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The Catastrophic Meal: is this the Future Food?

The Catastrophic Meal: is this the Future Food?

Experimental dinner-performances to forecast the future of food have been attempted for the first time in Denmark by famous chefs, scientists and politicians.

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What we are going to eat in 2067 is not only a topic for gourmets and journalists on the lookout for food trends: questioning ourselves on what future food will be like is not only a matter of taste, but also – and above all – survival.

Cooking food is what sets us apart from other animals and has enabled us to evolve, making us what we are today: what would happen if we no longer had the possibility and lost contact with the most primitive aspects of our relationship with food?

The topic has been probed by eight great chefs from all over the world who, together with scientists, artists, politicians, producers and researchers, have staged for the very first time a social, political, economic, ecological – and gastronomic – experiment, the likes of which has never been attempted before: The Catastrophic Meal.

Talks started in February 2017 in Denmark and, on 26 April in Vestjyllands Højskole, in the middle of the countryside, they led to the first of a series of dinner-performances which set out to forecast two possible future developments, of a utopian and dystopian nature. Two diametrically opposed and paradoxical scenarios: the first was presented as an ideal model while the other was quite frightening, to be avoided at all costs.

The aim of this provocation – rethinking the future – is also the slogan of the events due to take place this year in Aarhus and the Danish region of Mid-Jutland, the European Capital of Culture and a European Region of Gastronomy.

The future is not what it used to be

Dinner gets off to a start in the open air, playing with the contrasts between synthetic tasteless calories and tamales cooked in an open fire, tribal-fashion.

Sioux chef Sean Sherman from Minnesota offers food foraged or hunted in the wild, in the way his people has been doing for centuries. On a rich land, native Americans never bred or farmed food but lived in harmony with nature, since it was able to provide them with all they needed, as in the Garden of Eden. Each course is conceived and cooked by a chef and served in a different setting, installed specifically for the occasion.

Insects, not everyone’s idea of a treat

Animal proteins deriving from insects are a highly sustainable source of nutrients. This is what we may end up eating in a possible future when cows, pigs and chickens have become protected species and there is no longer sufficient land to breed them on.

For years now, Canadian chef Thémis has been preparing for this moment. For this occasion he has cooked a refined cricket bisque and some larvae-enriched bread.

It is served to the guests, who are sceptical of this imaginary future, and only a few of them take up this culinary challenge, knowing what is on their plate. In the meantime, a group of actors mill around searching for food: the dinner is not only a foodie experience but a theatre performance as well.

The end of cooking

From one course to another, from one stage set to the next, with no more water, air or land available, the food of the future has the mere function of fuel, something to drink from a syringe, a sip of which contains all the nourishment our body needs.

It could also take the form of a lab-produced hypoallergenic tortilla, accompanied by an “authentic” cola-based sangria to be consumed in a canteen run like a hospital, where the consumption of food takes place in solitude, a sterile, mechanical and tasteless experience similar to a surgical operation.

Roberto Flore, an Italian chef engaged in the Copenhagen-based non-profit organization Nordic Food Lab, serves up a future in which nature has no part.

Champagne will be replaced by water and test tube food will be served in restaurants, surrounded by stuffed animals – species that are now extinct. “In the past, man managed to survive hunger and dire poverty – explains Roberto – we hope and believe that it can still be done” and into the dining room comes a laboratory slide on which there is a leaf carrying an extremely tasty drop of yellow pea tempeh, the result of years of research.

It is not intended to be a new gourmet ingredient for 3-star restaurants but a source of protein for sustainably feeding the population. That of today, not tomorrow’s.

Sharing will save us

Dining goes hand in hand with conviviality: easily said when food abounds. In the dystopian future imagined by The Catastrophic Meal it’s every man for himself.

During the aperitif a few lucky people receive bigger portions than others; some of them eat everything, only a few share with their companions.

Then comes the next course: the “wealthy” sitting at the insect banquet taste their bisque while the “poor” actors mill around behind them searching for food but some minutes go by before anyone hands a morsel of bread to the needy.

The Catastrophic Meal starts out with the semblance of a dinner-event and ends up by teaching us something new in terms of flavour. The foodie experience is a pretext for kindling a new awareness of sharing, the only way to change the world and experience a better present and a utopian future.

Kobus van der Merwe from the Wolfgat restaurant in South Africa lays a sumptuous table with horns of plenty brimming with fruit and vegetables alongside vegetarian dishes.

We huddle around and chat as the food is placed at the centre of the table for sharing; we interact according to the chef’s instructions: “Put two drops of dressing in the plate of the person sitting on your left hand side and smile”.

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