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Synthetic food that’s safer than Play-doh

BY BARRETT SONN | AUGUST 06, 2014 5:00 AM

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What is your favorite food? Whether you said waffles at dinner, chocolate ice cream in the morning, or your annoying neighbor’s kidneys at midnight, consider this: a world in which all food is 100 percent plastic.

It is the potential future for humankind — a future in which food sustainability is an issue thanks to a finite amount of space on Earth and a growing population looking to survive and thrive. As a number of sources, including USA Today, have reported, plastic might be on the human survival section of the menu.

And you’re not going to believe this, but there are some kinks to work out before plastic food becomes close to a real-world solution. There are the obvious issues, like taste and smell, which heavily factor into our eating habits.

You can shape plastic into pretty much anything, but “fake” food is, well, fake food. There are already some strong feelings regarding such delicacies as tomatoes and tofu, so you can imagine the potentially visceral reactions people would have if they were supposed to eat a block of plastic.

The only ones who wouldn’t care would probably be little kids, who could just receive food that’s shaped like Lego bricks. Heck, it might even be the climax of their lives.

There’s another aspect to this: humanity. I may be biased, because I love food and watching TV shows that involve lots of food, but even preparing something to eat has an air of familiarity to eat. It’s in our nature.

While some of us may not be huge fans of cooking, many of us do enjoy everything from making a simple sandwich to grilling some burgers on a nice day outside. Maybe it’s something inherent, or maybe it’s just evolution and our intense desire to stay alive.

Whatever it is, I believe it would get taken away — or reduced — if we start eating edible plastic. I’m just assuming here, but it seems unlikely people would start making this stuff in their own homes. It would probably have to be purchased at grocery stores, or maybe the government would distribute it.

Regardless, it would clearly be a much different experience from what we have now. There’s something colder about it — less comforting. And what things such as soup and stew? Are we going to drink plastic too? No … that’s just ridiculous. I hope.

Because so much of this is hypothetical, however, I do want to remain optimistic. Plastic opens up a whole new world for the food industry and for regular folks like you and me. There’s even an intriguing artistic aspect to it.

A London designer named Johanna Schmeer recently unveiled a project about plastic food that basically boils down to concept art. She’s fully aware of our perception of food and taste and wants to focus on “placing an emphasis on the visual and tactile senses.”

The results are, um, interesting. She was not kidding when she wanted to focus on the more visual and touchy-feely aspects. Having said that, the project is definitely geared toward being more artsy than practical, which would explain some of the hideous monsters I had the misfortune of looking at on the Internet.

One particularly heinous result looks like a slimy pancake with some wilted Nerf darts stacked vertically on top. Even the hand model holding the unruly beast has her fingers touching the very edges of it, perhaps in fear of catching some horrific disease.

Seriously though, there’s no reason to panic. Regular, homely food is still the norm and it should stay that way for at least a couple of decades. But, it may just be a matter of time before we have the ability to make brick castles and spaceships … before promptly gulping them down for dinner.


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