How did yesterday’s science fiction fantasize about the food of “the future”… and its crises?

After food aversions and veganism, the Alimentarium explores an a priori more playful universe, that of science fiction. Expectation novels, cinema and popular culture have given color and shape to the food of the future, and the Veveysan Museum puts them in dialogue with our news about human eaters in 2022.

A somewhat outdated object immediately challenges the visitor with this first question on the subject of crockery. An old housewife – the cutlery locked in a small briefcase – questions the concept of commensality: What is the point of eating together?

Also read: Boris Wastiau: “The Alimentarium and the MEG have more connections than you think”

drying up of the Mediterranean Sea

One of the fathers of SF, Hugo Gernsback, gives a clear first answer (“Ralph 124C 41+”), suggesting that man would be perfectly happy if he were content to ingest semi-liquid nourishment through a dispenser, without the effort of chewing and social behavior babble. In the “Scienticafés” the guests, comfortably seated in their leather armchairs, would be fed via tubes and finally have access to the real pleasures of the palate…

A 1930 chromolithograph evokes a cousin idea with a fun meal machine (eating machine), whose tentacle arms move to force-feed two opposing Dabblers, their breastplates carefully protected by a bib.

Dating essentially from the 19th and 20th centuries, these projections may seem anecdotal or absurd, clever or even visionary. Some are downright crazy. At the time of Nazi Germany’s expansion, an engineer thinks of draining the Mediterranean to gain land and feed the Allied bloc.

Single feed and dehydrated vegetables

Under the scrutiny of Nestlé’s pioneers, inventors of dried vegetables and the thermos flask, the subject takes on even more salt. SF and our predecessors invented thirty-six ways to break the seed in a more or less near future: nostalgic or smiling, scary or terribly prescient. How will we eat in 2049? The title FOOD2049 is a nod to the recent remake Blade Runner 2049 and to seasoned amateurs of SF, sometimes leaving the others behind for lack of reference.

The exhibition is divided into four axes. The Scienticafé evokes for humanity the prospect of being liberated from all the efforts of the machine, right down to the gesture of bringing food to the mouth. Cybercocagne is the space where artificial intelligence hints at a fully robotic future. The single food’s theme, another old moon, was alternately perceived as a liberating solution or the ultimate foil. Finally, the New Lands conclude the journey by listing various imaginary or real solutions to ensure humankind’s food security in the face of multiple challenges posed by demographics, climate and pandemics.

Also read: Food neophobia or despair over spinach

Between utopias and collapse

As early as the 16th century, the philosopher and author of “Utopia” Thomas More fantasized about an imaginary land where citizens would be freed from the drudgery of preparing food: in its perfect kitchen, however, women and slaves were banished… We’ve seen better. For example in the 1950s when the first appeared smart kitchen Americans who listen to our every need and carry out our orders. The voluptuous housewife in the ad only has to put on her bathing suit to go to the beach. Another universe, that of the Star Trek series from the 80s, whose replicator produces the necessary molecules to meet all needs and put an end to animal exploitation and hunger. It’s the 24th century, we’re going back.

The end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century was the birth of many utopias, followed by darker visions, between fears and hopes, of the end of a world and the pseudo-discovery of the unique food: pill, drink, powder, survival ration. The idea is particularly present in the cinema, crackers from “Soleil vert” by Richard Fleischer (1973) to THX 1138 (George Lukas, 1971), from “Brazil” by Terry Gilliam (1985) with its numbered dishes Woody Allen’s robot (1973 ).

The challenges of the future from the perspective of the 1960s

In the 1960s, a BBC program addressed population growth and nutritional challenges that at the time seemed insurmountable. To feed three billion people, tomorrow six billion, what can be done? The outlined solution then includes the triumph of a productivist agriculture or even the invention of vitamin-rich meals. The terms of the question hardly change, apart from the numbers, but the attacks on the environment, on biodiversity, are not taken into account.

So we oscillate between a smiling vision of progress designed to free humanity from its duties and the memory of our most recent nightmare, the loss of diversity synonymous with all dangers.

The sometimes prescient 50s and 60s gave birth to countless gadgets, such as this prototype of the ideal American kitchen after Whirlpool for the National Expo in Moscow in 1959. You will find an echo in the fully automated pizzeria and the cocktail bar, which is also 100% autonomous, the there really are, the ultimate avatars of this utopia.

The presentation of the Alimentarium will find many extensions through the screening of films on the classics of SF and other retro-futuristic culinary workshops.

FOOD2049, from 20 May 2022 to March 2023 at the Alimentarium, Quai Perdonnet 25, Vevey. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm.

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