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I’m With Stupid – May 24, 2013

HIS BOY ELROY’S PIPING HOT PROTEIN-LAYER PIZZA
by Todd Hartley

Todd Hartley-smallYou could call it life imitating “The Jetsons,” but I feel like other portrayals of the future have featured similar contraptions. Regardless, it appears the future is now, people. Science has finally caught up with Hanna-Barbera. We’re going to have food machines soon.

I’m not talking about vending machines with metal coils and tiny bags of potato chips that get caught and don’t fall, thus robbing you of a buck-fifty. We already have those. I’m talking about a machine where you press a button and out comes a pizza or a bucket of fried chicken. I’m talking about a way to end world hunger as long as the world is as hungry as America is for carbohydrate, protein and sugar powders in the shape of food.

Just last week, NASA awarded a six-month, $125,000 grant to a company, Systems & Materials Research Corp., that is developing a 3-D food printer. The prototype will be a pizza printer that will use a laser to make dough from carbohydrate powder, a tomato base that also will be stored in powdered form and then a “protein layer” (the quotation marks are from the story I read and not me, by the way).

I don’t know if the printer’s creator, Anjan Contractor, called it a protein layer because it will just be a layer of indeterminate protein or if he meant that you’ll get to pick your toppings to go with the reconstituted powdered cheese. Either way, I’m sure it will be delicious.

I’m a little annoyed by this whole thing, though. I had the idea for something called People Chow years ago, and nobody gave me a grant. And when I say “People Chow,” I don’t mean Soylent Green or anything like that. People Chow would no more be made of people than Dog Chow is made of dogs. But it would be crunchy kibbles made from powder that you could store in the garage that make their own gravy in water.

NASA is interested in 3-D food-printer technology because in powdered form, the food would have a shelf life of about 30 years and be easy to store, both of which are essential considerations for long-distance space travel. Contractor, however, has grander plans for his invention and sees it as a way to end world hunger.

He figures that as Earth’s population grows, food will become too expensive for many people living in poverty. With Contractor’s invention, however, all those impoverished people will have to do is purchase a 3-D food printer and the specialized carbohydrate, protein and sugar powders it requires, pay for the electricity needed to run the machine, press a button, and voila! — a piping hot protein-layer pizza.

Now, a cynic would look at this situation and figure that if the printer makes food out of powdered food, there already must have been food that could have been used to feed poor people. That’s essentially true, but it depends on one’s definition of food. Right now, you probably consider food food, but with a 3-D food printer, any source of protein, including insects, could be considered edible. That means that if you live on the East Coast, you will soon have a chance to help end world hunger.

You’ve all heard of the impending “Swarmageddon” of cicadas that’s supposed to envelope the Eastern Seaboard this summer, right? You may see this insect invasion as a huge nuisance that we in Colorado are so glad we’re not a part of, but I see this as a bounty of protein, a gift from heaven. All you folks back east need to do is gather as many of the yummy little buggers as you can and ship them by the ton to starving kids in Africa, who I’m sure will have 3-D food printers any day now.

Naturally, since starving Africans have little experience in the culinary arts, you might want to send them recipes, too. I recommend the entrees from the menu that graced the Jetsons’ food machine in the cartoon: beef stroganoff, Irish stew, prime rib, fried chicken, pizza and hamburgers.

I realize that might not be the most appealing fare for vegans or other plant-based eaters, but they might want to get used to it because apparently that’s how we’re all going to eat in the future. Hanna-Barbera predicted the food machine and the flying car, which is also supposedly coming soon; it stands to reason that the rest of “The Jetsons” is probably equally accurate.

Bon appetit.

Todd Hartley is a digital-index operator at Spacely’s Space Sprockets.

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