Editorial – Dec 2014: Just add water. The ultimate fast food. editorial by: GF Willmetts

Just add water.

The ultimate fast food.


Hello everyone

Before I start with a new subject, let’s go back to last month’s editorial. I only had one book noted by pro astro-artist David Hardy, who pointed out that there was the 2000 novel called ‘Jupiter’ by Ben Bova where there was a sentient species floating on…well, do you need a clue from the book title to which large planet. Of course, there was ‘Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons’ in 1967 but there was never any proof that the Mysterons came from Mars, assuming they were alive and not a computer installation. Hardly a massive influx so it looks like we have our celebration of 50 years with only life on Earth in the Solar system in Science Fiction. Raise your glass or whatever you drink to celebrate an anniversary no one else has spotted. A rare occurrence at best considering how much else is celebrated these days.

Now, let’s look at food pills or rather how people first thought about what we’d eat in the future. At one time, there was a future where at home or on a space trip and hungry, you popped a food pill or three as your meal and could get on with your job or whatever you were doing. Each pill had all the nutrients you needed with little care for what it tasted like or what it meant to have a light meal. It was literally the ultimate fast food. No one said whether or not you had to add water, let alone drink anything to make them go down, let enjoy the meal. Imagine a world without TV cooking programmes and restaurants had they ever worked. Must feel like bliss for some of us. An entire industry wiped out in a swallow of a food pill. Think of all that time you could use no longer having to sit down to eat, digest and even have conversations. No more having to sit down with family to bond, just tapping away on your mobile phones or tablets (not to be confused with food pills). No wait, that’s happened already for many out there. No thought as to whether they tasted like anything or even if you had to enjoy them.

more pulp

In a realistic sense, the food pill was seen as the means conserve space on a spaceship and didn’t start off in Science Fiction. They were shown originally in 1883 at the US World’s Fair. Oddly, in fiction, it was the 1930 musical ‘Just Imagine’ that used them next. I vaguely remember them being used in some early SF films but not in prose. Maybe the early SF authors realised the key point that roughage was needed to fill the stomach, resolve stomach pains and appease the appetite than a quick swallow of a pill. Either that or SF authors liked their food too much.

From the start, that didn’t really seem likely. Certain things like vitamins, yes. After all, we eat them that way today as supplements. But things like carbohydrates and protein need to be bulked out more and in quantity to be any good for our metabolisms. You couldn’t condense them down any smaller. Even if we could eat all we need through tablets, would we really want to see out intestinal tract shrink in size from lack of use? Hardly something you would need in space with all that does to the body while up there.

Probably ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ was the first SF film that took eating food in space the most seriously, although examples was given throughout the story. In each phase of mankind, food was the most common denominator. With the men-apes, it was raw tapir. Floyd on his trip to the Moon, eating what appears to be a heated slush sucked up by straws in zero gravity. No wonder he needed that zero gee toilet. For the astronauts on the Discovery, their food was heated blocks of different coloured whatever that they blended to taste, although a NASA food scientist was employed to ensure it looked authentic looking. Maybe they didn’t want to block their zero gee toilet which if you study the film doesn’t appear in the carousel. The food had to be pleasant to eat considering the number of times that Kubrick did his takes. Even at the end of his journey, Bowman found food to eat in the ultimate hotel. The novel had it as some sort of edible blue bread than what Kubrick portrayed in the film but maybe he thought that was going a step too weird. In future (sic) films, never was so much time spent on eating meals compared to ‘2001: A Space Eatery’. No doubt because it got in the way of moving the film along.

I did have a ponder on which SF films and TV shows had them eating futuristic meals. Hopefully, you might have more examples than I have here. The original ‘Star Trek’ had them eating different coloured cubes of whatever as exampled in ‘Journey To Babel’. The film ‘Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country’ where they had kitchens to feed the crew and had moved up a bit with their new starship unless it was opened for dignitaries. Things changed somewhat with ‘The Next Generation’ and the crew could get any food they wanted from replicators which I always felt a bit of a cheat because it made chefs a dying profession. Of course, with limited replicator use, ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ made cooking food a virtue and we all know about Klingon cuisine but it’s not terrestrial food.

The rare time in the Hartnell era of ‘Doctor Who’ had the companions trying out a literal sandwich maker that whenever you took a bite tasted of something different in the first episode of ‘The Daleks’. ‘Soylent Green’ (1973) was, of course, food squares but we all know what they were made of and I suspect even Hannibal Lector would have balked at this as a steady protein diet as he had his liver diet.

None of this resembles reality. Astronauts food is desiccated for compactness and water added before they could eat it. The choices made were to prevent crumbs floating around but mostly because the water could be recycled and not the food itself. No one has really used the human end product as fertiliser to grow crops in space yet although I suspect it’s on the list for the manned flight to Mars.

As several TV programmes have shown over the years, NASA has spent considerable time and money ensuring that their astronauts have decent meals. Other countries have, too, although not so widely publicised. A trip to the Moon or lengthy periods on the various space station meant nutritious meals to keep them healthy. It’s no wonder many of them chose heavily flavoured meals. After all, who knew from the start that in space, your sense of taste would diminish quite drastically for many astronauts so quickly.

The problem with a possible eighteen month trip to Mars even as a one-way journey is the amount of food to be carried. I doubt if there would be that much desiccated food so I suspect a practical ecology system would be in operation. In that respect, a proportion of the crew would need to be farmers and chefs. I doubt they would carry large livestock so a crew of vegetarians or vegans would be useful although any protein might still be desiccated. After all, with such a long trip, there would have to be concern to keep bone and muscles intact so that protein can’t be ignored and would be eating it long before they left Earth.

How they would resolve this problem of meat protein when on Mars is debatable although the length of time it would take to prepare such a spaceship, I’m sure embryo research would have advanced sufficiently to bring to fruition an enclosed ecology to set up on the red planet that was already working on the spaceship. Mind you, who’s to say it would be standard animal husbandry? For what they are used for, cattle, sheep and pigs eat far more than what they produce in return and would certainly take up too much space. It would make more sense to go for reptiles or maybe amphibians, although water would be a smaller quantity although knowing there’s some of the wet stuff on Mars waiting to be used already reduces how much needs to be transported. Reptiles and amphibians do grow faster and as the old joke goes, their flesh does taste like chicken and probably more economical than fish to carry.

There’s a lot of sense in uses the likes of frogs. After all, they grow fast and are economical on an algae nutrient which can be easily grown and there are a lot of large species that could be used. Even better, their eggs could be kept in low temperature until needed although I suspect some research would be done on the space station first to ensue both male and females can be successfully grown in space to keep the chosen species going. It really is a good choice. Interestingly, it works the same way as those odd food pills. You just add water.

In many respects, the future of space travel is going to depend on farmers, chefs and frogs. It sounds more like Douglas Adams than standard space fare. It would set up a whole different imagery of space colonisers. More in line with the old American settlers but without the cowboys. But who said real life had to follow Science Fiction?

Would it make a good film? Not so sure on that but I can see the nickname for the Mars colony as being ‘Frogtown’. That’s no leap of the imagination but a spawn by any other name.


Thank you, take care, good night and just because it tastes like chicken doesn’t mean you have to look at the packet ingredients.

With everything Yuletide being promoted ever earlier each year, let me be the first to welcome the new year of 2015 now than in a month’s time. Do we really need our regular annual holiday timetables set like magazine publication dates?

Geoff Willmetts

editor: SFCrowsnest.org.uk


My thanks to John Rivers for a little guidance in which way to look at a ‘Doctor Who’ episode.


  1. For those wondering why I haven’t reviewed ‘X-Men: Days Of Future Past’, they might want to consider that there’s a director’s cut on the horizon and then which copy should they buy? I prefer to wait.


Observation: Here’s something to puzzle over. The Hartnell Doctor wasn’t aware of Skaro indeed the Daleks, when he first encountered them and yet it would surely have been recorded in the Time Lords archives even if that part of his history hadn’t been developed in the early days. Granted the TARDIS arrived there at random and an age problem with that regeneration but he could have put things together. Retrospect thought is wonderful, isn’t it? Had the stories been written today, such thinking would have been applied but at least, so far, ‘Doctor Who’ has never had to be remade.

  A progression of that is why did the first generation fear to regenerate unless the Doctor thought he would change his mind (sic) and go home.


A Zen thought: Look before you leap and then forget about the distance.


Observation: If work legislation for foreigners goes ahead in the UK, poor Paddington Bear would be kicked out in under a year assuming he can get in at all.


Observation:  Looking at the list of popular names for kids, I’m still puzzled why Three, Five and Seven weren’t mentioned especially as so many kids are called that in the news these days.


Observation:  One odd thing about space opera. No one seems to be doing any singing in them.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.