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Tag: food-hacking

This website was archived on July 20, 2019. It is frozen in time on that date.
Exolymph creator Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

Futuristic Nutrition Is Actually Very Boring

In the future we get up, slurp down rehydrated powder shakes full of caffeine and nutrients, and don’t bother chewing anything! I mean, maybe. Nootropics for sure, but we could be hooked up to a Matrix-like system, sustenance coming through tubes in our spines. (Isn’t that the endgame of VR?)

We could be gnawing on whole grains in order to prove our hipster cred. What the heck do I know?

So anyway, Rosa Labs (the company that makes Soylent) is having quality control problems. But I still really like the idea of “meal replacements” AKA “very convenient ways to eat”.

I tried out MealSquares, because they advertise on Slate Star Codex. The product is basically a scone with four right angles, but it’s made out of “whole foods” and is supplemented with micronutrients, blah blah blah. Sayeth the website:

[T]here’s nothing especially risky or unusual in MealSquares; they’re made from a broad variety of ordinary, healthy whole-food ingredients like milk, rice bran, dates, etc. See our nutrition page for the full list. And unlike many commercial baked goods, MealSquares are free of artificial preservatives and flavoring agents. […]

Given common nutrient deficiencies like magnesium deficiency and potassium deficiency, MealSquares represent a huge improvement over the average diet. Even if there are nutrients unknown to science, they’ll likely appear in at least one of the nutrient-dense MealSquare ingredients — this represents an advantage of whole foods over supplements.

That’s so boring, right? It’s just like healthy Hostess Cakes, delivered via ecommerce.

But I suspect that the future arrives one mundane innovation at a time, on your doorstep in a cardboard box. Friction is reduced just slightly with each new development. It all adds up — or, in fact, it multiplies. Soon enough we go exponential. I hope so, at least!

I spent $90 on thirty MealSquares tonight. That’ll last my partner and I about a month. Then we’ll get another shipment. I like outsourcing some of my food preparation without needing to feel guilty about it.

Header image via Soylent on Instagram.

Cricket Compliance: Producing Food without the Humans Who Eat It

Photo by _paVan_.

Photo by _paVan_.

Lacy was bored. She was proud to work in food production — Mama’s reaction made the drudgery feel worth it when Lacy got home — but the low buzz of the drone and the sameness of the landscape lulled her toward sleep. She was sure that some of her colleagues gave up and drowsed. Lacy wasn’t sure yet how she felt about the group. It was a mixed bag — of races, genders, and hygiene standards — but at least a couple of them seemed nice. Lacy didn’t mind the diversity, per se, but she was uncomfortable around strangers and their strange habits. On the first day another girl had said, “You’ll be broken in quick,” but the routine still felt unfamiliar.

Lacy glanced out the drone’s windshield at the cricket fields in front on her. The creatures teemed on the ground, bouncing and burrowing and fucking and killing each other and feeding voraciously on their synthetic pasture. She looked back over her shoulder to check that the pheromone broadcast was working. A swarm of late-stage adult crickets rolled forward in the wake of the drone.

Lacy gripped her knees and swallowed nausea. She hated the insects. The protein was vital, of course. Mama wouldn’t have brought them to the city otherwise. Accessing the resource density of the metropolis changed their survival baseline. Lacy had gained fifteen pounds in a couple of months. Her little sister’s teeth were sound in her gums, and she could run so far on the game tread. Sometimes when Lacy got home from work, she loaded up Cath’s saved worlds, wandering through fairylands that were like hyper-saturated versions of the home she remembered as a little kid.

They had lived by a river.

Crickets didn’t need rivers. They just needed space, sprinklers, and miscellaneous food stuffs hauled in from other fields where other workers got bored in the drones. Or did anyone watch those farms? Lacy wasn’t stupid. She knew that this job was provisional — it would only last until the FDA regulation changed in a matter of months. Lacy was a Compliance Technician, according to her contract. When her supervisor interviewed Lacy for the position, he explained that a remote observer system was being put in place. He went over the automated footage analysis (assigned to a certified third party) that would ensure production was up to code. Then he sighed and admitted that he didn’t know where the company was going to move him after there weren’t any workers to interview, train, fire, interview, train, and fire again.

Lacy’s drone beeped softly and the computer’s androgynous voice intoned, “We are approaching the docking station. Initiate the checklist process.” Lacy leaned forward in her seat and started reviewing the figures on the dashboard screen. Number of crickets. Estimated protein values — both nutritional and market. Toxicity and contamination. The numbers always hit their targets.

Octopi Adjacent

“Do you want the last one?”

“No, thank you,” she said, looking at the squirming creature with distaste. Saul shrugged, grabbed it by one of its back legs — the thing was programmed to have slow reactions, so although it twitched away from his hand instinctively, he caught it — and tossed the animal into his mouth. Crunch, chew, swallow. Saul coughed and said, “Yeow.”

Artwork by Marc-Anthony Macon.

Artwork by Marc-Anthony Macon.

“I wish they didn’t randomize the flavors,” she sighed. “That’s what happens when you prioritize art over commerce. I’m so tired of generative this, generative that. Can’t anything be planned anymore?”

“Stop being such a dish towel,” he told her.

“Do you mean wet blanket?”

The restaurant was crowded. The tables were full of pairs and parties, most giggling. Couples took turns pushing live hamster-like appetizers into each other’s mouths. Sweet, milky green tea sat at most of the diners’ elbows, half-drunk. The tureens and serving platters were occupied by living food of all sorts. The meals had strange limbs and their odd little bodies were smeared with sauce.

“Living food” was a misnomer, actually, but the imitation was convincing. Consequently, that’s what the newsvids said in their reviews: “living”. The kitchen was outfitted with processing vats and 3D printers. Edible computer chips were sourced from Indonesia and Appalachia. Poor places were convenient like that.

The waiter came by Saul’s table with a dessert menu. “The special tonight is marzipan unicorns,” he said brightly.

“Really?” she asked. “Not another one of these awful algorithm things?”

The waiter nodded sympathetically. “The cuisine does take some getting used to. Its… anatomy, I mean.” Then he smiled again: “Our chef is planning a night where you pick your own ingredients!”

“Good,” she said. “Because otherwise you’re going to go out of business. Randomizing flavors is a step too far. I’m okay with the wriggling — ”

“Sorry my sister is a bitch,” Saul told the waiter, who began to look uncomfortable. “I’ll take one of those unicorns. Is it enough for two people? She needs to eat something.”

She sighed. “This had better be good marzipan.”

Technological Abundance: Interview With Multimedia Artist Torley

I originally discovered Torley through Flickr, where he shares screenshots of ethereal and bizarre scenes from Second Life. He is also a musician and has released projects like Glitch Piano, an album described thus:

“Not long ago, in a parallel universe fairly, fairly close… humans imported a master race of sentient pianos through spacetime portals, using the instruments as labor-beasts and war-weapons. Predictably, these magnificent creatures rebelled and bass’ed civilization, enslaving the masses like the un-self-actualized lowminds they broadly are.

The contained aurelics (sonic artifacts) are historical evidence of such a traumatic time, and oddly, we detected halos of rich emotional spectrum — including loveliness and humorosity — amidst the runes.”

I emailed Torley to request an interview, and he answered my questions at great length. The full text, minus a couple of portions redacted for his privacy, is available as a PDF. The dispatch that you’re currently reading is a sort of “greatest hits” summary, like what I did with Andi McClure’s interview.

During a hard period in his life, Torley read some of the classic cyberpunk novels as balm. Consequently, he…

“wondered if there was a ‘real’ (as real as real can be) place where I could explore some of these ideas. I learned of the cyberpunk city ‘Nexus Prime’ in the Second Life virtual world — almost all content created by its users! — constructed on the aptly-named Gibson region […] As a metaphor that worked on such a practical level, my first avatar was an amplified version of my physical self, then I projected further into the future — and became an incarnation of my time-traveling daughter, who came back to tell me ‘THINGS ARE GOING TO BE OKAY’. […] Eventually, I was hired by Linden Lab (makers of Second Life), which I am immensely grateful for as it changed my first life even further. I continue to work here on all of their products, including Sansar — our next-generation virtual world.”

I asked about the appeal of this genre, and Torley told me:

“I’ve long romanticized big cities with towering skyscrapers, and couriers scurrying in the dark, running past neon signs with some data that was too precarious to simply upload… so it had to be done sneakernet-style. I definitely enjoy the whole audiovisual package, even if it’s the most superficial images of what comes to mind when a cyberpunk trope is mentioned… and as a strain of sci-fi, to quote Gibson, to realize we are living in an unevenly distributed future RIGHT NOW. It’s happening all around us.”

He continued:

“For me, cyberpunk has always meant giving unpopular (minority) ideas a fighting chance. […] it means a resistance to change the system, and augment one’s personal self. Which is what I chose with my life path. […] We each contain that power to alter the operation of the big machine, even if we may be ‘just’ a gear or cog in the works. Megacorps fascinate me, and all the fictional marketing that goes into the worldbuilding process.”

Torley on his own daily habits:

“I enjoy consuming Soylent 2.0 everyday. ‘Revolutionary’ is an adjective not to be applied lightly, but it’s saving me an accumulating amount of time. I always wake up and have a bottle or two to start my day. I’m drinking some as I communicate right now. A few bottles make up the majority of my meals. […] I suppose Soylent is a cyberpunk ethos foodstuff — the target demographics are both diverse and fascinating. Yet we are all human, and time is a teacher that kills all its students. That’s why I think their marketing is clever — they emphasize that Soylent does not outright replace conventional food, but FREES you to choose what meals you want to chew.”

Circling back to Second Life:

“Second Life has been a safe space for me and many others — whether that’s exploring identity, sexuality, racial-cultural constructs, etc. How you perceive SL depends on how you perceive yourself […] It’s very easy to experiment with identity here. You can change your whole look as easily as people can change clothes in ‘meatspace’. One’s avatar’s total appearance can be changed in mere seconds, yet may get a completely 180-degree response from those around you inworld. A hulking dragon brings out a totally different reaction than being an adorable pixie. I have been many forms, almost always revolving around my pink-and-green color scheme. I’ve called it ‘the Torley Council’, wherein I imagine a type of mini United Nations in my head, with each persona diverse yet unified — it’s all me, after all.”

In closing:

“We are blessed to live in such an age of technological abundance, as unstable as some systems may be. We owe it to ourselves to harness those tools to be healthier, happier, more creative human beings. When our own needs are met and our resources are replenished — and when we are genuinely comfortable in our own skin — we can more ably help each other.”

I’ll crack open a neon watermelon and toast to that.

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