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'Oblivion' has us asking: Why is futuristic food so bleak?

April 23, 2013|By Rene Lynch

"Oblivion," the big-budget sci-fi movie portraying a bleak future that sees Earth ravaged by machines, has us asking two questions: No. 1: Does Tom Cruise age? And No. 2: Why does the food of the future look so ... gross?

In "Oblivion," it's all wan-looking soups, water sipped from plastic baggies reminiscent of the kind you'd see hanging by a hospital bedside, and entrees that look like they're made from slabs of seaweed.

Photos: Futuristic movies, don't get hungry

It's not just "Oblivion," though. The culinary future has often been depicted as bleak:

--In 1973's "Soylent Green," a New York City cop played by Charlton Heston is marked for murder after he stumbles upon an unthinkable secret about a greedy corporation's plan to feed an overpopulated, futuristic Earth. It culminates in one of the most memorable lines in cinema, captured in this YouTube clip: "Soylent Green is people!"

--"Star Wars" aficionados are no doubt familiar with ooky-looking blue milk, glimpsed at one point as it is poured by a young Luke Skywalker in 1977's "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope." The Wookiepedia says the blue milk is known as Bantha milk or Tatooine milk, and describes it as a blue-colored liquid derived from a female bantha's mammary glands,and enjoyed on planets throughout the galaxy. It also adds this tidbit: "The milk was well known for being very rich and refreshing, its opaque coloring suggesting that it was also sweet." But that doesn't mean it's appetizing to look at.

Photos: Futuristic movies, don't get hungry

--The single most popular episode of the TV cult classic "The Twilight Zone" sees a race of towering aliens land on Earth, bringing along the solution to many of the planet's ailments. Only after humans volunteer to travel to the aliens' planet do viewers learn the aliens true intentions. It's discovered via a tome the aliens left behind: "To Serve Man." (It's a cookbook!) 

--The crew on Comedy Central's "Futurama" discover a tasty treat in an episode called "The Trouble With Popplers." Turns out popplers are baby aliens that, apparently, look and taste something like popcorn chicken. (We have to credit Uproxx for this one.)  

--In 1999's "The Matrix," the crew seeking to free people from their dream world subsist on a gruel that looks like a vat of runny tapioca pudding, or "a bowl of snot," as one crew member puts it. There's no way to make that yummy looking, even though the nutritious gruel supposedly boasts "everything the body needs." (See clip below.)

--Remember the 1985 sci-fi horror film "The Stuff"? Yeah, not many people do. It's about a white, creamy substance that oozes out of the ground. Turns out, it's kinda sweet. Like ice cream. Soon, it's being sold by the pint, and called "Stuff," and touted for being calorie free. The movie's tagline: "Are you eating it?... Or is it eating you?" Turns out "Stuff" turns you into a zombie from the inside out. But still, no calories!

--How about this as a glimpse of the future: A world where every restaurant is a Taco Bell. Watch this clip from 1993's "Demolition Man," starring Sandra Bullock and Sly Stallone, in which Stallone turns in a fine bit of acting when he hears the news. "No way," he emotes.

--There is some good news, though. Based on our decidedly unscientific romp through sci-fi entertainment, we can report this: There is cornbread in the future, if the 1986 film "Aliens" is any indication. Alas, however, it might not be very good cornbread. You'll recall the crew members grousing about the fare as they emerge from sleep states. It all sets up the punchline that occurs when Sigourney Weaver's Ripley slaps a tray of food out of Bishop's hand: "Guess she don't like the cornbread, either," smirks one of the crew members. 

Rebecca Housel, better known in the online world as "The Pop Culture Professor," said it's no surprise that sci-fi films depicting a dystopic future also offer a dim view of what we'll pile on our dinner plates.

Food, and a culture that celebrates eating for pleasure, is a luxury really available to a lucky few in this world, she said. (Just yesterday on the Daily Dish, we underscored the many, many millions who lack basics such as access to clean water on this Earth Day.)

So it only makes sense that such luxuries are stripped away in a projected future that illustrates our worries about an overpopulated planet raking the Earth raw of dwindling resources, she told the Los Angeles Times. 

"Popular culture and sci-fi, especially, hints at our fears about the future" said the professor at Nazareth College in upstate New York, and author of such books that look the intersection of entertainment and philosophy, such as "'True Blood' & Philosophy." 

"The big question is, 'How are we going to feed all of these people?' Sci-fi movies tap into that."

If you think the food in "Oblivion" looks gross, however, Professor Housel says audiences might have gotten off easy: "In the future, I think we’re on track for eating bugs."

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