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Meals to Come

Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food

Warren Belasco
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 393
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt7zw50z
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  • Book Info
    Meals to Come
    Book Description:

    In this provocative and lively addition to his acclaimed writings on food, Warren Belasco takes a sweeping look at a little-explored yet timely topic: humanity's deep-rooted anxiety about the future of food. People have expressed their worries about the future of the food supply in myriad ways, and here Belasco explores a fascinating array of material ranging over two hundred years—from futuristic novels and films to world's fairs, Disney amusement parks, supermarket and restaurant architecture, organic farmers' markets, debates over genetic engineering, and more. Placing food issues in this deep historical context, he provides an innovative framework for understanding the future of food today—when new prophets warn us against complacency at the same time that new technologies offer promising solutions. But will our grandchildren's grandchildren enjoy the cornucopian bounty most of us take for granted? This first history of the future to put food at the center of the story provides an intriguing perspective on this question for anyone—from general readers to policy analysts, historians, and students of the future—who has wondered about the future of life's most basic requirement.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94046-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. PART I. DEBATING THE FUTURE OF FOOD:: THE BATTLE OF THE THINK TANKS

    • ONE THE STAKES IN OUR STEAKS
      (pp. 3-19)

      Stories about the future tend toward large abstractions. In part this is simply because the futureisan abstraction; it has not happened yet. And it is also because futurists like to think about major dynamics and drivers: population growth, demographic variables, renewable resources, carrying capacity, economic development, industrialization, and so on. Similarly, food forecasts involve big generalizations and theoretical concepts: abundance, scarcity, total caloric demand, potential agricultural yields, hydraulic cycles, global warming, hybridization, to name a few. This book delves into many of these big-picture abstractions. But we should not forget that a book about food also deals with...

    • TWO THE DEBATE: Will the World Run Out of Food?
      (pp. 20-60)

      The Anglo-American debate about future food supplies has gone through several spikes or cycles, becoming more pressing at particular periods—for example, the 1790s, 1890s, 1920s, late 1940s, 1960s and 1970s, and 1990s. Why has anxiety about food running out been higher in certain periods? What events and crises have aroused such worries? How has the debate changed over the years? And how has it stayed the same?

      This chapter outlines the evolution and context of the debate—the way each period’s social, cultural, political, and ecological concerns have sparked worries about the future of food. The next chapter analyzes...

    • THREE THE DEEP STRUCTURE OF THE DEBATE
      (pp. 61-92)

      Having identified the conditions that precipitate food security worries—inflation, demographic spikes, environmental crises, cultural anxieties—it is time to take stock of the enduring conventions and patterns, the deep structure, of the debate about the future of food. While many historians might hesitate to speak in generalities about a two-century period, such generalizations may be appropriate here. For one thing, in the long view of food production, the past two hundred years may be seen as a single modern era characterized by agricultural industrialization, consolidation, and globalization. For another, participants in this debate have created continuities by constantly citing...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  5. PART II. IMAGINING THE FUTURE OF FOOD:: SPECULATIVE FICTION

    • FOUR THE UTOPIAN CAVEAT
      (pp. 95-118)

      While all forecasts aim to be self-fulfilling—to invent the future—not all forecasts are equally effective. For a forecast to make its mark, it needs to be communicated well. In the business of communication, it is the superior storytellers who can parlay their skills to gain power. Take Ronald Reagan or, even better, Walt Disney, whose “imagineers” literally engineered myths into a multi-billion-dollar fantasy conglomerate. The manipulation of myths, symbols, and stories is an essential means by which humans frame alternatives and focus aspirations. Mythmakers “provide dreams to live by,” Donald Worster writes. The “ought to” often shapes the...

    • FIVE DYSTOPIAS
      (pp. 119-146)

      A vibrant forum for discussion of social and scientific hubris, the dystopian story dates at least as far back as Mary Shelley’sFrankenstein(1818). Utopia’s evil twin, the dystopian story starts with the same speculative question: Can we invent a better, indeed a perfect, world? But the answers are quite different, mainly because dystopian writers refuse to accept the big “if” that is the central utopian caveat:what ifpeople were wise enough to use cornucopian technologies for democratic, egalitarian purposes? Dystopias distrust such convergences between mechanical and social engineering, for the law of unintended consequences dictates that gee-whiz technologies...

  6. PART III. THINGS TO COME:: THREE CORNUCOPIAN FUTURES

    • SIX THE CLASSICAL FUTURE
      (pp. 149-165)

      If we were to focus solely on recent policy debates (part I) or on the more vivid, predominantly dystopian fantasies of the past half century (part II), we could quite possibly become terminally depressed, for according to most of these visions tomorrow’s dinner prospects look precarious indeed. Even many cornucopian think tankers stipulate that the world will be able to feed itself adequatelyonly ifwe behave in altruistic ways that can seem hopelessly unattainable in light of real world politics. As we have seen, this utopian caveat—that miracles can happenifhumans act well toward each other—seemed...

    • SEVEN THE MODERNIST FUTURE
      (pp. 166-218)

      The modernist future is one of radical discontinuities, of unprecedented needs, drives, and breakthroughs. It celebrates purity, shortcuts, simplification, automation, and mass production while dismissing soil, sweat, labor, craftsmanship, and ornament. Its favorite forms are tubes, beakers, buttons, domes, dials, and tunnels—the tools of engineering. It fosters consolidation, condensation, and reduction over expansion, extension, and elaboration. If the classical future exploits the visible riches of geographic frontiers, modernism finds wealth in the invisible—nitrogen from air, protein from microbes, energy from atoms. In culinary terms, it values nutrients over taste, fortification over wholeness, digestion over dining, health over habit,...

    • EIGHT THE RECOMBINANT FUTURE
      (pp. 219-262)

      As reductio ad absurdum expressions of modernism, both algae and the meal pill broke too sharply with traditional food practices and values. Foods of the recombinant future are by comparison less threatening because they blend the radicalness of the modern with the familiarity of the classic. Recombination reflects the fact that people will accept only a certain amount of newness; they don’t want to entirely sacrifice their traditions. With their arrogant, take-it-or-leave-it homogeneity, both the classical and the modernist futures are served table d’hôte; reflecting uncertainty and ambivalence, recombinant futures come à la carte in the choice-maximizing menu of late...

  7. POSTSCRIPT
    (pp. 263-266)

    So where are we headed? How do we decide which trends, inventions, and ideologies will transform the future and which ones will be remembered as laughable nonstarters? It is all too easy for a history of the future to dwell on “famous last words,” those confident predictions that prove to be dead wrong. Take, for example, Victor Cohn’s scenario from the mid-’50s: “For lunch the Futures [of 1999] ate wood steak, planked, and loved it—all except Billy, who bawled, ‘I want an oil-cream cone.’” Or T. Baron Russell’s 1905 declaration inA Hundred Years Hence:“Such a wasteful food...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 267-316)
  9. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 317-332)
  10. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 333-336)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 337-358)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 359-360)