The implications of printed food


New year, new story detail. I was hunting around for a novel type of ‘crime’ for my sci-fi detective character to get embroiled with yesterday afternoon and found myself wondering about the implications of food replicator technology or 3D printed food like Pizza or Gnocci. What are the base materials? Would they be able to work off a basic amino acid powder mix, or something a little more familiar? How much adulteration would one of the units be able to take in the form of cheaper bulking agents before it broke down, as manufacturers try to minimise outlay? Adulteration might become a problem because, notoriously like white bread in Late Victorian times, ingredients like Chalk and Alum were used to bulk out and bleach wheat flour. At the time, the practice of adding these bulking agents were credited with leading to widespread malnutrition until the abuses were (mostly) stamped out. However, A more detailed analysis, shows that the situation was a good deal more complex than it might appear. So while all is not doom and gloom, instances of adulteration might occur as organised gangs infiltrate the 3D food replication chain. Maybe even instances of illegal drugs accidentally making it into the food supply.

Household replicators as an extension of 3D printing technology will initially be a status symbol, producing everything from a new pair of shoes to Sunday dinner or special order Pizza. Eventually reducing the need for agriculture as more people turn away from food productions less palatable practices, like slaughtering for meat, or simply even the messier end of cooking. Why bother with all that tedious slicing, mixing and dicing when a single machine can produce perfect hot meals every time? 3D food printing technology may be closer than we think. As for broader applications, a German company (Bizoon) is actually working on easy to chew versions of 3D printed food for Senior Citizens and high energy ‘Sports’ foods.

The possible social implications are enormous. A shift in the employment market away from manual fast food production, and there’s plenty of scope in there to experiment with crime related storylines. Ergo, I’m currently playing around with a bunch of short story type works (4-10,000 words) using the technology as a sub-theme. Maybe they’ll turn into something, maybe not. At the moment I’m purely in the note taking stage of research.

As for bribery and corruption; while technology advances so rapidly it’s often hard to keep track, it is my sad observation that human nature evolves at the speed of a heavily sedated slug.

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Martyn K Jones

A writer who first trained as an Electrical Engineer, then fulfilled various roles within the computing industry. First published in 'SuperBike' magazine, 1978 under the pseudonym Harry Matthews. Since then has written and had published a wide variety of work; from PR copy in trade magazines to supernatural short stories and the occasional satirical article. Emigrated to Canada in 2007. Became a Canadian Citizen December 2014. Now branching out as a serious science fiction novelist.

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