By: Sonja Brankovic
Warning: Movie spoilers. Many of our favorite movies are riddled with futuristic food technology, whether it’s a chocolate bar being sent through your TV or a rehydrated pizza. Here are a few wacky film predictions about food tech and their status today:
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Willy Wonka’s factory was a smorgasbord of crazy candy inventions, health violations, and questionable worker compensation. Roald Dahl (through Wonka) had some incredible ideas for democratizing nutrition:
- Everlasting Gobstoppers, a small, somehow-infinite hard candy aimed at children with “very little pocket money” (the secret formula of this candy was sought after by a rival chocolatier, Slugworth).
- The 3 Course Dinner Chewing Gum, which turned Violet violet, contained an entire meal + dessert in one piece of gum, and the chewer felt full after completing the stick.
- Wonka Vision, a method of sending Wonka products to children through their TV sets. Physically impossible, but a grad student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Jayne Vidheecharoen, has made something close to it—she designed an internet-connected “Portal” box that allows multiple users to physically move objects and “hang out” in the same virtual scene.
Although most of his ideas were physically impossible to implement, some of their features can be seen in food items today: nutrition shakes, subscription food boxes, and protein patties are the 21st century versions of Wonka’s visions.
Soylent Green (1973)
Based on a 1966 science-fiction novel, Make Room! Make Room!, by Harry Harrison, this dystopian thriller shows an overpopulated, crowded future (the year is 2022!) where the food company Soylent (they make wafer made of soy and lentils) controls much of the world’s food supply. Their latest product, Soylent Green, is their most flavorful product and is made of sea plankton. The film follows a detective who’s investigating the suspicious death of a Soylent board member, who is increasingly “troubled” by his company’s business practices. After 97 minutes worth of twists and turns, the detective discovers that the oceans in 2022 no longer produce plankton, and Soylent had decided to use poor street-goers as the protein source for Soylent Green. Although the commentary on overpopulation and global hunger are still of concern today, there are enough protein-rich foods that cannibalism seems unlikely.
Back to the Future II (1989)
When Marty McFly, Doc, and Lorraine traveled to 2015 to save Marty’s son from a run-in with rival Biff’s grandson, Griff, Marty observes his future parents “hydrate” a pizza using a Black & Decker hydrator. The dehydrated pizza was the size of a cookie. Although this appliance has not been invented yet, we do have the technology to make pizza flavored bagel bites and chips.
Spy Kids (2001)
This classic early ‘00s film used a concept like the McFlys’ hydrator; when Carmen and Juni successfully shake off some Thumb-Thumb goons via submarine (neither child is old enough to have a driver’s license) and land at the family’s luxurious safe house, they find empty cupboards. Several popcorn style-packaged fast food meals are found and rehydrated to make hot burgers and fries. The implication in the movie is that the technology already exists but is only accessible to secret agents. Time to join the OSS!
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
When Colin Firth is unexpectedly saved from the destruction of Earth via a spaceship owned by the President of the Galaxy, he finds the ship’s state-of the art kitchen has a couple gadgets not seen on Earth:
- Bread-toasting knife, an electrically-heated knife that toasts bread as you cut it. Although not available commercially, a mad genius in the UK created a facsimile and posted a YouTube video on how to construct it.
- Nutri-Matic, a machine that scans a person’s taste buds and examines their metabolism to see what food item would “likely go down well”, and then make that item for the user.
The Nutri-Matic is a lot more theoretical than a bread-toasting knife, but that hasn’t stopped the company Adagio Teas from creating a “Nutri-Matic” tea blend for us to enjoy while it’s being invented.
Many of these food predictions involve simplifying the standard meal—make it all in one drink, or one stick of gum, or one wafer of Soylent. Any of these single-meal items would contain just enough nutrition for the consumer. While several companies do boost such products (Soylent, Ensure), current food trends revolve more around alternative plant-based protein, new agricultural techniques like vertical farming, and an increase in organic food products. One thing’s for sure: the food landscape in 2070 will be a lot different than the one in 2020!