As a side note… I am really annoyed by one thing about Star Trek.
“Replicated food is not as good as real food.”
That’s ridiculous. In Star Trek, replicator technology is part of the same tech tree as transporters. Replicated food would be identical to the food it was based on, down to the subatomic level.
Proposal for a Watsonian explanation:
In a blind taste test, nobody, but nobody, can tell the actual difference between replicated food and “real” food. (Think back to our youth and the New Coke vs. Pepsi taste tests, only worse.) BUT, humans being What We Are, the human Starfleet members insist that “real” food is better than replicated food for reasons including, but certainly not limited to:
1. Hipsters have survived even into the 24th century. “No, you just can’t make good curry from a replicator! You gotta toast the spices yourself right before you cook it or it’s not the same, maaaaaan”
2. All military and para-military members everywhere always grouse and bitch about the food and sigh over What We Get Back Home. It could literally be the same replicator recipe you use at home when someone has to work late or just doesn’t feel like making the effort to cook, but people are people everywhere so they’re going to complain about it.
3. Humans tend to think we’re smarter than we actually are and we can totally tell when something is going on; as a result, human crew members insist they can “taste the difference” because their minds are making shit up, as our brains do.
4. One could presume that, generally speaking, a replicator recipe programmed into a starship or base replicator database would come out the same every time. This is perhaps the 24th century equivalent of mass catering. (I won’t try to account for the nuances of replicator tech that might allow for variances, and leave aside for the moment the fact that some people probably tinker with the standard “recipes” to suit their own taste.) The single thing that would be different in this case about “real” food is the variation, since of course the “real” dish will have slight variances every time due to the whims of the cook, the oven temperature fluctuation, freshness of ingredients, etc.. And since we are an easily bored species who really, really hates boredom, I bet people would jump all over that to lament the lack of “real” food when they’re out exploring strange new worlds and new civilizations and whatnot. (This is the only reason I can think of that might hold up to scrutiny.)
The Vulcans in Starfleet (and Data), of course, remain baffled by this human insistence that “replicator food isn’t as good as ‘real’ food”, as it defies all known forms of logic.
Hmm. This is a fair point. It occurs to me that I once met a Texan who commented that the chili in a restaurant I worked at was not as good as what they made in Texas, and when I pointed out that the cook was a Texan and the chili was his personal recipe, for which he had won awards in Texas, just said “Doesn’t matter. Wasn’t made in Texas.”
I gotta be honest, Replicator technology is one of the things I am SUPREMELY jealous of, and I’m… okay, I’m not a great cook, but I can cook and there are several dishes I do very well. I think if I had access to the technology I would cook a lot less, though, and I would for sure use replicated ingredients.
1. It is not just hipsters that act like this about food. All the grandmothers I know feel this way too, and I don’t see that ever changing.
The missing ingredient is love, obviously. You can’t get that from a replicator.
Right, for that you need the holodeck.
Okay so, we’ve missed a few things that I think are relevant here:
The replicator or replicator + holodeck combo can’t recreate the experience of cooking, nor can it recreate the experience of being cooked for. And that experience makes food taste better.
Cooking is what makes us human. No other species on this wet rock cooks its food–only us.
First: if you’re making lamb stew, or phở, or mole, or curry goat, you spend hours puttering around the house doing chores in a cozy sweater, periodically petting the cats and playing with the kids, waiting an anticipating the hour in which you get to eat the soup. All the while: your house smells like lamb stew, or phở, or mole, or curry goat.
You get a tamale from the replicator: it’s pretty good. You wish it came with a green olive with the pit still in like the kind your abuela puts in her tamales.
You get a tamale from the tamale lady on the way to work on a clear, crisp fall morning. It’s so hot from her steamer that it nearly burns your fingerprints off and it smells divine; you use all of your Spanish to tell her how good it is and how grateful you are that you pass her every day. On a whim, you buy 30 more tamales to share with the office; they’re still warm at lunch and they taste like friendship.
You get a tamale from your abuela. It’s Christmas Eve, your entire family has spent the last seven hours making them, your tio Juan just busted out his tuba and it is definitely too hot outside for the fake snow your baby cousins have started throwing at each other in between begging to open just one present and if you don’t hurry up you’re all going to be late for mass.
The tamale tastes like home.
You get a tamale from the replicator. Its neural network reviewed your order against every known tamale recipe and variety and decided that your addition of “green olive, pickled, pit in” was a mistake, and omitted it.
Your tamale tastes like homesickness. You ball-up the corn husk and
Second: The replicator is probably not accounting for regional variations in ingredients for its base foods.
The ingredient library may have jalapeno, red; jalapeno, green, jalapeno, (color slider), (heat slider). It probably does not have: jalapeno, Hatch new mexico, USA, earth, sol system; or jalapeno north face Olympus Mons Mars, sol system. Replicator Parmesan is very likely a scan of a Parmesan and doesn’t duplicate regional variations between, say, a Parmesan from Mantua vs a Parmesan from Parma.
Did your grandmother use san marzano tomatoes that were actually grown in san marzano in her red sauce (, canned, peeled, whole in juice)? Sucks to be you, the replicator scanned a hydroponically grown plum-type tomato which environment was carefully controlled for optimal nutritional value and “pretty good” taste.
Is the replicator cilantro a kind bred or genetically engineered for maximum palatability across the broadest spectrum of individuals? Is it missing the gene that makes some people taste soap when they eat it? Is that gene the one that makes it taste good to you, so that the replicator chimichurri is always missing something, some particular specific type of freshness, a unique vegetal taste that you can’t put your finger on, and it’s not important enough to track down when you just like the chimichurri you make at home, from cilantro your grew yourself, much better?
Third: The recipe database is probably sourced from hundreds of thousands of recipes written over centuries’ time – and then averaged using a combination of median and modal averaging to come up with something that’s Pretty OK to most people, but which is going to leave others wanting–no matter how much they tweak it.
And then you have many, many people in a state of, “yes but I like my/mom’s/spouse’s/grandparent’s/aunt’s/uncle’s/best friends better”. And that’s OK.
I mean, really. Think about this for a minute.
You go to get a cup of tea from the replicator, because everything is terrible. You know in the darkest depths of your soul that everything will still be terrible with a good cuppa in your hands, but it will be terrible and you’ll have tea, which is a marked improvement.
The replicator gives you a glass of brewed, iced sweet tea.
It takes you three more tries to get a cup of hot earl grey. You decide you’ve finished pressing your luck with this positively infernal machine today and don’t even bother asking for a lemon wedge.
If that doesn’t indicate that the replicators were programmed by an American, I don’t know what does.
The third option is how many ready made “festive” meals are made by supermarkets already. Unilever, at least, hires great chefs, and then puts the result to a test panel. They tweak the recipe – which was very high quality – until they get something that appeals to the majority of people. And that is often something that is familiar to most people, some of whom may not have access to healthy, fresh ingredients, or have been taught to cook, and even though nobody rates it a ten now, most people rate it a 7, and that’s what they sell.
A replicator can’t do that for you, either, and sometimes it just tastes like sadness.