ChickieNobs or soylent green, anyone?
Sean Bompas and Harry Parr working on aphrodisiac jellies. Photo: Chris Terry
If you’ve ever read Margaret Attwood’s thrilling but chilling Oryx and Crake, then you’ll know what ChickieNobs are. And you’ll be cowering in the corner, going noooooooooooooooo…
"This is the latest," said Crake.
"Unknown forces are busy working on algae crops, IP-protected monoculture and transgenic meats. Don't laugh. They are."
What they were looking at was a large bulblike object that seemed to be covered with stippled whitish-yellow skin. Out of it came twenty thick fleshy tubes, and at the end of each tube another bulb was growing.
"What the hell is it?" said Jimmy.
"Those are chickens," said Crake. "Chicken parts. Just the breasts, on this one. They've got ones that specialise in drumsticks too, twelve to a growth unit.
"But there aren't any heads..."
"That's the head in the middle," said the woman. "There's a mouth opening at the top, they dump nutrients in there. No eyes or beak or anything, they don't need those."
ChickieNobs lodged in my memory so strongly that I’ve always wanted to write about them, more to pass on the warning than to titillate. [As did Winston Churchill, who once prophesied "we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium."]
In fact, ever since watching The Jetsons as a kid, I’ve been fascinated by the way ‘science fiction’ is often more science than fiction. Food is one of the writer’s favourite devices, one that immediately illustrates the culture of the time, whether it’s two thousand years in the past, or the future.
Try Bruce Sterling in Islands in the Net (1988).
"David was a health-food nut, a great devotee of unnatural foods. After eight years of marriage, Laura was used to it. At least the scop was improving. Even the scop, single-cell protein, was better these days. It tasted all right, if you could forget the image of protein vats crammed with swarming bacteria."
Or this from 1928, Philip Frances Nowlan’s Armageddon: 2419 A.D.
"When gathering dusk made jumping too dangerous, we sought a comfortable spot beneath the trees and consumed part of our emergency rations. It was the first time I had tasted the stuff - a highly nutritive synthetic substance called "concentro," which was, however, a bit bitter and unpalatable. But as only a mouthful or so was needed, it did not matter."
More recently, there is Paolo Bacogalupi’s stunning The Windup Girl (2010), set in a near future when energy collapse and environmental disasters have flooded our cities, bio-engineered plagues swamp the planet, and American genetic engineering cartels control the world’s supply of plague-resistant crops. Or you could always just read the daily headlines.
And now my favourite jelly-makers and architectural foodsmiths in London, Bompas & Parr, have staged a dinner that explores the frontiers that some of our best and finest science fiction writers have explored. The event was part homage to the great science fiction writers of our age and part a witty exploitation of our conspiracy theories and fears that unknown forces are busy working on algae crops, IP-protected monoculture and transgenic meats. (Don’t laugh. They are).
According to Sam Bompas, "the interesting thing was that while we were working on the project we actually met someone that works full time for Intel on science fiction prototyping for the tech sector."
The dinner was presented by KitchenAid as a ‘culinary (space) odyssey’ to promote their kitchen equipment. I wrangled a menu from the boys that lists the dishes and their inspirations, in case you’d like to see it. After all, so many things ‘predicted’ by science fiction are now just a part of everyday life. By engineering food that exists in science fiction, Sam and Harry open up conversations about what food of the future could be.
"Which in turn, can help shape the future," says Sam.
Braised veal in wine sauce, duck a l’orange, crevette, steak
Terry Gilliam (1985) Brazil
Chicken Little – Transgenic meat
Transglutaminase chicken patty, GM corn relish, demi-brioche bun
Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth (1952) The Space Merchants
Insect protein fusilli, pork ragu, mimolette
Brian David Johnson (2013) Food of the Future
Nacho bananas (V)
Banana chips, yellow nacho cheese, chili salsa
Roger Spottiswoode (2000) The 6th Day
SoyPRO – IP protected mono-culture (V)
Soy Pro takoyaki, miso batter
"Through a gap in the slumped hovels, Lalji caught another glimpse of the lush waves of SoyPRO and HiGro. The sheer sprawl of calories stimulated tingling fantasies of loading a barge and slipping it down through the locks to St. Louis or New Orleans and into the mouths of waiting megodonts."
“We Provide Energy for the World”
Paolo Bacigalupi (2005) The Calorie Man
Humans/Reformatted protein (V?)
Pea puree, mint, pea shoots, smoked human hair oil
"Soylent green is people"
Richard Fleischer (1973) Soylent Green
Algae Crops (V)
Goats curd, ginger, spirulina puff pastry
James Blish (1957) Cities in Flight
Quadraped Dish of the Day – Ameglian Major Cow
Steak tartare, sourdough
"'We'll meet the meat.’
A large dairy animal approached Zaphod Beeblebrox's table, a large fat meaty quadruped of the bovine type with large watery eyes, small horns and what might almost have been an ingratiating smile on its lips.'Good evening', it lowed and sat back heavily on its haunches, 'I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in the parts of my body?'
'Something off the shoulder perhaps?' suggested the animal, 'Braised in a white wine sauce?
'Or the rump is very good,' murmured the animal. 'I've been exercising it and eating plenty of grain, so there's a lot of good meat there.'"
Douglas Adams (1980) The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Smoked eel, celeriac remoulade, oatcake
"A single celled protein combined with synthetic amino, vitamins, and minerals. Everything the body needs"
Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski (1999) Matrix
Mackerel, beetroot, horseradish, purple shiso
Galaxy of jellies (blue)
Stanley Kubrick (1968) 2001: A Space Odyssey
Six foot long banana peel and other super-sized food
Taste tech fruit chewing gum
"I beat a man insensible with a strawberry"
Woody Allen (1973) Sleeper
Coffee, Cigarettes and Oxygen
Ridley Scott (1979) Aliens
AND TO DRINK?
From the Experimental Cocktail Club
Milk Plus - Khat Milk
Plantation Trinidad Rum, pineapple, lemon, toasted spiced-tea mix, coconut water and khat leaf (caffeinated)
"The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence."
Anthony Burgess (1962) A Clockwork Orange
Calle 23 Blanco Tequila, dry vermouth, citrus and violette liqueur
Tropism well by Poietic Studio
"Prepare to insert nourishment"
Roger Vadim (1968) Barbarella
Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster
Overproof Hendricks Gin, grapefruit zest, pomegranate molasses, absinthe, fresh mint, orange bitters and caffeine extract
"The alcoholic equivalent to a mugging’ the effects of which are ‘like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick"
Douglas Adams (1979) Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Horrified? Entranced? Amused? Hungry? Never going to be hungry again? Tell us what you think.