It is a constant theme in science fiction, and one you certainly must have heard about. The man or woman of the future pops a pill onto their tongue, swallows it with some water and the lunch is done! Because inside that little red capsule was a full three course meal.
Three times a day, all your nutrients, all your favorite flavors in just a single pill. Feel like having chocolate spread in breakfast? Done! Trying to like mushrooms, but can’t stand the texture? Problem solved! Yes, meal replacement pills are the future! Or at least, that’s what people have been saying for the past century.
The ‘meal pill’ has been featured in science fiction novels, cartoons and films for ages now. Take the example of a sci-fi movie that was made in the 1930s called Just Imagine.
The movie tells the story of a man who is woken from a 50 year coma. On waking up, he finds himself in 1980s New York. As he tours the city – where people are only known by a number – he is taken to a cafe. There his new friends order him a meal of beets, asparagus, pie and coffee. But instead of the food, the waiter gets him a pill. With a little convincing, he eventually swallows the pill. To his surprise, he finds the same exact taste of the food inside that pill. But in the end, he does miss “the good old days”.
By now, you must be wondering who would have come up with this amazing idea of a meal replacement pill.
Take a guess.
No, it wasn’t a science fiction writer. Not a painter either.
Well, then let’s find out where this tiny, pill-popping vision of the future comes from!
Where Did This Idea Come From?
In the lead up to the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, the American Press Association asked writers to predict the world of 1993, a hundred years into the future. There was a famous woman at that time who was fighting for women’s right to vote and equality. Her name was Mary Elizabeth Lease. Among several writers, she also presented her vision of the future. It was she who for the first time came up with the idea of meal pills.
She imagined that by 1993, humans would only eat synthetic food. This would free women from kitchen work and other domestic chores.
In the decades that followed, science fiction novelists, playwrights, filmmakers, all experimented with the idea of meal-replacement pills.
Mary Elizabeth imagined hassle-free pills because she believed that women are not made to just spend their lives in the kitchen. Though we are sure she’d be just as proud to see women today freeing themselves from kitchen duties by making use of frozen food and takeout.
After knowing this fascinating history of this idea, your curious mind must be now wondering, ‘Can we actually have pills that can replace our meals?’.
Where Is The Meal-Replacement Pill?
Well, the best we’ve come up with so far is a substance called Soylent. Soylent is a thick and creamy soup that contains all the fat, carbs, proteins, vitamins and minerals you need in a day.
So if we can drink our meals, why can’t we pop them?
It wouldn’t be hard to replace a portion of our diet with nutrient pills, right? After all, we can pick up every essential vitamin in pill form at our local pharmacy.
The problem seems to be that it’s just not scientifically possible at the moment to pack all the energy and nutrients a meal provides in a single pill.
Because it’s not just the nutrients we need to survive. Calories are crucial. The average adult needs 2,000 calories per day to survive. And even the most concentrated source (pure fat) can’t make that many calories fit into a single pill.
Unfortunately or fortunately (depends on how you see it), there’s no way we know of to create a pill that tastes like biryani and makes you feel as satisfied as eating a real one!
Is Anybody Doing Anything For Our Pill Popping Jetsons Future?
No one is doing major research on food replacement really. A man named Rob Rhinehart recently decided to switch from food to blended shakes containing all the nutrients. He had a fantastic time during his month of food-free living. But he knows what worked for him (that too only for a month) might very well kill someone else. And so now he’s working to get other experimenters and scientists on board.
But, for the meal-hating futurists among you, there seems to be one glimmer of hope on the horizon.
Back in 2010, a group of researchers from the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, England developed an interesting technology. It allows multiple flavours to be put in microscopic capsules. And these flavours would release, one by one, at different time intervals.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t really been much word on the project since then. But it’s comforting to know that someone out there is still trying to make the dream a reality.
Till then, please eat your veggies!
As a true introvert, Raza Mehdi shudders at the thought of having to expose very much of himself willingly and with malice-aforethought. Writing online since 2008; fiction, poetry, and articles on science, politics, humour and history. When he is not working, he is either trekking in mountains or sleeping. In his own words, the most apt description of him would be: Biryani on social media, daal chawal in person.