Apr 202015

Recently I was boasting to a friend of mine that I had successfully predicted the emergence of Starbucks bottled coffee. Alex and I were shopping at an Asian market here in Seattle, where I found this outsized bag of dried chilies for sale:
Dried Chilis

I bought some chili paste with garlic, and several containers of coffee bottled in steel cans. I recounted to Alex how I discovered this sort of coffee way back in the late 80’s. At the time I was a staff pharmacist at the Westwood Village Pay ‘n Save in West Seattle. Pharmacy

As I recall, at the time I had an entire hour for lunch. Being that I was from Montana, a largely mono-racial state, the Asian markets of Seattle were endlessly fascinating to me. I discovered several Asian supermarkets in West Seattle that sold canned, sweetened coffee. The two brands I found were “Mr. Brown” and “Mr. Black.” I think Mr. Brown had milk, and Mr. Black was straight. I believe both were sweetened. At the time I had a subscription to Reason magazine, which promoted a largely libertarian viewpoint. One of their arguments was that the free market would, at least in some ways, reduce solid waste by more efficient consumer packaging. An example they used was the “aseptic pack” which was novel back then, but is quite common today, especially for little boxes of fruit juice popular with children. I remember buying an entire case of canned “Mr. Brown” which I took back to the pharmacy and placed in the refrigerator. It was one of those discoveries which makes you wonder “why doesn’t everyone do this?” Why don’t Americans embrace canned, sweetened coffee? I predicted that some big American company would start selling pre-made, sweetened coffee in aseptic packs.

Well, as we see, eventually an American company finally did! These days Starbucks sells a bunch of bottled coffee products, though not in “aseptic packs.”

At a deeper level, it’s always prudent to “date stamp” a prediction in some way. I have no proof that I made this prediction in the late 80’s, other than possibly the recollection of my pharmacy co-workers. These days one can blog about things, or post them on Twitter, or upload things to YouTube. It’s a no-cost social game that everyone can play, and even if one is wrong about a prediction it’s often a useful learning experience, as we can often infer WHY a prediction was inaccurate.

I’m a big fan of Michael Pollan, so speculating on the “future of food” is somewhat despairing, as it surely involves more processed food rather than “real” food. Nevertheless, I shall take this opportunity to make two predictions about the future of food:

1. I predict that genetic engineering will become prosaic, commonplace, and will lose its feared reputation. From this, we will see low-cost meat substitutes being “grown” in factories. This will appeal to our growing moral revulsion about treatment of animals on factory farms, and its gratuitous use of resources. On the upside, imagine the range of flavors and textures could be developed for synthetic meats. Lipid profiles could be altered, and healthier sorts of fats could be incorporated into these meats. They could be as delicate as fish, or as robust as a roast.

2. I predict that genetic engineering will broaden the range of fruit flavors in fruits. So-called “tropical” flavors will be transplanted into plants that grow in moderate climates. Flavors which are entirely synthetic, such as “tutti-frutti” could be produced by transgenic plants. Imagine eating an Idaho potato which tastes like pineapple or mango! Imagine a carrot which tastes like taro. I suspect that the first applications of such transgenic fruits will be in ice cream, as I believe issues of texture would take more time to optimize than pure flavor.

Personally I look forward to the day when I can eat a hamburger made from transgenic mastodon meat, accompanied by a milkshake flavored with REAL Frankenberries…

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