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Future Food Is Artificial

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Redefining "plant-based meat".
Neon Samurai: You know, in all my 29 years, I've never had a real steak.
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

In the future, things are going to change drastically — including our diets. Whether it be from the destruction of arable land , because we live in space stations or Moon colonies, or because food processing technology becomes cheaper, eventually, real food will become a luxury item, unavailable to all but the elite. So, what does the rest of the hoi polloi eat? Junk food and processed foodstuffs, based usually on soy, lentils 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 Cyberpunk and other Dystopias because Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap and is often the 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; space farms are Truth in Television, but big battery farms on board any spaceship smaller 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, crawly vermin because normal livestock are no longer cost-effective, 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.

This trope is likely to overlap with Poverty Food in any Crapsack World setting. Artificial Meat is a specific subtrope where it's only meat that isn't real. If characters long to have tasty, real food but the government bans or heavily taxes it, they may try to buy Black Market Produce such as strawberries at a Black Market.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Future Boy Conan, Industrian bread is made out of recycled plastic.
  • In Future Police Urashiman the protagonist Ryuu is hilarious about a deli offering original spaghetti. Sadly it's only for upper-class g-men.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 Major working for the agency saving the world, would break her bank buying three steak dinners says something about the new pricing of meat.
  • In Synduality: Noir, most food is 3D-printed from synthetic bases, including blocky sushi and Cartoon Meat served on plastic "bones." Real produce is still grown, but sells for exorbitant prices since most of the Earth is toxic After the End.
  • In Vandread, the Men of Tarak subsist off of Pellets. Some of these might be better than others.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.
    • Various Mega-City One foodstuffs are mentioned with the suffix Synthi-, Mock- or similar. Most of the time this is assumed to be because the genuine article no-longer exists due to the Mega-City existing in a Crapsack World, but on occasion SynthiCaf has existed alongside real coffee as a legal replacement after the Justice Department banned caffeine.
  • 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".
    • When Spider mentions his family living off reconstituted lizards and government-issue mycoprotein cakes before they coated Mercury in solar panels and the environment started to recover.
  • Seen on a vending machine in The Punisher 2099, "SlimSynth Burgers. Food so good, you'll think it's real!"
  • Superman:

    Comic Strips 
  • The Treen from Dan Dare have food baths, of all things.

    Fan Works 
  • 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 (2015) fanfic Survivors food in Krypton was artificially created. When Kara tastes Earth food for the first time she is shocked by how good it tastes.
  • In Iron Hearts, the Iron Warrior's mooks eat "Ration Tins," which is a can of tasteless paste with enough nutrition to last someone all day; it's stated that a person could live off them from birth to death of old age with no ill effects. Twilight loves them because it means she doesn't have to waste time cooking.
  • In FTL: Kestrel Adventures, Sandro is able to whip up a great meal by cooking ration bars in various ways. He says it's because they were all his mom had to cook with on his homeworld, so she invented ways to spruce them up. Although, real bacon was also available, likely as an extremely expensive treat. His brother saved a couple of strips, which he dubbed "The Bacon of Memories."
  • Triptych Continuum: Virtually all of Equestria's foods are grown using the Cornucopia Effect, to the point where agronomy is almost nonexistent (and a significant fraction of Equestria's population doesn't even know what agronomy is). It's mentioned in several places that magically grown food is somehow indefinably less than the naturally grown equivalent: still completely nutritious, but missing something in its flavor.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Alien the crew eats synthetic "food" which resembles spaghetti or cabbage, and it's very strongly implied that the "robochef" actually uses the crew's waste to produce the meals.
    • In the movie, they're all too hungry to care.
      Parker: I don't wanna talk about what it's made of. I'm eating this!
    • In the novelization, they're careful not to think too hard about it.
      Parker: Why would you care what it's made of? It's food now.
  • 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.
  • Downplayed in The Cloverfield Paradox. The space station's nutrient supply appears based on worm protein that gets 3D-printed into something vaguely resembling food. Someone actually taped a "Worst Bagle Machine Ever" sticker on the printer, implying the stuff tastes about as great as it looks. However, this sort of grub seems to be exclusive to astronauts in space (reasonable, given the logistical effort required to keep them supplied for a mission of unknown duration) while planetside meals appear to be largely the same as what we eat today.
  • 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!"
  • John Spartan 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. There are several possible reasons for this;
    1. He's 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.
    2. He's been in suspended animation for a few decades and is the first cryo-con whose brain wasn't too scrambled to point out he was conscious the entire time. It's the first meat he's had since he went under.
    3. His last meal was at Taco Bell, which wasn't very filling back in 1996 and even less so in 2032 since it was one of those snob meals with nothing but tiny appetizers. Vegetarian ones. It's the only meat he's had in thirty-six years.
  • The Matrix: Because of the destruction of Earth's biosphere, the main foodstuff available to humans is a synthesized gruel that Dozer describes as "a single cell protein combined with synthetic aminos, vitamins, and minerals", with the look and consistency of thin rice porridge and a less-than-appealing flavor. When Cypher is telling Trinity the reasons why he betrayed them to the machines, one is "eating the same goddamn goop every day." The inhabitants of Zion are able to grow some mushrooms, and a tie-in comic reveals that very small quantities of bread are made, but that's it for real food.
    Mouse: *to Neo* If you close your eyes, it almost feels like you're eating runny eggs.
    Apoc: Yeah, or a bowl of snot.
    Mouse: You know what it really reminds me of? Tasty Wheat.
  • 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 appear to be a rectangular block of dark, dense gel. After making their way about halfway 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.
  • Kin-Dza-Dza!: The plastic porridge in the absurdist Soviet sci-fi comedy. 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.
  • M.I. Rations in Starship Troopers consists of a bubblegum-pink, foamy substance (think Strawberry Mousse).

  • A Hole in the Fence: When Grisón and Prune arrive in Metropolis and go to a restaurant, they are served something looking like chocolate bars which they are told is an omelette, and a porridge which is supposed to be chicken with rice. They soon figure out all food in the super-advanced city is like this: synthetic, differently-flavored porridge and tablets.
  • In William Sleator's House of Stairs, meat is a luxury.
  • Isaac Asimov:
    • The Caves of Steel: 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. Real fruits and vegetables are available, but only in heavily processed forms. When Lije Bailey is offere a fresh apple, he's unfamiliar with the textures and flavors and accidentally bites into the core and is shocked by the seeds.
    • "The Evitable Conflict": The Eastern Region grows yeast in hydroponic plants. They've managed to make it imitate the taste and texture of beef, ice cream, and many others. The majority of human food is now yeast-based.
    • Foundation Series:
      • Forward the Foundation: The Mycogen sector of Trantor specializes in producing yeast-based proteins as luxury foods that taste better than the real thing. Other sectors only produce relatively bland gloop, while Mycogenian exports demand a high price (and the Mycogenians keep the very best for themselves; when Seldon tries one little morsel, it is described in almost orgasmic terms).
      • Gregory Benford's Foundation's Fear: The story takes place so far into the future, humanity has spread out across the entire Milky Way, and people on Trantor eat meals recycled directly from the sewage. A "food-manufacturum" creates food like eggs, sausage, and carrots, which are crafted to taste good to their audience.
      It was easy to forget, amid the tastes specially designed to fit his own well-tabulated likes, that the manufacturum built their meal from sewage. Eggs that had never known the belly of a bird. Meat appeared without skin or bones or gristle or fat. Carrots ar­rived without topknots. A food-manfac was delicately tuned to re­produce tastes, just short of the ability to actually make a live carrot. The minor issue of whether his souffle tasted like a real one, made by a fine chef, faded to unimportance compared with the fact that it tasted good to him—the only audience that mattered.
    • "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..."
    • Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus: The primary export from Venus is seaweed, usually modified into a yeast. The yeast-farms export a number of different things to the rest of the solar system, including long-term compact space rations, fertilizer, and animal feed. On Venus itself, the Green Room is an experimental restaurant, providing the most advanced yeast foods, with different flavours and textures.
      "You had no beef, no fruit, no tomatoes. Not even coffee. You had only one thing to eat. Only one thing. Yeast!"Dr Morriss
  • Isaac Asimov and Janet Asimov's Norby's Other Secret: The family scout ship has an Auto-Kitchen that can serve a combination of real and artificial food. In chapter six, Jeff gets a meal of synthoburger, synthofries, and reconstituted applesauce.
  • The Interim Coalition of Governance and future humanity from the Xeelee Sequence has two types of food. The first is artificial gruel made from nanomachines by the bulk, consumed by the 'civilised' Coalition The second is reconstituted human corpses and fetus ration packs from degenerate posthumans. Yes, you heard us. Fetus ration packs.
  • 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, only wealthy snobs can afford to eat "new protein" exclusively. For the lower classes, 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 anymore.
  • 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 that mines resources from space (such as comets) and processes them into food. The book notes that 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 that 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.
  • Pump Six and Other Stories provides few flavours:
    • Brekkie bars (a homogenous, MRE-like bar), pockets of pre-brewed (and chemically heated) coffee, and ever-present soda from Pump Six consists of nothing but a long list of chemicals. Not just as some additive or preserver, that's all that is in the package aside raw glucose and water. While there is still bacon (almost always in short supply, but so is everything else in the story), it's implied it's just as bad and deep-frozen with some quick-thaw liquid activating while taken out of the wrapper. Bagels are already made with plastic wrapping around them, that dissolves in your mouth. Anything even resembling regular food is nowhere to be seen.
    • Not exactly food itself, but the only plants still growing are heavily modified GMO crops in many stories. When Creo is given a real, natural tomato in The Calorie Man, he finds the concept of taste disgusting. Meanwhile, Lalji, who is old enough to remember food before MegaCorps destroyed all non-GMO food, is in heaven when finally eating something other than tasteless corn and soy.
    • The People of Sand and Slag eat exactly that. Being trans-human organisms that have Nigh-Invulnerability as part of their augmentation, they don't really need food anymore, just any mass will do in case of having to repair injuries or lacking limbs. Apparently, rich people still eat "organic food", but it's considered an act of pure snobbery and showing off one's wealth since nobody has to eat anything at all and given the world's condition, growing any sort of plants or livestock is prohibitively expensive. Doubly so when it's not needed for anything in particular. When the main characters end up roasting a dog over burning plastic chairs, they find the concept of meat to be extremely over-rated.
  • 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 Clarke 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.
  • Subspace Explorers, by E. E. "Doc" Smith, features an Earth that reached its limit of seven billion people by making almost all food synthetic (since it's more efficient to grow plants than animals), with only the very wealthy able to afford real meat and milk. Until the hardier souls among humanity started colonising other planets, where there was plenty of space and they could start large-scale farming again, bringing animal products back to the table.
  • 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 L.E. 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 capital 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 is unable to eat a steak (due to suffering from withdrawal) in a posh restaurant at the orbital habitat of Freeside, his partner Molly angrily takes it and eats it instead.
    Molly: 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.
    • A rich man's mistress is given the privilege of pouring the juices from his steak over her oatmeal.
  • 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 on a Space Station "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.
  • Nutripton in The Sheep Look Up, a shapeless and tasteless paste produced by Jacob Bamberly, who'll ship it out for a good price though he won't eat any himself. Amongst its other charms, samples of it turn out to be contaminated with Ergot, driving crazy anyone unfortunate enough to eat it. In a departure from the norm, though, Nutripton has not yet become standard nutrition for the working-classes of America itself... At first.
  • 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.note 
  • Weaponised in Natural State by Damon Knight. The City dwellers are so grossed out by the 'Muckfeet' country dwellers eating natural food (though it's actually bioengineered) that when the latter storm the city they just throw food or eat it in front of them, causing the City dwellers to become so grossed out they run away or vomit helplessly.
  • The Place Inside the Storm: When Tara was younger, her dad would occasionally cook real food, but now her family almost exclusively eats instafood except when they eat out. She doesn't like the taste at all.
  • In Neptune's Brood, the metahuman protagonist enjoys a meal of "tubespam," that in this case is synthetic human liver.
  • The Duchy of Terra series has Universal Protein, a substance that, as its name suggests, can be used as food for pretty much every species of sapient life in the galaxy as long as species-specific vitamin supplements are used with it. It's also got the consistency and flavor of soggy cardboard. Every species lives on it at least part of the time in space, and every species reviles it.
  • The Android's Dream: Most meat products are now made from lab-grown "vatted meat," which is technically vegetarian-friendly since no real animals were involved in its creation. Real meat, from an actual animal, is said to be vanishingly rare.
  • The Manna Machine by George Sassoon and Rodney Dale. The authors claim that the "manna from Heaven" that fed the Israelites in the Sinai desert came from an atomic-powered machine (the Arc of the Covenant) for creating algae provided by Ancient Astronauts. The machine would be stripped down and cleaned every seventh day, leading to the tradition of the Sabbath.
  • The Expanse: While regular food's still present, it's generally prohibitively expensive (To the point that a cheese-smuggling ring on Ceres is considered a notable bust) due to the Earth being overcrowded and there not being much space elsewhere in the solar system. Most people - Belters especially - instead eat food made from fungal protein and similar substances molded and flavoured to represent other food, which despite the technology apparently leaves something to be desired. Also, much to Holden's chagrin, the Rocinante is able to produce an apparently foul coffee-approximation if it runs out of actual beans.
  • Referenced in passing in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe short story "Policy to Invade" by Ian Mond. One character describes how she and her husband used to go to a different restaurant for breakfast each weekend, searching for the perfect poached eggs, and found some places where you could almost believe the eggs were real. When the Doctor takes her to a diner in Present Day New York to have actual poached eggs, she's completely blown away.

    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 tastes exactly the same, whereas "real" meals have variations.
    • In Star Trek: The Original Series, "Food synthesizers" make food from dehydrated tablets — kids will apparently eat the resulting food without being forced, although this element is probably the effect of 1960s technophilia. "Charlie X" suggests that starship food is artificial, as Kirk complains about eating synthetic meatloaf for Thanksgiving. Episodes like "The Trouble with Tribbles" exposit that colony worlds subsist on farmed food, though the grain is a type of futuristic hybrid.note 
    • In Star Trek: 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 Kurn, 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: 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. The Siskos are noted for being Supreme Chefs, which, in a world where food is primarily provided from replicators, is a testament to their skills, as is the restaurant Ben's father runs successfully.
    • 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".
    • In 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.
    • In Star Trek: Discovery, Admiral Vance claims that replicated food comes from resequenced shit. This causes an "I Ate WHAT?!" reaction from a visiting Orion.
  • Doctor Who: In one story set in the 26th Century, companion Victoria requests chicken from one of the guest characters. She is presented with a white box that is supposedly chicken and decides that she isn't hungry.
  • Fresh food still exists in Firefly, but it's rare and expensive outside of wealthy Alliance territory and agricultural settlements, especially fruit, vegetable, and meat. Proteins and artificial food are eaten on a 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 manage to earn some good money, Jayne buys them a box of apples. They all enjoy them immensely.
  • The Middleman: In the dystopian Mirror Universe discovered by Wendy Watson in "The Palindrome Reversal Palindrome", 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 that 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 that a single orange is considered a luxurious treat for a family of five. 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.).
  • Unlike the anime, in which real food is apparently easy to get everywhere in the solar system by the start of the show, in Cowboy Bebop (2021), it's made explicit that most food is artificial. When Spike and Jet go to a Greasy Spoon for a meal, Jet asks if the popcorn shrimp is real or not and gets told that it's really just soy and algae. Meanwhile, in the kitchen we're treated to a shot of a worker squirting artificial cheese out of a tube onto bread (which also looks artificial). In "Blue Crow Waltz", it's shown that even a Syndicate boss is stuck with a plate of synth beef. The meat is more difficult to cut, and he gripes: "I mean, seriously, how hard would it be to breed a couple of cows?"
  • Possible example in Stargate SG-1. When Sam is aboard the Asgard command ship, a race millions of years more advanced than humans, she is presented with "food" which arrives via transporter beam and looks like geometric blocks of colored clay. The taste is apparently not at all pleasant to humans.
    Thor: I like the yellow ones.
    Sam: [picks up the yellow one and takes a tentative nibble bite, only to immediately spit it out] Oh my God. [sheepishly looks at Thor] Sorry...
  • The food available to the crew aboard SeaQuest DSV is a mix of real and artificial.
    • In the first season, it's mentioned that beef and dairy is all artificial because cattle farming was criminalized. Eggs, meanwhile, are flavored protein. By the events of 2032, pork has become illegal.
    • Meanwhile, even real food is engineered to the point it no longer seems real. Fruit is now perfectly balanced so that it delivers that perfect balance of nutrients and flavor without bruising or spoiling. This frustrates some people because they remember when food had imperfections and variety.
    • Because real beef is no longer legal, there is a black market for it. Krieg spends an episode sourcing a small block of frozen ground beef just so he can have a hamburger. In the same episode, Bridger attends a high level meeting and is appalled to see that UEO flag officers are enjoying real roast beef, suggesting that beef in the series' setting is roughly equivalent to what Cuban cigars are in the US: technically illegal, but if you are rich and well-connected enough to get a hold of the stuff, no one will arrest you for it and it helps grease the wheels of negotiation among the rich and prominent.
  • In FTL Newsfeed, something called Textured Fungal Protein can be used to create reasonable imitations of common foods.
  • In the Good Eats episode, "The Once and Future Fish", Alton is now an old man shopping with his granddaughter (played by his Real Life daughter). He is dismayed to find that most of the offerings at the store consist of Food Pills and that the only thing that seems to be available at the fish counter is squid.
  • In The Expanse, most people seen are reliant on artificial foodstuffs made from soy, while most meat is grown in vats. "Real" food is such a rarity that the availability of genuine cheese was enough to calm civil unrest on Ceres.
  • In Loki (2021), one of the anachronistic objects that the TVA agents confiscate in a branching timeline is a pack of "Kablooie" brand chewing gum, sold around 2047-2051. The packaging promotes that it has an artificial "blooberrie" flavor.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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!
  • Paranoia:
    • The game thrives on this trope, with a wide variety of artificial foods available — algae Chips, soy chewing gum, Bouncy Bubble Beverage, and the (extra super) infamous Hot Fun and Cold Fun among them. Soylent has even been used as one type of food as homage, as well as fitting nicely with the colour-coded security clearances. (Soylent Red, Orange, Yellow, etc.) 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 food vats are a staple of the game, both as a menial job that the vast majority of Infrared civilians work in, as a punishment reassignment after demotion, and as a source of insults and curses. ("Vatslime!") One manual goes into detail as to how the food vats work, specifically a symbiotic interaction between an aquatic plant and a fungus that results in a highly nutritious (And flavourless) gel that can be easily repurposed in a multitude of different ways.
    • 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. (Mid-level clearances can also afford to buy some extra real food from the Infrared market.)
  • 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 the Warhammer 40,000 setting, 'food' is very easy to come by for inhabitants of Forge Worlds and Hive Worlds... as you can find public food paste dispensers dotted everywhere that seem to be described akin to soap dispensers in bathrooms. This isn't universal, however, as there are also many Agri-Worlds that produce natural food.
  • 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 Kibble, a low-cost mass-produced food that's described as having the same appearance, smell, and flavor as the dog food from which it takes its name, and which only the truly destitute actually eat. Most people's food is pre-packs, which are usually heavy on soy, mycoprotein, insects, and artificially textured vegetables. Pre-packs vary in quality from food pastes that resemble instant ramen-flavored sealing foam, to "TV dinner"-style meals that can, in a pinch, be confused for something your mom would cook. If you feel like cooking for yourself, you can also get synthetic ingredients, though most people don't bother. "Fresh", a slang term encompassing all forms of naturally grown food (though even "fresh" meat and fish tend to be vat-grown or aquarium-raised) is a thing, but availability and price keep it somewhere between "maybe for an extra-special birthday treat" and "utterly unattainable" for the vast majority of the population.
  • 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.
  • In Exalted there's a spell from the lowest Circle creating manna falling from the sky. It comes in large enough quantities to sustain relatively large groups, and is nutritious and satiating without any ill effects, but has very bland taste and unnatural pink color.
  • Discussed briefly in BattleTech where scientists attempted to create food products from whatever artificial starch/protein/fiber substitutes or organic chemistry leftovers they could find as a means to feed the growing sphere of humanity. This was quickly dropped because 1) Multipurpose Monocultured Crop farming turned out to be an easier solution and 2) people refused to eat the various pseudo-foods they were producing (even in the early Scavenger World version of the setting, no one likes seeing the word 'recycled' in an ingredients list).

    Video Games 
  • In Baten Kaitos Origins, after Baelheit finishes his futuristic floating fortress Tarazed and people start moving there, it's noted that most food in the city is made with magna mixing (magna being the magical essence of various things), instead of normal cooking. It's apparently very healthy, but some people just can't get used to it, finding it unappetizing.
  • In City of Villains the most common food for normal citizens in the supervillain-ruled Rogue Islands is something called NutriPaste.
  • In Civilization: Beyond Earth, one project is a sort of superglue. It's found to be perfectly edible but tastes like cardboard. The option to reject it as food is "I doubt our colonists would appreciate food that doubles as an industrial adhesive."
  • The majority of packaged food items you pick up in Cyberpunk 2077 appear to be made from either soy or lab-grown synthmeat. Most are heavily processed into food paste, while some at least made the effort to mimic real food. Insects also have become a popular source of food, as seen with the flavored fried ants snacks and locust pizzas. There are still some sources of fresh food, like farmed fish (a necessity as the ocean is heavily polluted), but they are beyond the reach of most people; Evelyn waxes nostalgic about a time when one of her clients treated her to a "fresh" dinner.
  • 'Soy Food' in Deus Ex. Apparently advanced nanotechnology lets the user pick a flavour. The Chocolent bars (85% recycled material!) 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 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.
  • In Final Fantasy XIV, there was a distant world ruled by a government body called the Global Community. The Global Community was able to end world hunger by synthetically mass-producing foodstuffs. But the replicated food paled in comparison to real food, and not all foods could be replicated by the time mass-production became the norm, so there weren't as many choices of what to eat from what was produced.
  • 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.
  • Frostpunk has the player oversees a post-apocalyptic ice age colony with the main goal of trying desperately to hold off the Despair Event Horizon, which one of the issues includes providing enough food but traditional farming methods being unviable thanks to frozen climate. So lichen and moss are grown in heated greenhouses called Hothouses. Though this is Downplayed Trope since meat is implied to be available through hunting while warm-weather crops can be regrown from research for second-tiered Hot Houses. Stew rations and watered soup can be made from the mentioned food sources to feed more people, though the latter will cause small discontent due to lack of filling and taste. If things get really desperate, there's always adding sawdust to the rations to feed even more people (at the cost of people's health and mood) and then finally, there's good old cannibalism.
  • Grob (likely a corruption of "grub") from Journey to the Savage Planet is a thick purple gel whose description is mostly Techno Babble, but it's a 100% synthetic food substitute that randomly generates its flavor by way of "mega-morphological re-configurable nanoclusters." It has approximately four trillion flavours, although a couple literally taste like shit (inevitable when it can taste like pretty much anything based on a roll of a zillion-sided dice, really, but they're damn proud of it for some inexplicable reason). It is noted to be 4th best, so presumably there's more expensive versions that never roll "fecal won-tons." It's also shown in the commercial to replicate the shape and texture of whatever food it's mimicking, but "Tactical Grob" bait grenades only burst into a purple blot. It also acts as a dangerous mutagen to Space Gerbils.
  • Space Goo in Lunicus is the brand of synthesized food you can get, although since part of the game takes place on a moon base, it's somewhat justified.
  • Mass Effect:
    • 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.
    • Mass Effect 3: After inviting you to lunch on the Citadel, Kaidan will wonder exactly how the place is able to get real steak with the massive disruption in interstellar shipping the Reaper invasion has caused. He speculates that the place might actually be serving vat-grown meat without telling people.
    • 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 krogan on Elaaden are implied to be surviving partially on artificial meat with tech they took with them when they split. One long e-mail chain has one krogan getting into some trouble when he releases an e-mail promising everyone real varren meat ("Just like your battlemaster made!"), followed by several more e-mails when he "explains" that they were clearly misreading what he said (it's cloned meat, and that's just the start). Eventually, the chain ends with one krogan getting a little fed up with the lies, and putting out a bounty on his head.
  • Word of God states that any meat seen being eaten by a human in the Pokémon games is of this nature, Early-Installment Weirdness be damned.
  • In Prey (2017), genetically engineered Eels are used to filter and clean the station's water supply and are also bred as the only source of protein on Talos 1 while doubling as an Easter Egg for the developer Arkane Studios. However, much of station's other food is grown naturally in the station's Arboretum and in smaller planters scattered around, or imported from Earth.
    • The only thing that's difficult to get ahold of on Talos 1 is meat, so instead, they make do with genetically-engineered plants that have the taste and texture of meat. For example, a common food item is a pack of tomato jerky, made from tomatoes that supposedly taste exactly like Iberian cured ham.
  • Once Matthew Kane is partially Stroggified in Quake IV, he can replenish his health by consuming Stroyent, a refined substance made of dead humans and Strogg.
  • 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.
  • Rimworld allows you to build Nutrient Paste Dispensers that 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 or cooked in a dirty kitchen run the risk of causing food poisoning.
  • At the beginning of Robot City, you start in an escape pod that can provide food and drinks if the player desires. However, food is delivered through a tube, and drinks are given intravenously - complete with optional artificial flavors. In the titular city itself, the only nourishment its robots know how to make is Food Pills.
  • Subverted in The Secret World. Orochi Group tries to make this, sniffing a huge demand for a successful version but fails so far. They resort to conjuring a flesh golem directly from hell and hacking it with a chainsaw, exploiting its Healing Factor. The cuts are served in company cafeteria, but employees complain it tastes like despair, literally.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei IV, a giant rock dome has covered Tokyo for the past 25 years, making agriculture impossible. The people try their best to recreate normal food using dead demons, although judging by your partners' reactions, there's something very off about it.
  • Guess: where does the major source of Nutrients come from in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri? Kelp and people once you get recycling tanks. Fortunately the first uses of genetic engineering techs are developing crops that can grow on the planet.
    "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"
  • 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 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."
  • In Starmancer, the most easily-made food is Biomass, green bricks made by taking waste from toilets and processing it in a machine.
  • In Stars In Shadow, the Food Synthesis research allows an Ongoing Project called "Synthesize Food," which temporarily converts industrial production into food production. Said food is specifically noted to not taste very good and is strictly an emergency measure. Its next tier is called "food replicators," which makes the synthetic food taste better but still not as good as honest-to-goodness farmed food.
  • 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 Startopia basic fast food is made from energy, although you can also supply organic and mineral-based food supplies.
    • Its sequel Spacebase Startopia has food either created though energy or food crates, which are harvested from plants. There is sushi, which is made from plants. And molecular food, which is made from plants and medical supplies.Then there is that matter of some of the drinks having less that 5% real liquid in them...
  • Becoming a cook in Star Wars: Galaxies is quite revealing... it shows a side to the Star Wars universe you never thought of before...
  • Subnautica suggests that this is true of the game's setting. The first time the player catches a fish to eat, their PDA tells them that it's common for people raised on artificial food blocks to be disgusted at the idea of eating dead animals, but humans had survived for thousands of years doing just that and in an emergency you can't afford to be picky. One abandoned PDA log also has its author mentioning that he and his companions have had to eat fish to survive, in a tone that suggests doing such a thing would be controversial, and feels the need to justify it by saying "After all, it's nothing they wouldn't do."
  • In the bizarre '90s 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 that can turn the base nutrients of the food goo to something edible.
  • XCOM: Chimera Squad: Downplayed. With the liberation of Vichy Earth leaving a lot of aliens stranded and trying to integrate into human society, natural foods are still common but City 31 is pushing various artificial foods in an attempt to find something that a large number of species can eat, instead of having specific foods for every individual species. It's a Running Gag that sectoids have such specific dietary needs that anything any other species can eat has some terrible side effects on sectoids. Examples include Burger Palace kelp-protein burgers that are rebranded ADVENT burgers ("new name, new location, new ingredients, new process, same great taste") and contain a "flavor bulb" that detects if a species can't eat it and flees, BIG CRUNCH ("the cereal that writhes!") hibernating gene-tailored grubs that awaken when you pour milk on them, and NotDogs. Aliens are not supposed to eat more than one pack per week, and they should immediately be discarded if they turn "the color perceived by humans as blue."
  • 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).

    Visual Novels 
  • In the world of Bionic Heart, almost everyone is a vegetarian in the future because the constant rain and lack of sunlight on a Single Biome Earth makes it impossible to raise livestock and difficult to grow fresh crops. People typically eat a sort of flavored foam instead of real food.

    Web Comics 
  • 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 one space arc Arthur, King of Time and Space space-arc strip, Arthur asks Guenevere if she's ever wondered why some flavors are named after animals, and she's grossed out by the thought. In another, during Gareth's time incognito in the Excalibur's galley, she makes scrambled eggs by literally combining the component chemical compounds together.
  • In Terinu avoiding "food cube" starship rations is a minor luxury for the crew of the Terona.
  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • Animal products have been mostly replaced by bacterial cultures, the old-fashioned versions being delicacies. Vat-grown fruits and vegetables are common, but it's still cheaper to buy a mix.
    • Automatic food dispensers use "nutrifuel" to build food seemingly from nothing. "Soldier grade meatfuel" is when the dispensers ignore taste in order to increase efficiency; it's great fuel for meat, but the only people who will eat it are soldiers, and even then usually only when explicitly ordered to. More common is "people grade meals," which are prettied up and tastier, but cost more time and nutrifuel to make. They come from the exact same dispenser and are built from the exact same recycled biological material. The hopper is kept out of sight so that no one has to see exactly what goes into the dispenser.
  • 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.
  • Serix: While more traditional food still exists in the future, Rees won't eat anything besides "plasti-food" out of a desire to not hurt living things. It's apparently not very healthy. An in-universe commercial shows other ways that artifical meat is made in the setting, such as being grown from plants, created on an assembly line, or being harvested from giant disembodied tumors.
  • Sleepless Domain: While animal products aren't completely absent within the City — the last known bastion of humanity after an event known as "the Collapse," now confined to living under a protective dome — the limited space available means there isn't enough room for large-scale livestock operations, and so for most citizens alternatives are necessary. The cartons of milk that show up are specified as being soy milk, for example, and a character at one point uses the expression "real meat on golden platters" in reference to extreme luxury.
  • In Spacetrawler, food on spacecraft is synthesized on a molecular level from space debris. Although Dmitri quips that the vodka tastes like asteroid, nobody else objects to flavor or texture of their food or drink, and he drinks the vodka anyway.
  • In Sunset Grill this is considered the norm. So much so that part of the reason the grill is considered low class is that it serves real food as opposed to this. That's also part of the reason why some people come to the grill to eat.

    Web Original 
  • The Halo ARG I Love Bees features a scene at a restaurant, where a character gawks at how the menu has real tuna, instead of what is implied to be this. Further implications of human society relying on this includes a mention of how Customs Agents were bribed with four goats.
  • Orion's Arm plays with this trope, as mentioned in the Food Production page. Some food is artificially made from single-celled organisms or matter compilers, but there's still plenty of agriculture going on.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • 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 1950s and '60s, thought this trope would soon be necessary on account of an impending Malthusian catastrophe, taking into account the worldwide population boom that took place after World War II, if there wasn't to be mass starvation in the 1970s. 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-eight billion people.
    • And they also didn't anticipate artificial famines (governments make a mistake, few thousand to 50 million dead) that slowed population growth.
  • This B.B.C article on 'note by note cooking', where food is entirely constructed with the basic building blocks of food rather than raw ingredients.
  • Quorn is a real-life mycoprotein product.
  • 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 have been multiple attempts at making foodstuff 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, then cooked and served to food critics and chefs. They admitted that, while it was nowhere near as good as 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: 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. Or more likely, beef will go back to being an expensive food like it was prior to the US's ramping up of cattle production with lots of government subsidies after World War 2.
  • In a temporal inversion of this trope — that is, Past Food is Artificial — 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 and soy milk too. There are also preserved recipes for things like fake bacon, made from smoked salmon and whale blubber, pressed in layers to look like bacon.
    • On a related note, pemmican is a good example of a nutritious, ridiculously long-lasting but not particularly tasty foodstuff that makes for good travel rations. It is, however, neither vegetarian/fasting nor artificial, being more in the line of a Food Pill made from dried powdered meat mixed with lard and some berries.
  • 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. They've also branched out into beef products, their most well-known being hamburger-like patties that "bleed" (using beet juice) and brown like real burgers.
  • 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."
  • Coca-Cola started out using an actual cola nut to give the drink its taste. Nowadays, the flavor is synthesized.
    • The main use of the cola nut in the drink was for the caffeine it contains. Nowadays it is much cheaper to synthesize both the caffeine and the flavor than to use the real stuff.
    • For the record, they still use the coca leaf extract (purified from cocaine with great pomp and security), because there's no economical way to synthesize the flavor.
  • For the first time in centuries, people have a substitute for the luxury dish shark fin soup; imitation shark fin soup, commonly sold on the streets and with the fins replaced with cellophane noodles, gel, or other ingredients.
  • Because real maple syrup is so laborious to produce, it takes a lot of maple sap to produce even a little syrup (making one gallon of maple syrup involves boiling down forty gallons of maple sap), and it can only be made during a relatively small window of the year, so it can be expensive. A cheaper alternative had to be found. Enter pancake syrup, which consists of corn syrup and caramel coloring/flavoring (and no actual maple of any kind, whatsoever). Which is cheap, and it doesn't taste bad, but it tastes nothing like the real thing.
  • East Germany had a burgeoning organic chemistry industry, that produced everything that could be produced from carbon and hydrogen atoms from lignite. This included diesel, industrial lubricants, kerosene, jet fuel... and margarine.
  • The sulfite process of producing paper pulp also yields a variety of monosaccharides, mostly mannose and xylose, which can be fermented into alcohol. While this process is and was mostly used to make methanol and ethanol for industrial use, attempts to market and sell sulfite-based alcoholic beverages have been made. In Sweden, sulfite-based vodkas were introduced in an attempt to reduce food waste in the lean years following World War I and remained available until 1955.

Alternative Title(s): Soylent Soy