Chapter Fourteen: The 21st Century - Narrative

VIII. Food

'Artificial' food replaced 'real' or 'natural' food between 2020 and 2040. This change was driven partly by population and environmental pressures, and was expectedly resisted by many groups of primitivists. Their concerns were misplaced, however. The word 'artificial' does not do justice to cultured food, which is grown using the same genetically-organized biochemical processes that operate in natural animals or plants. It's just the shapes which are different: at first, there was demand for leg-shaped chicken pieces, fish-shaped Dover sole pieces, and grains of barley. But it is quite uneconomical to manufacture, store and distribute such odd shapes, and more practical shapes soon took over.

Early on – in the 2020s – there were frequent blind tastings of artificial v natural food, and the artificial versions soon began to win, as manufacturers became more adept at fitting taste and texture to human preferences. It wasn't long before new tastes were developed, even better than existing ones, and by 2040 the food industry resembled the perfume industry, with ever-changing fashions in the shape, colour, taste and texture of food.

RCRs of course do not require food as such, except when alimentary functions are deliberately built into them (in some pets, and for early colonial environments, for instance). Although they were bio-electronic in nature from 2025 onwards, tissue maintenance requirements are very simple. It is usually easier to replace tissue body parts on a preventative maintenance schedule rather than worry about complex dietary optimization aimed at longer cell life. Most RCRs are electricity-fuelled, and generate sufficient electricity themselves from photovoltaic coatings. By 2035, an RCR required charging only if most of its time was spent in dark environments. They do however require the equivalent of vitamin pills to provide a minimal supply of elements and compounds required in addition to oxygen and nitrogen (on earth – on other planets the equation is obviously different), and excrete small, pill-like bundles of waste products.

Between 2050 and 2070 the developing RCR and RCC technologies made it possible for humans to spend prolonged periods inhabiting them in electronic form. Initially the technology for 2-way cognitive communication between an RCR or an RCC and a 'host' brain was complex and imperfect; adequate systems were not in fact developed until the mid-2060s. Eclone technology, which emerged in the 2070s, went a step further, permitting people to maintain their permanent 'homes' in miniaturized bio-electronic assemblies rather than in their legacy bodies, which could remain in a 'passive' state. This was a very necessary development since population pressure at the 10 billion mark was becoming insupportable. The final increase to 20 billion required that a high proportion of actual human bodies should be in a passive state at any given moment, with minimal dietary requirements.

By 2085 about 30% of the population were living in this way, although, as noted above, back-up procedures for maintaining equivalence between eclones and passive 'legacy' brains were unsatisfactory. The 2085 Japanese earthquake led to rapid improvements in 'maintaining state' technology, and by 2040 fewer than 10% of people were bothering to retain their original bodies.