Help me find passages from speculative science fiction regarding food.
June 26, 2013 8:48 AM   Subscribe

Looking for sci-fi writers' imaginings of gastronomy in the future, innovative cooking techniques, haute cuisine of the year 3000, that sort of thing. Descriptions can be mundane, fantastical or technojargony. Can include imaginary or extraterrestrial ingredients. Any medium is fine (film, TV, book, etc.). Adjacent genres such as fantasy would work too.
posted by duffell to Food & Drink (46 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.
posted by jeffkramer at 8:54 AM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I seem to remember Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand having a description of some kind of elaborate salad/ceviche/christmas tree meal.

Soylent Green is obviously the ur SF food movie.

Futurama had a whole episode that revolved around a sketchy sandwich.
posted by adamrice at 8:55 AM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Damon Knight's short story "To Serve Man".
posted by Logophiliac at 8:57 AM on June 26, 2013

"Beyond Lies the Wub" (1952) by Philip K. Dick
posted by dgeiser13 at 9:01 AM on June 26, 2013

Don't forget the instant pizza from Back to the Future Part II.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:06 AM on June 26, 2013

Red Dwarf's series 6 episode "Legion," the crew visit an advanced space station that has no crew except one, a strange human named Legion. Legion serves the crew a feast with some remarkable utensils, "Mimosian Anti-matter Chopsticks." Comedy ensues.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:08 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Good Taste" (1976) by Isaac Asimov
posted by dgeiser13 at 9:11 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

A short scene set in the kitchen of the spaceship Heart of Gold from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005). With Zooey Deschanel, Martin Freeman and a really bad cup of tea.
posted by Quilford at 9:11 AM on June 26, 2013

"Pizza the Hutt," a sentient talking blob of pizza, is a gangster to whom Lone Star owes a Million Spacebucks, and which spurs him to take the job that sets the plot in motion. You know what happens when you don't pay Pizza the Hutt, don't you? "Pizza is gonna send out for you."

Speaking of talking meals, Hitchhiker's Guide sequel "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" allows you to select your cut of steak by meeting the cow who will be your meal, and the talking cow talks about the various merits of its parts. The character is known as "Dish of the Day."

Also, the movie "The Fifth Element" had some instant foods not unlike Back to the Future. Leeloo adds a jelly-bean-sized object from a jar to a kitchen appliance, waits just a couple of seconds, Ding!, and she removes the very large roasted turkey it has transformed into. Despite this being unimaginably fast food, McDonald's is still in operation. Korbin Dallas also enjoys a meal (some noodle dish?) from an Asian man operating a restaurant whose flying vehicle floats alongside your shoebox apartment in the sky. I think his business model needs work.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:18 AM on June 26, 2013

Gruel in The Matrix.

Food Pill rehydration in The Fifth Element (though they clearly had a 90s era fridge), McDonald's pre-fabbed food (Dallas crashes into a unit and is covered in burgers and fries), fancy liquids stored in steel bottles (Diva suite, they were Siggs), The flying lunch guy at the start, the sale and advertisement of the Gemini Croquettes (probably a meal substitute ala the crackers in make room make room). Standard coffee pot in Dallas' room, including an empty croquette box and some our-era empty take out containers.

Harry Harrison - soylent crackers = people in the movie but just krill in the books. McSwiney's food o mats - food prepped, flash frozen, stuck in a food o mat and replenished once a month, flash thawed and served.

The Robert Asprin Myth books touch on it - rough "medieval" food on Klah, strawberry milkshakes at the Bazaar at Deva, live and spicy snack foods at the bar on Perv, the beer, too, the fancy restaurant that served Skeeve the Khlad-shaped sweetmeats and breads, the coffee served at The Mall ... the alcoholic drinks on the vampire dimension ...

Can't remember what was in The Restaurant At The End of the Universe, but hoopy froods always have a bit of food on their towels for just in case.

Moving Mars by Bova talks about nano food and yeast cakes, with some "throw back" places on Earth specializing in fake but real-looking old fashioned food, the protagonists friend marries into a family that has a tea farm and raises fruits, Cassie visits a winery with vat-grown grapes, and at the end sells and eats New Mars fruits and vegetables.

To be continued, apparently I notice this stuff a lot more than I thought but I have to run ...
posted by tilde at 9:19 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos loves food as a sensual pleasure. Vlad describes meals and cooking in detail in all of the Taltos books. This continues in the Khaavren Romances too, but Vlad's food preferences are an admitted projection of Brust onto Vlad. It should also be no surprise to anyone that Dumas is a major influence.

From Brust's descriptions, it's possible to reconstruct the dishes: Freshwater Trout from Dzur and the ubiquitous Klava, which all his characters prefer to mere coffee.
posted by bonehead at 9:19 AM on June 26, 2013

There a short scene in the first chapter of Robert Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky where the teenaged protagonist is making dinner for himself and his father: "Elapsed time from scratch, two minutes and twenty seconds --- there's nothing hard about cooking: I don't see why women make such a fuss about it. No system, probably." Notable for food cubes, pre-packaged & portioned food and a version of a microwave, all in a 1950 book.
posted by easily confused at 9:20 AM on June 26, 2013

Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand also has a scene where a society honours the main character by asking for a sample so they can add his DNA to their meat vats, regarded by them as a huge compliment. And another where the main character finds a bone in a piece of meat and is horrified, because in his experience meat is always vat-grown and isn't the product of actually killing a living creature.
posted by zadcat at 9:21 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Windup Girl is a scary example of how current GMO food policies might play out in the future, and how calories become the most precious form of energy.
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:25 AM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I somehow left out that "Pizza the Hutt" is from the Mel Brooks mostly-Star-Wars parody Spaceballs.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:30 AM on June 26, 2013

One of the many side-details I remember from Transmetropolitan was someone grabbing an order of caribou eyeballs from a take-away "Eskimo restaurant." Not future "haute cuisine" but devaluing of what was once a delicacy.

Conversely, in Soylent Green, they present a piece of beef as an incredible extravagance.

The Hollowheads kitchen you might find interesting, but they are just supposed to be a middle-class household.

In the future there are fancy Taco Bell restaurants because all restaurants are Taco Bell.
posted by RobotHero at 9:31 AM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

For, ummm, really tacky scifi: the movie Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) has all the Martian food in pill form.... pills for Earth-type foods like roast beef or whatever.
posted by easily confused at 9:31 AM on June 26, 2013

Robert Heinlein: Farmer in the Sky - aforementioned opening scene for quick prep of food, also salvaging afterwards of the food scraps from the wrappers to save ration points (he does the dishes because his dad lets too many scraps get away). Since it is about a kid farming in the sky, on another planet, food is talked about extensively out there, a forking of earth ecology on Ganymede. Many things seem to be root crops, with the exception of wind or hand pollinated plants (his neighbor's Apple Tree for one).

Have Space Suit, Will Travel: Simply tinned rations and suit supplements of sugars, salts, Dexedrine and other meds within the solar system hat you'd be expected to have available in the 50s-60s. Without, the foods are simulacrums as designed by a ten year old girl to match Earth-like tastes and shapes and smells.

Tunnel in the Sky - more implied rationing and quick prep of food on Earth, with migrations related to famine.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - food shortages and rationing on heavily black market Earth, Luna is basically a farm for Earth and herself, it's all interleaved with politics and the story. Standard prep of food, cooked to go, not a lot of flash fancy frozen stuff.

Nothing remarkable about his other juveniles and short stories except quick prep and space cooking briefly mentioned in The Rolling Stones, quick prep or not discussed much in others with the exception of family cooking or buffet style layouts prepped by those who do that sort of organization ... family meals in Friday and in I Will Fear No Evil - not sure if they both had rationing, but both had quick food/flash packs that were eschewed by folks as not as good as what it used to be.
posted by tilde at 9:38 AM on June 26, 2013

Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth universe novels contain descriptions of synthesized food and how human chefs are still employed to achieve a quality of preparation that machines just can't match (I recall this from one of the first two Void trilogy novels).
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:40 AM on June 26, 2013

One very vivid food-oriented passage that comes immediately to mind is the one on 'ChickieNobs' in Maragret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.
posted by fikri at 9:48 AM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

The Hunger Games (the books especially) have quite a bit of this, especially in Katniss' wide-eyed descriptions of the rich food eaten by the wealthy about ~300 years from now.

For fantasy, George RR Martin is known (and much-jibed) for his intricate descriptions of feasts - the dishes in his books tend to be a take-offs on medieval European or Mediterranean food, but not exact replicas.
posted by lunasol at 9:56 AM on June 26, 2013

I can't find one right now, but I'm pretty sure there are lots of passages about the spice melange being used to flavour food in Dune and it's (se|pre)quels.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:57 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

And now that fikri has brought up Margaret Atwood, I'm pretty sure that half of Lady Oracle was descriptions of what the protagonist was eating as she was courting anorexia.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:58 AM on June 26, 2013

And who can forget Riker's introduction to Klingon foods?
posted by fikri at 10:00 AM on June 26, 2013

Scalzi - I've only read his books a couple of times, but they deal with rationing, farms and collectives, beer ;). Mostly tangentally, except for a foray or two back to Earth.

Varley - Mars trilogy - the invention that allows them to travel through space using captured energy stringed in from somewhere also allows them to encase food into "bubbles" leaving them fresh, hot, unaged, everything. Specifically, you could buy a box of Krispy Kremes and pop them in a bubble, popping the bubble, grab one, close it back up and they'd still be hot and fresh hundreds of years later. Fish fresh caught, still flopping when you open the bubble, etc. Used by the bubble inventors and family, not everyone.

Spider Robinson - Variable Star. Some pre prepped food, but running a hydroponic garden to keep things interesting for their 40+year space trip. On Earth presumed rationing, but with "bubble fresh" technology similar to what Varley uses above. Again with inventors or super rich. There is free food on the ship but you can pay for fancier stuff.

Allen Steele's Coyote series - flash frozen/dehydrated foods for the trip out - when someone "wakes up early", they eat a lot of it, rehydrating and experimenting in the first book. Later books it's mostly about farming Coyote, planting our fauna and adapting to what's there.

I slogged through the KS Robinson Mars trilogy. Grew food on the ship, then on Mars, as there was nothing there to begin with.

I remember one Heinlein juvenile that dealt with Venearians not wanting to eat in public, and in Citizen of the Galaxy they had one ritual "meal" with someone they were trading with that the humans weren't supposed to eat, but the meal was part of the deal, always.

Futurama - Bender learns to cook. One where Fry makes his own Oreo style cookies. One where aliens restart a pizza shop (Pannucci's except for the fact it was destroyed four or five times and would have stood in the ruins of New New York are now).

Wow, my reading needs to get broader. That is a very very small pile of authors.
posted by tilde at 10:02 AM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Firefly! - standard canned foods, some silver pouches of protein powder (Kaylee makes The Doctor a protein chocolate cake). They sometimes get fresh fruits and veg but they are rare and expensive. Our Mrs Reynolds deals quite a bit with food and the issues surrounding the prep (social issues).

I didn't pay enough attention to BSG, but ST: Voyager finally had to start a hydroponics garden, everything else was that transmorgifer food creator thing that they ran out of replenishment for (seriously, sending out ships without small homesteading/stranded packs and plans?).
posted by tilde at 10:08 AM on June 26, 2013

How could I forget about "Animal 57," the codename of vat-grown meat alleged to be farmed by Kentucky Fried Chicken, or was it Taco Bell? (The latter link is a USENET meme exegesis by the internet legend James "Kibo" Parry, and includes his artist's rendering of Animal 57.)

Vat-grown meat (as well as human body parts, some sustaining life) is found throughout William Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy, beginning with Neuromancer.

I suppose "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" fit this.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:15 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Babylon 5 has a lot of eating scenes, including some ritual Mimbari meals (through which Captain Sinclair dozes occasionally, much to the dismay of the person who spent days without sleep preparing the meal just so).

Paolo Bagicalupi's novel The Windup Girl was already mentioned, but his short story collection Pump Six has also got a lot of good stuff touching on or directly about near-future food crisis stuff.

I'm kind of drawing a blank on anything else that hasn't already been mentioned, but I'm sure there's a ton more. Hmmm...
posted by lriG rorriM at 10:37 AM on June 26, 2013

In "Live Free or Die," the first book in the Troy Rising trilogy by John Ringo, a man brokers an interstellar trade agreement of maple syrup to aliens, in exchange for technology to fight another group of aliens that has essentially taken possession of the Earth under the existing intergalactic law.

Maple syrup is an intoxicant for many aliens, and by the time the alien masters figure out its value, the man and his partners already control the entire US and Canadian markets.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:45 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

With all this input, don't miss dgeiser13's suggestion of Asimov's "Good Taste". If I read the question right, it's exactly what you're looking for.
Future food for the densely-populated society is all based on engineered fungus (hydroponically grown for maximal efficiency) that is nutritionally complete, so being a "chef" means combining different fungus strains in new ways to make them as palatable/delicious as possible. Story investigates how they'd feel about what we'd consider "real food" as opposed to the fungal food of the future.
posted by aimedwander at 10:50 AM on June 26, 2013

Neal Stephenson: There is the awesome description of eating Captain Crunch in Cryptonomicon, but that is modern day. However Anathem has a lot of food description, from growing plants to additives in common food.

Asimov also talks a fair amount about food (on prev. comments seems related to "Good Taste") in Prelude to Foundation.

Anne McCaffery and her co-writers spend some time on food over time (coffee in and out of fashion) and civilization and vegetarianism in the Planet Pirates trilogy.

Extra credit sidebar: Fun food stuff in SyFy's Eureka. Including vat meats and a cafe that has everything.
posted by monopas at 10:56 AM on June 26, 2013

Scott Lynch describes food extensively in his Lies Of Locke Lamora books, set in a fantasy maritime city.
posted by PussKillian at 10:57 AM on June 26, 2013

Any episode of the original Star Trek series that has food: it's all apparently manufactured to order by the computer; comes on trays out of wall slots, no kitchens or actual cooks.
posted by easily confused at 12:14 PM on June 26, 2013

I'm not sure it's quite what you're looking for, but in The Forever War they have a future where calories have become currency, because food is scarce. I don't think the food itself is much different than now, but it's been a while since I read it.
posted by DynamiteToast at 12:24 PM on June 26, 2013

If we are doing "vat-grown" there was Chicken Little in The Space Merchants.
posted by RobotHero at 12:32 PM on June 26, 2013

There's a lot in Babylon 5: a running joke about spoo, a food generally regarded as one of the most delicious in the galaxy, though different races disagree on how to prepare it; G'Kar explaining that every sentient race has its own form of what humans call Swedish Meatballs; and flarn, a Minbari delicacy that humans seem to have a difficult time getting right. Oh, and plenty of booze, but the only one I recall is Brevari, a Centauri liquor of some sort.

There are also several mentions of beloved traditional Earth food that's difficult and costly to get on a space station, like coffee (Commander Ivanova breaks regulations by keeping a coffee plant in the station's hydroponics garden), orange juice, and bagna caulda, something so meaningful to one of the characters that he has the ingredients smuggled on board so he can make it for his (or his father's?) birthday.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:32 PM on June 26, 2013

Citizen of the galaxy - there was a gruel served as a traditional ceremonial meal on the trader ships for big occasions - adoptions, etc - 'eaten' ceremonially and then followed with foodstuff.

The Rolling Stones - when the Stones set out for the asteroids, (and mars) - they pack foodstuffs specific to their destinations (or attempt to); inter-trip pickups decimate their goods but what is left of the luxury goods is worth its weight in high grade.

Stranger In a Strange Land - emphasis on syntho and quick foods and quickie meal service; some home grown food inside the "nest" and ritual cannibalism. Real meat was a treat for folks with money.

Of course, Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit eat, eat, eat! Breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, feasts of many number, and "on the road" lambas bread - one bit fills a man for a day.

The movie version of Aeon Flux had the "small town" locally grown feeling, with an open market and social sharing of meals.

2010: The Year We make contact I'm remembering ... juice boxes before there were (or were out there - maybe we weren't allowed to have them as I distinctly remember Capri Sun and that was a no no).

Repo Man: - normal "middle class" food but the cans and boxes were all labeled plainly with their contents - BEER - CEREAL etcetera, reminsecent of the hidden OBEY signs in the Them/They movie(s)?.

Back to the future II - Cafe 80s. Stylized retro 80s cuisine in addition to the "bring home" pizza to rehydrate. They also had a "live" fruitbowl that doubled as a decoration that retracted and contratcted on command.

The Jetsons - food pills? Flash freeze? I don't remember.

Fifth element - Zorg had a fruit bowl on his desk, did a whole ritual and speech around destruction that centered on that fruit and a glass of water.

Galaxy Quest - reminds me of how many 'stranger in a strange land' scenarios you get around the table. I believe it was inedible simulacrums of food that were served.

Happy Accidents is a strange little movie. Involves time travelling, and people talking about growing up on the ocean in Iowa, implying severe global warming, sea rising. Marveling in the wealth of foods available in our time.

Wall-E - on earth, old twinkies. On the ship, everyone drinking milkshake paste food flavored like foods they've only heard about (put seeds in the ground, water them, and grow pizza!)

Planet 51 another weirdie - animation with a translation of American life through both an alien culture as translated through Spanish/Euro filters. Aliens obessed with American lives, imitating with thier own foods and traditions, but in a way unawaer ... they believe the alien when he pulls out a candy bar from Earth ..
posted by tilde at 2:16 PM on June 26, 2013

posted by Kafkaesque at 2:48 PM on June 26, 2013

Deckard's noodle dinners in Bladerunner.
posted by feistycakes at 3:14 PM on June 26, 2013

JD Robb's In Death series (near-future) has a bunch of stuff about faux-coffee (and the main character is effectively wooed by the billionaire via real coffee and real steak). It's all soy for the most part, and vegetarian. Auto-chefs make food but need to be stocked via the owner (and can breakdown). Pizza is still big, food vendors everywhere, there are still grocers and fresh stuff though. Events still have food and it's super fancy.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:40 PM on June 26, 2013

"House of Stairs" by William Sleator had little pellets of meat that were dispensed by a machine when the characters performed specific actions. They were apparently nutritious enough to live on.

"Fat Farm" by Orson Scott Card isn't about food production, really, but the main character eats and eats and eats until he is really fat, then has his memories transferred into a cloned skinny body. Repeatedly.
posted by tacodave at 4:57 PM on June 26, 2013

Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun has some interesting culinary habits that I don't want to spoil.

The Redwall books by Brian Jacques are full of descriptions of feasts.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:45 PM on June 26, 2013

The Heechee series by Frederick Pohl you have the Heechee food factory, CHON, which converts raw elements (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen) into food; the main source being asteroids/comets.
posted by jadepearl at 6:32 PM on June 26, 2013

There's a scene in Heretics of Dune where, after a particularly notable display of superhuman capabilities, the character Miles Teg finds a restaurant that is deliberately styled after very old establishments (i.e., the kinds you or I would be familiar with), even going so far as to have printed menus and human servers. Drained by his exertions, Teg asks his host to serve him a "great deal of food," consisting of two-thirds carbs to one third protein, "until I tell you to stop." Teg clearly must eat a great deal indeed, because another guest calls it "the most remarkable gastronomic I have ever seen"—after which Teg manages to polish of another dessert or two.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:08 PM on June 26, 2013

From Asimov's Robots of Dawn:
One of the tables was set with dishes, cups, and elaborate cutlery, not all of which were familiar to Baley. In the center was a tall, somewhat tapering cylinder that looked as though it might be a gigantic chess pawn made out of a gray rocky material.

Baley, as he sat down, could not resist reaching toward it and touching it with a finger.

Fastolfe smiled, "It's a spicer. It possesses simple controls that allows one to use it to deliver a fixed amount of any of a dozen different condiments on any portion of a dish. To do it properly, one picks it up and performs rather intricate evolutions that are meaningless in themselves but that are much valued by fashionable Aurorans as symbols of the grace and delicacy with which meals should be served. When I was younger, I could, with my thumb and two fingers, do the triple genuflection and produce salt as the spicer struck my palm. Now if I tried it, I'd run a good risk of braining my guest. I trust you won't mind if I do not try."

"I urge you not to try, Dr. Fastolfe."
posted by mumkin at 10:00 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, you may be interested to read about "crottled greeps" as a recurring food related in-joke in SFF writing. I suspect they're now most widely known from an early chapter in Niven and Pournelle's The Gripping Hand.
posted by mumkin at 9:23 AM on June 29, 2013

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