet's dirty movies showed vivid color footage of people eating fruit, meat, vegetables, and other such foods that didn't exist any more.
- Heechee Saga:
- Robinette Broadhead was a "food miner" before accepting the Call to Adventure; specifically, he mined oil shale that would be processed to grow fungi that would be processed into food. Bob wonders at one point about the days when oil flowed out of the ground and people just used it to run cars.
- The second book in the series Beyond the Blue Event Horizon has a huge Heechee spaceship which mines resources from space (such as comets) and processes it into food. The book notes than carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen (these give the food the in-universe moniker CHON) are some of the most common elements in the universe, and also the main elements in the organic molecules which we can consume for food. For the record, those four elements alone make up for 97 percent of your own body.
- Vorkosigan Saga:
- Minor subversion. Cordelia, the protagonist, is from a utopia-ish planet, and has recently moved to the more primitive former-Lost Colony Barrayar. She's used to eating carniculture (real meat, raised in a vat instead of a killed animal), and the fact that what she's eating used to be alive gives her a moment of pause. She still eats it, and enjoys it, but puts it down to her pregnancy making her have strange cravings. (Maybe she's right; in a later book her son says she "never eats anything but vat-protein if she can help it," and carniculture is common on Barrayar as well. But Cordelia ate the fish her son caught, because she loves him.) Later in the series, we're introduced to butter bugs, which are being designed to eat the Bizarre Alien Biology of Barrayar's ecology and produce human-edible food.
- "Rat bars" (ration bars) are another staple of the series - perfectly formulated to contain all the nutrients and calories the human body needs (though just one a day is fairly lean rations for an adult), but usually tasting like old leather. And sometimes chewing like old leather, for the lower-quality varieties. They mostly come out in emergency situations and for prisoners, and sometimes as the economical choice on long tours of duty in various space navies and mercenary outfits.
- Surprisingly, this makes an appearance in the Star Trek novel Starfleet Academy: Collision Course. In these pre-replicator days, there are many references to "resequenced protein" as something people eat when they've no choice. In particular, breakfast at the Academy consists of resequenced protein in thin pink slices and thick white slabs, vaguely resembling bacon and eggs. According to Spock, they were originally created as emergency shuttle rations.
- Used in The War Against the Chtorr novel "A Day for Damnation" to feed a herd (victims of a plague that affects intelligence) in San Francisco.
We pushed up near one of the bales. It looked like it was made of big pieces of yellow farfel. It smelled yeasty and buttery."It's impregnated with vitamins and antibiotics and God knows what else," Fletcher said.As we watched, the herd members gathered around the bale and began to pull chunks away from it like pieces of bread.
- In a pair of books by Jody Lynn Nye, Taylor's Ark and Medicine Show, the artificial food is called "nutri". The main character laments more than once that she craves the stuff, unflavored, when pregnant.
- In Piers Anthony's Apprentice Adept series, the Serfs are fed "nutri-food", processed goo that can be shaped to various textures, while the Citizens can get anything up to and including bear steaks. This is a minor plot point after Stile goes into hiding-he asks Sheen to go get him some food, preferably some pudding or something else that won't change much since the only way to smuggle it to Stile is by eating it. When she gets back, she activates whatever passes for a gag reflex in gynoids and vomits up a double handful of pudding that does look distressingly used. Stile manages to eat it by telling himself that in the games, the standard nurti-hork can and usually is shaped into various disgusting things like puke and engine oil, and he just has to pretend this is what's happening now.
- In "The Food of the Gods," a short story by Arthur C. Clarke, all food is completely synthetic, but they can make exact copies of ANYTHING. One company introduces a food range of synthetic human flesh.
- Another Clark story, The Deep Range, has a weird version of this: there's no suggestion the Earth is particularly overcrowded or polluted, but land-based agriculture has apparently been phased out, replaced by plankton and farmed whale steaks.
- It also comes up in Rendezvous with Rama, when the crew finds what looks like tilled farmland inside the cylinder. Apparently farming has become an eccentric pastime in this future, since synthetic food requires far less space and energy to produce.
- Played with in Sword Art Online: in the novel, the act of eating (one of the few pleasures for players trapped in the game) couldn't be perfectly emulated. Mixing together certain in-game items, however, could produce flavors surprisingly similar to foods in the real world.
- In The Goodness Gene by Sonia Levitin, synthetic food is part of the Government Conspiracy; dictator Hayli claims it's supposed to protect people from bacteria found in natural plants & animals but really it's to protect him from a deadly allergy to peanuts and his severe germophobia, as well as to keep the populace dependent on the government. Still, people living in fringe communities are allowed to eat farmed food, though it's discouraged.
- Averted in The Parafaith War by LE Modesitt Jr. The main character eats a lot of algae crackers and drinks a lot of Sustain (like a cross between an energy drink and a protein shake), and a breakfast with real eggs, real juice, and real bread for toast costs him about a month's salary. But that's just because shipping foodstuffs between solar systems is incredibly expensive and he's posted on a planet undergoing terraforming, so it can't support its own food production yet. When he visits home, on the capitol world of his society, he has plenty of real food available. The problems in Utopia are a bit deeper than what's in the fridge.
- In David Zindell's Requiem For Homo Sapiens, the people of Icefall eat foods from the 'food factories', as their world makes the north pole seem warm and arable. This massively freaks out the adopted cave boy, Danlo, who has been raised to pray for the soul of every animal that he eats.
- Subverted in Peter F. Hamilton's Fallen Dragon - most food is created artificially, but there is plenty of room for farmland. It's just that synthetic foodstuffs are not only cheaper and indistinguishable from the real thing, but natural food Squicks the hell out of most people in a manner equivalent to modern knowledge of Cool, Clear Water. The protagonist innocently eats a non-vat steak and vomits when he is told it came from a cow.
- Larry Niven's short story Vandervecken makes reference to a substance called "Dole Yeast"
Roy: (in reference to the price of food in the asteroid belt) Ye Gods, The Prices!Alice: this is as expensive as it gets. At the other end is dole yeast, which is free—Roy: Free?Alice: —And barely worth it. If you're down and out it'll keep you fed, and it practically grows itself.
- In Good Omens, Famine (in the guise of Dr. Raven Sable) develops CHOWTM, completely indigestible food which allows you to slim yourself down the terminal way. Then later on:
MEALSTM was Sable's latest brainwave. MEALSTM was CHOWTM with added sugar and fat. The theory was that if you ate enough MEALSTM you would a) get very fat, and b) die of malnutrition. The paradox delighted Sable.
- Space Captain Smith plays this for laughs with Synthetic Ham (Sham), Sham Lite (Shite), Synthetic Curry (Slurry) Sham sausages (Homage) and synthetic bacon (Facon)
- Most animals in Neuromancer have been killed by a pandemic, and "meats" are grown in vats. When protagonist Case refuses to partake a steak in a posh restaurant at the orbital habitat of Freeside, his partner Molly replies "gimme that. You know what this costs? They've gotta raise a whole animal for years and then they kill it. This isn't vat stuff."
- In the section of Sheri S. Tepper's Beauty set in the future, the population produces only one type of food. It is small, squarish, and cracker-like. The artificial colours indicate what vitamins each cracker provides. They are tasteless and textureless (although one of the blues has a slight flavour).
- Played for laughs in Harry Harrison's Bill the Galactic Hero.
- Soldiers are fed with a thin soup that contains all the nutrients needed to keep them healthy, but tastes like drek. Some soldiers get cards from home that can be rehydrated into chocolate bars or other, actual foodstuffs. Our Hero, Bill, gets a card from home that rehydrates into ... a larger card that plays tinny, annoying, "inspiring", military tunes and slogans.
- And then there's dehydrated water, a necessary staple when deployed on an alien planet. You just add water and you get... water! Though it doesn't taste as good as regular water.
- Small Minded Giants by Oisin McGann, set in an enclosed city in which the population is waiting out an ice age, includes several references to this trope. Foodstuffs eaten by the working class main characters include spirulina, and the rather mysterious sounding Promeat and Veggie-soy. Fruit and meat(which is vat grown) are strictly for the wealthy. It is also mentioned that most people's staple diet is based on genetically modified soya beans and that the cheapest food available is made from processed waste.
- In Bruce Sterling's Islands in the Net (set 20 Minutes into the Future), there's no shortage of 'real' food, but one major character eats only synthetic so as to avoid the toxins that real plants put in their tissues to discourage animals from, y'know, eating them.
- The Millennial Project recommends doing this with algae of all things in order to properly feed the denizens of space habitats, algae being quite easy to grow hydroponically and some species containing complete proteins.
- In Red Handed, an offhand reference is made to "syn-chicken".
- In Tunnel in the Sky, Rod sits down to a final meal with the family before his survival test. They have a yeast cutlet with the luxury of real bacon.
- In Steve Perry's novel Spindoc, nearly all the cattle died in a plague (some types of meat being more common than others), and eating beef is illegal. The only exception is if you had a cow, and it was officially confirmed to have died from natural causes like a heart attack. There are rumors of people making a living scaring cows to death.
- In Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room!, the novel that inspired Soylent Green, soylent steaks made of soy and lentils were an expensive item. Unlike in the film, they were just a minor detail of the dystopian future, not relevant to the plot.
- C. J. Cherryh's Alliance/Union setting uses tank-grown fish protein for this. Actually a case of Shown Their Work, the stations route human sewage into tanks full of molluscs, which eat the waste which if you think about it, is exactly what fish do in the real ocean.
- In the In Death series, soy-based substitutes take the place of meat and other animal food products for most of the population. It's a mark of Roarke's membership in the Fiction 500 that he can afford real meat, real tobacco, and real coffee; Eve considers the food and the coffee to be the second-best benefit of being married to Roarke, after the man himself.
- In the novelisation of Aliens, Ripley sardonically notes that the tasteless donut she just got from a vending machine "might once have flown over a wheatfield".
- In the novel tie-in to the videogame Rebel Moon, two characters mention in passing that the food they eat includes genetically modified vegetables and vat-cloned meat (ironically, chicken).
- Played with in Richard Kadrey's Metrophage: meat from livestock is still fairly common, but the farm animals in question are genetically engineered to have no feet or other unpalatable parts, and are themselves fed intravenous nutrition as they grow to slaughter-age in vats. When Jonny has a chance to try beef from a conventional steer that grazed naturally, he finds it so bland due to the absence of artificial growth-enhancers and other vat-stock chemicals that he can't finish his steak.
- In the Alexis Carew novels, vat-grown "beef" makes up the main course at nearly every meal aboard Navy ships, and officers are encouraged to purchase their own provisions.
- Averted in most of Aeon 14 because the tech level of Sol makes real food the norm. The thirty-kilometer colony ship Intrepid has entire farms and forests stocked with game, tended by robots. Played straight with the Noctus Slave Race in the Sirius system, though, who are so used to vat-grown protein on their deliberately technologically depressed asteroid habitats that they're actually put off by the idea of natural foods.
- In the Ciaphas Cain novels, several Adeptus Mechanicus worlds seem to run on soylens viridiens, a vat-produced foodstuff whose Shout-Out name implies it's made from corpses but is eventually said to be mostly "reconstituted pulses" note . Tech-priests find it an efficient way to ingest nutrients, and can't figure out why Cain would rather have a steak.
- In The Space Odyssey Series, the future civilization of 3001 is quite fond of vat-grown meats, but people get queasy when a defrosted 21st-century Human Popsicle tries to identify his steak and asks which animal it came from.
- In Sergei Snegov's "The Men like Gods", nearly all, if not all, of the future food is artificial. Unlike most of the examples, it's also noted to be much tastier, than the natural one, as shown, when the Pavel tried to make a barbecue from natural mutton. Gamazin even notes, that the barbecue from the natural meat tastes horrible, nothing like the "... real synthetic meat", and that if kitchen automats made a dish like this, they would've been sent to repair immediately.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek:
- This trope zig-zags throughout the franchise. It seems quite clear that the world of Star Trek has both artificial and natural foodstuffs depending on whether you live on a starship or colony world. It's also frequently noted that replicator food never tastes quite right. The science book Life Signs: The Biology of Star Trek theorized that meals are replicated based on a scan of a single order of that meal. This would mean that every helping tasted exactly the same, whereas "real" meals have variations.
- In Star Trek: The Original Series, "Food synthesizers" make food from dehydrated tablets. And kids will apparently eat the resulting food without being forced, although that portrayal is probably the effect of 1960s technophilia. "Charlie X", a TOS episode, suggests that starship food is artificial when Kirk complains about eating synthetic meatloaf for Thanksgiving. Episodes like "Trouble with Tribbles" state colony worlds subsist on farmed food though the grain is a type of futuristic hybrid.note
- In The Next Generation, replicators seem to make food from Pure Energy, note so it obviously never came from anything that was ever alive except in some kind of cosmic sense. The replicator uses transporter technology to rearrange the molecular structure of some kind of raw material (basically any sort of solid matter) into the molecular structure of edible food. This process can also be used to fabricate tools and spare parts.
- (Some) Klingons, such as Worf's brother Kern, apparently have an issue with the replicator technology, as their culture demands that meat animals be hunted and killed. This issue pops up rather inconsistently, though. Certain foods, like gagh and racht, both a type of worm, cannot be replicated as replicators cannot create living objects and those are universally eaten living.
- Star Trek: Enterprise: The NX-01 has a "protein resequencer" that is able to take a raw protein base and turn it into simple processed foods like scrambled eggs or meatloaf. Although the resequencer is supposedly able to create a variety of foodstuffs, it apparently all tastes the same. Also, this technology isn't the crew's primary means of sustenance but is meant to supplement what the Enterprise can hold in its stores and what is grown in a hydroponic garden.
- Both used and averted in Star Trek: Voyager. Due to constant supply problems in the early seasons, in the second episode Kes converts one of the cargo bays into a hydroponics garden to supplement the replicators. Neelix uses the resulting produce (and other ingredients gathered from planets they pass) in his kitchen. In "The Killing Game" Ensign Kim mentions that Voyager's emergency rations consist of "synthetic protein".
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine shows Ben Sisko cooking food by hand on numerous occasions (his eggplant stew is apparently a crew favorite), and it's even mentioned once late in the series that he grows his own hot peppers. His father runs a Cajun restaurant in New Orleans and has Ben and Jake out back scrubbing clams with a wire brush on their visits home.
- Firefly: Fresh food still exists in this sci-fi, but it's rare and expensive, especially fruit, vegetable, and meat. Proteins and artificial food is eaten on regular basis, and skilled cooks are valued.
- There's Kaylee's reaction to Book's strawberries in the pilot, to say nothing of the way she eats them later...
- In "Out of Gas", the gang makes an entire birthday cake for Simon out of protein. They try to make it mock chocolate-y.
- The valuable cargo looted from a derelict ship in the pilot? Nutrition bars, of the sort issued as rations to brand-new colonies; thanks to the central Alliance government's utter lack of interest in doing anything to support any brand-new colony which can't survive entirely on its own, these ration bars are much more valuable as loot than the ingots of precious metal they're initially portrayed to be. Especially as each one can feed a family of four for a month.
- Many of the worlds they stop off at are largely occupied by agricultural settlements, so it's not as if real food is impossible to acquire. The protein bars they seem to mainly live off in space are likely chosen because they're cheap, have a high calorie-to-mass ratio and can probably keep for long periods without refrigeration; sort of like the futuristic version of MREs. The RPG makes this explicit, offering three levels of food supplies (protein bars, canned food, fresh food) with increasing cost, mass and longevity drawbacks to go with corresponding morale bonuses.
- When they managed to earn some good money, Jayne buys them a box of apples. They all enjoy them immensely.
- In the dystopian Alt!world discovered by Wendy Watson in the course of her duties as Side Kick to The Middle Man the only food available to the masses is aerosolized soup. This is listed as among the main complaints of the mad scientist trying to escape this dimension.
- Farscape has food cubes, although Rygel seems not to mind.
- In Lexx, the eponymous spaceship/dragonfly dispenses food for his/her crew as a green, orange or blue slime through an organic-looking tube. It's stated several times during the show that the food consists of processed "organic material" Lexx him/herself ate before. Considering Lexx often consumes parts of inhabited planets or passing starships, this leads to slightly disconcerting implications. There's a Running Gag of Stan ordering exotic delicacies from Lexx and expressing mock disappointment at getting the same slime every time.
- Terra Nova, in the 22nd century AD real food is rare, when colonists arrive in Terra Nova they need to drink an enzyme solution to help their systems adjust to the plethora of 850,000th century BC fruits and vegetables.
- Battlestar Galactica (2003) has the Colonials supplement their dwindling food supplies with algae cakes. At least they have plenty of real booze (courtesy of Flight Deck Distilleries, Ltd.).
- Shadowrun, where the lower classes were limited to artificially flavored soy, krill and similar mass breeding reptiles (which serve as meat) and fungus products (which serve as the main base for booze - and Mycoprotein is stated to be a staple). And Nerps, of course!
- Infamous dystopian-black-comedy RPG Paranoia offers multiple brands of synthetic foods to the player characters — Algae Chips, soy chewing gum, Bouncy Bubble Beverage and the (extra super) infamous Hot Fun among them. There is no real quality-control process, however, or at least none that hasn't been compromised by cost-cutting technicians; the number of flavor varieties available to the player, meanwhile, depends on his security clearance. The writers have even started using the names Soylent Red, Orange, Yellow and Green in homage.
- Friend Computer is happy to report that no one has ever accidentally fallen into Food Vat #4589B and gotten processed with the yeast strains, nor do recycled cadavers ever supply the protein content for Vita-Yum Meal Substitute Bars.
- In later editions, it's not just the High Programmers who get to escape this; one of the perks of Red clearance is that you get to eat a real apple once a month or so, with the promise of more if you continue to be promoted.
- In Feng Shui, one of the many unpleasant things about the dystopia of 2056 (equal parts capitalism gone berserk and Stalinist repression) is the awful vatfood. Side note: protein-based bio-plastics have replaced the petroleum version, and almost everything a person living under the Buro uses is disposable. Meaning the bowl and sporky-thing-that-can't-be-weaponized you eat with might just be better nutrition and flavor than the actual food.
- In many of the Warhammer 40,000 novels, particularly the ones involving Forge Worlds and Hive Worlds, 'food' is very easy to come by... as you can find public food paste dispensers dotted everywhere that seem to be described akin to soap dispensers in bathrooms.
- The Dungeons & Dragons magic item Murlynd's Spoon is a serving utensil that once a day magically provides enough bland (though a 0th level spell can explicitly alter taste...) gruel of unspecified nature to keep a party of four Medium-sized creatures (or eight Small creatures) fed. The "create food and water" spell does the same thing, with a note that characters who have put skill ranks into cooking can conjure slightly more appetizing dishes. Very few Dungeon Masters require players to keep track of food, though.
- Werewolf: The Apocalypse:
- Similar to the above is the Gift: Cooking in Werewolf: The Apocalypse, which allows its possessor to turn any old trash into mush that is perfectly sustaining but looks and tastes like "warm, wet cardboard." Granted, the Gift belongs to the Bone Gnawers, a tribe composed mostly of homeless and vagrants.
- Werewolf's Asian supplement, Hengeyokai, includes a variant of that Gift that creates—what else—rice.
- Car Wars uses processed, flavored algae as its major source of food.
- The Transhuman Space setting, with its "fauxflesh" vats, can be either this or Veganopia depending on how the GM wants to play it, and on what part of the world you're in. Real meat is illegal in the EU, but just expensive (and possibly frowned upon) elsewhere.
- Cyberpunk 2020 features the Kibble, a low-cost mass-produced food that's described to have the same aspect, smell, and flavor of the dog food from which it takes its name. Other foods for the masses aren't much better.
- In Eclipse Phase most meat is grown in vats and a lot of food comes out of "makers" (the cheap ones dispensing nutrient pastes). Granted earth is no longer hospitable to transhuman life and most of the survivors live in space habitats, so it's not like there's much room for agriculture.
- Once the player is partially Stroggified in Quake IV, they replenish their health by consuming a substance that is not only produced from recycled people, but is literally named "stroyent".
- In Mass Effect 2, Joker implies that most commercially available beef is vat-grown. The quarians render all their food, plant or animal, into paste before eating it, a consequence of living their entire lives sealed in spacesuits. However, this only appears to be true on spaceships or the Citadel (which, while enormous, lacks any space for agriculture or livestock), planets have plenty of naturally grown foods available. Getting real, high-quality food for spaceships doesn't actually appear to be difficult or even terribly expensive, Shepard is able to buy provisions for the entire ship out of pocket change.
- In Mass Effect: Andromeda, the angara live primarily off a sort of nutrient paste they manufacture. A single fruit can feed one angara, or it can (somehow) be turned into enough nutrient paste to feed twenty. The revelation late in the game that they're a genetically engineered species makes this suddenly make more sense, as their metabolism and digestive system could have been optimized for the paste.
- The Synth Food Paste in the videogame Freelancer plays this trope in a different way: since its production is mostly artificial, it dealt such a massive hit to the household incomes of farmers from all over the Sirius system that there are several farmer rebellions fighting for their right to grow their own organic crops, whose main target is anything that has to do with Synth Foods, Inc. However, nobody says it's nasty or disgusting, and the closest the game ever gets to a real example of this trope is an article on the in-game news about factory workers from Leeds being fed with livestock-grade Synth Food, supposedly because the pollution ends up destroying their sense of taste. Supplementing the reason why Synth Food Paste is so popular is the fact the plant used to grow it can survive very harsh weather.
- 'Soy Food' in Deus Ex. Apparently advanced nanotechnology lets the user pick a flavour. The Chocolent bars may fall into this category as well, as might the soft drink labelled 'Insert Product Placement Here'. "It is unclear whether this is a name or an invitation."
- In Dystopia, the menu at an abandoned coffee shop sells three different kinds of soy products and no other food.
- In Space Quest 6, the food dispenser in the crew lounge is named "Mr. Soylent," and even comes with a cheeky advertising jingle, ending with "Soylent Clear: Clearly less people, clearly better taste."
- Guess: where does the major source of Nutrients come from in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri? Kelp and people once you get recycling tanks.
"It is every citizen's final duty to go into the tanks and become one with all the people." — Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, "Ethics for Tomorrow"
- Fortunately the first uses of genetic engineering techs are developing crops that can grow on the planet.
- The X-Universe:
- BoFu is a very popular food for the Boron, being cheap and easy to make. It is very delicious to them. However, no other race likes it. It's sort of like the pemmican of the Borons, since a single morsel can last them a while.
- The Terrans rely on good fashioned MREs, Carbocakes, and Vita Kai (a block of concentrated vitamins).
- In the bizarre 90's PC CD-ROM game Total Distortion, you have a high-tech kitchen that can produce many kinds of custom sandwiches and drinks... that are made from a light-brown substance called Food Goo, sold by the rectangular prism by Taft Foods. As the game reverently sings after every meal, yummm-yummm! There's a bit of irony to this: the game takes place in a bizarre alternate dimension, but the kitchen and Food Goo come from good, weird old Earth. It's a cheap but effective way to handle shipping costs, the sandwich and drink maker is a state of the art machine which can turn the base nutrients of the food goo to something edible.
- In Reprobates, each character on the island awakens each day with a full flask of water and a pack of crackers. The latter are evidently enough to nourish a person for the day, although some also gather edible items from the island itself.
- Space Colony: Your colonists' main food source is a green 'soup' created from a bamboo like plant or the local trees. Thankfully it can also be turned into alcohol. Colonists who are feeling really fancy can eat genetically modified chickens, which increases their happiness level.
- In City of Villains the most common food for normal citizens in the supervillain-ruled Rogue Islands is something called NutriPaste.
- In Startopia basic fast food is made from energy, although you can also supply organic and mineral based food supplies.
- Becoming a cook in Star Wars: Galaxies is quite revealing... it shows a side to the Star Wars universe you never thought of before...
- In Star Trek: Kobayashi Alternative the Hydroponics and Reclamation Decks are right next to each other. The computer reports on them state that between them they recycle every essential to life about a starship — water, breathable air, and food. The food may be processed, but the ingredients are all natural.
- In Elite: Dangerous several foods that can be bought and sold in trade are this trope. The cheapest ones are food cartridges intended to manufacture cheap but nutritious meals in specialized 3D printers. There's also synthetic meat, which is grown in labs without the rest of the animal. Real meat is among the most expensive food items, but is also illegal in some systems.
- Rimworld allows you to build Nutrient Paste Dispensers which convert raw food into nutrient paste. Compared to cooked food, nutrient paste is bland and affects your suvivors' mood negatively, but it's handy to have it when you're in a tight spot: Eating raw ingredients (with some exceptions) carries an even worse morale penalty, and meals prepared by someone with a low Cooking skill run the risk of causing food poisoning.
- In the webcomic Alien Dice, the various alien species subsist on foods developed in labs. Their reaction to foods derived from plants and animals are mixed. Lexx vomits upon discovering the source of milk, saying that only animals should consume it. Riley, however, rather enjoys beer, though due to his Bizarre Alien Biology he can't get drunk.
- In Terinu avoiding "food cube" starship rations is a minor luxury for the crew of the Terona.
- Animal products in Schlock Mercenary have been mostly replaced by bacterial cultures, the old-fashioned versions being delicacies.
- Defied in Sluggy Freelance. One of the evil Nofun Corporation's biological projects is vat-grown runny meat that they plot to replace all real meat with by flooding the market. Torg, for whom steak is Serious Business, promptly interrupts his own commando mission to destroy that project immediately.
- 21st Century Fox has SPAM, genetically engineered tissue culture meat. Note that in this universe practically everything with a nervous system is sentient, meaning that before SPAM carnivores had to kill other people for food, which briefly became illegal in one arc.
- In Not a Villain, the only food Cities supply to Outsiders is a disgusting nutrient paste.
Kleya: Hate that stuff.Mae: It tastes like they stuck salted dirt in rotting yogurt!
- In Magience, Rune prefers virtual food because it tastes better.
Rune: The kind of food I can afford in real life is all synthetic. It's “nutritionally optimized” and rarely has any actual ingredients that weren't made in a lab. “Real” food is too expensive.
- In Sunset Grill this is considered the norm. So much so that part of the reason the grill is considered low class is because it serves real food as opposed to this. That's also part of the reason why some people come to the grill to eat.
- Futurama makes regular jokes about Soylent products.
- There's Soylent Cola for a start - "the taste varies from person to person."
- Then there's the episode where Bender tries to be a cook and Soylent Green is a mandatory ingredient in the dishes.
- And everything is recycled, including sandwiches made from old discarded sandwiches.
- Then there's the Bad Future when Nixon solves hunger by dumping the crowd turning them into cans of "Soylent Majority".
- Rob Rhinehart has made this a reality. He even named the drink Soylent. Obviously, it is not people. However, it does have soy in it, which is why Harry Harrison called it that in the first place. No lentils though. Maybe in version 1.6.
- Many science fiction works (and scientists in general), especially in the 1950's and 60's, thought this trope would soon be necessary on account of an impending Malthusian catastrophe taking in account the worldwide population boom that took place after World War II if there wasn't to be mass starvation in the 1970's. They didn't anticipate the Green Revolution which allowed the world's food supply using more-or-less standard agricultural practices to continue growing at a rate fast enough to support now-seven billion people.
- And they didn't anticipate artificial famines (goverments make a mistake, few thousand to 50 million dead) that slowed population growth.
- This B.B.C article on 'note by note cooking', where foot is entirely constructed with the basic building blocks of food rather than raw ingredients.
- Quorn is a real-life mycroprotein product. http://www.quorn.com/welcome/
- Though the technology is still in its infancy, 3D printers could potentially lead to this trope becoming a reality. Experiments are currently being conducted using soy-based nutrient pastes, which can be fabricated into a variety of shapes and forms. They also work really well with icing sugar.
- The US military is funding a research program aimed at developing practical portable 3d printers that can fabricate food from prepacked pastes for troops on the move by 2015. See this article. And yes, the pioneers of cake icing through 3d printing are a big part of this program.
- So far there has been at least multiple attempts at making food stuff from petri dish grown cells. One attempt was a lump of fish cells that not a single scientist could work up the nerve to actually try. Another was a bunch of beef muscle fibers that were grown and shaped into a patty. That was then cooked and served to food critics and chefs. They admitted that while it was nowhere near as good as a real beef it still tasted a lot better than a soy fake. The biggest problem cited was the lack of fat within the "meat."
- Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google, has provided funding for research into the production of synthetic beef. Why? Because he knows that the natural, traditional method of producing beef will no longer be adequate within the next several decades. This means that the worst-case scenario for the beef industry may become inevitable which is demand outstripping production which in turn leads to worldwide shortages of natural beef. In short, beef foods, such as the hamburger and the steak, will spiral downwards into extinction.
- In a temporal "inversion" of this trope, the draconian fasting demands of medieval Catholicism (still preserved more or less as-is in many of the eastern churches) necessitated the creation of artificial dairy products; almond milk shows up quite frequently in medieval cookbooks, and there's little doubt that if medieval Europe had had soybeans, they'd have used the hell out of tofu too.
- The company Beyond Meat, gladly funded by the vegetarians of the technology sector, managed to produce "chicken meat" from soy approaching the taste and texture of chicken breasts. While it does not fully reproduce the taste and meat cuts of real chicken, it more closely resembles meat than Tofurky does.
- No less a man than Winston Churchill predicted the idea of artificially produced meat. In 1931 he suggested, "We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium."