The Future of Food Is Here, and It’s Pizza

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
May 22 2013 11:01 AM

The Future of Food Is Here, and It’s Pizza

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Pizza made the old-fashioned way

Photo by LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images

There’s a lot of talk these days about making a manned run at Mars (and the gerbils who are helping us get there). But even if we learn to survive 30 years in a space ship, what will we eat along the way? The answer, of course, is pizza—long lasting, self-assembling, 3-D printed pizza.

And if it’s not ready in 30 minutes or less, well, you’ll just wait, won’t you? Because in space, no one can hear you whine.

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NASA has awarded a $125,000 grant to Systems & Materials Research Corp. to develop the 3-D printed pies. “Long distance space travel requires 15-plus years of shelf life,” Anjan Contractor told Quartz. “The way we are working on it is, all the carbs, proteins and macro and micro nutrients are in powder form. We take moisture out, and in that form it will last maybe 30 years.”

Obviously, pizza makes a good candidate for 3-D printing because it’s nothing if not a layered mess of calories. The proposed printer will be able to assemble different food items from cartridges of basic ingredient powders. With pizza, imagine a slurry of compounds whisked together to make dough, which is then printed onto a hot plate to cook. Next would come a layer of sauce that combines tomato concentrate, oil, and water. The Quartz piece by Christopher Mims makes no mention of cheese. Instead, he says the “pizza” is topped with some ominous concoction known only as the “protein layer.”

Did you hear that? That’s the sound of 78,000 volunteers withdrawing their applications for the one-way trip to Mars. But at least astronauts have bathrooms now.

Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your perspective—3-D printed food may one day be the norm here on Earth. As the world’s population rises and we struggle to feed the billions, Contractor and his team believe their work could conserve valuable resources. Hypothetically, 3-D printed food could also be tailored to the nutritional needs of each individual—like a pregnant woman or an elderly man. And an organization in the Netherlands is already imagining ways to 3-D print food using more sustainable sources such as algae, beet leaves, and insects.

Only one thing is certain: If the project remains open-source as Contractor intends, someone will perfect bacon cartridges long before the food apocalypse. Which means that while everyone is fighting over 3-D printing technology that can build a gun, what we should be worried about is the 3-D printing technology that can build this.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Jason Bittel serves up science for picky eaters on his website, BittelMeThis.com. He lives in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter.

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