Nerd Factor: Food, the Final Frontier

Captain Picard with a drink. Photo retrieved from cenblog.org.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     In the Star Trek universe, food is easy thanks to a miraculous pseudoscientific device known as the replicator. An offshoot of the transporter technology that allows an entity to be disassembled down to its component atoms and then beamed to another location for immediate reassembly, the replicator basically builds food from scratch. From special alcoves all throughout the ships and often in the personal quarters of Starfleet officers, these devices allow nourishment on demand. 

     The most famous example of which is, no doubt, Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s beverage preference. “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot,” Picard says to the device and a few special effects lights and sounds later, there the tea is, steaming and presumably perfect to his order. 

     Logically, the existence of hot, Earl Grey tea implies the possibility of tepid, Earl Grey tea or cold, not Earl Grey, Coca-Cola. The opportunities would appear to be limitless since one assumes that the devices can create just about anything that a recipe exists for from a variety of planets in any point in their history. 

     Nobody on the ships ever seems to go crazy though. That is probably something to do with Starfleet training. Those Starfleet people are so serious. But imagine that you could have any food you wanted at any time. What is to stop somebody from getting up in the morning, walking over to the replicator and saying, “Brownies. Chocolate. Moist,” to the replicator? Nothing. 

     Of course, there is nothing in real life preventing that either. College students do not have to be convinced of this. Decades ago, they created cold pizza for breakfast and cereal for dinner.

     But here is the really cool thing. The replicator should allow one to alter the nature of the foodstuff to include healthy ingredients. So, with a bit of careful pre-programming, your personal replicator should know that when you get up in the morning and say, “Cookie dough. Chocolate chip. Cold from the fridge,” what you really mean is that you want cold, chocolate chip cookie dough fortified with all the vitamins and nutrients you will need all day and none of the stuff that is bad for you. 

     I mean that is true food power. 

     Why stop there though? Why not combine the food experience with Trek’s other legendary device, the holodeck? With a bit of planning, one could, for example, go down to holodeck one and say, “Seven course meal. Gordon Ramsay, chef. Foul language filter disengaged.” 

     Even summoning a 21st century celebrity chef seems blasé though. Go nuts. Strut into the holodeck and ask Alfred to fix lobster thermidor for you and Batman in the Batcave. Well, maybe that would be a problem as different companies own the intellectual property rights to Batman and Star Trek. But surely someone could stay within the confines of copyright and ask for Spongebob to fix them a Krabby Patty at the Krusty Krab?

     One should be aware that there is a dark secret behind all of this food replication. It does not get talked about much but basically on every Starfleet ship, all organic material is reclaimed, sorted into component atoms, and stored for reuse. So, every cup of hot Earl Grey tea was made from uhm, well, something else. 

     But hey, as the late, great Carl Sagan said, we are all made of star stuff. You do not really want to know where the component atoms inside you have been anyway do you?

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