We're big fans of sci-fi, so when we hear of plans in the real world to emulate stuff on the small screen, it makes us feel warm and fluffy inside. When we found out food giant Nestlé — yes, the company with the dog-focused dogfood ad — is planning to emulate the Star Trek food replicator, all we wanted to do was shout: "Make mine a sashimi and chips with extra chocolate sprinkles, please!"
The company's research department, the Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences, has instigated a new program, called Iron Man. (No relation to that other Iron Man, though.) There are 110 scientists working on the program, which is studying ways of treating certain brain, metabolic and gastrointestinal disorders with food. Eventually, Iron Man aims to be able to scan a person's body and discover what nutrients they are lacking in, before creating supplements, probably served up by a machine similar to its Nespresso coffee maker, that will rectify each individual's deficiencies.
The good bit of the plan is that, out of such an ambitious project could come research findings that might help to remedy certain diseases or alleviate their symptoms — illnesses that are proving a real problem for the human race, such as Alzheimer's or Kwashiorkor. The bad news for me (a competent and keen cook) is that it would prove such a convenient way of eating that there would be mass flambéings of cook books around the world as people jump at the chance of pod food.
The NIHS's director, Ed Baetge, told Bloomberg, "Iron Man is an analysis of what's missing in our diets, and a product, tailored to you, to help make up that difference. In the past, food was just food. We're going in a new direction." (Let's hope that it's in the opposite direction to Soylent, the mere idea of which brings me out in a psychosomatic version of Joey Tribbiani's Meat Sweats.) Baetge admits that a workable version of this is generations away, but he does feel like it could be similar to the machine that sated the hunger pangs of the U.S.S. Enterprise's crew. "Out comes your food at the press of a button," he said. "If we do this right, it can be the next microwave in your kitchen."
Taking this idea and trying to make it reality is nothing new. Four years ago, MIT came up with a concept for a food printer, and NASA is already way ahead on the 3D printed food, suggesting that astronauts will soon be enjoying 3D-printed pizza while they whizz around in space. There is 3D-printed food for old people who suffer from dysphagia, and earlier this year a Kickstarter campaign launched for the Foodini, a fresh-food 3D printer.