Considering that swords eventually become plowshares (or appliances), the news today that the Army is testing 3D-printed food has exciting implications for our civilian future. Specifically, our military-industrial-culinary complex is using sensors placed in a soldier’s clothing to recognize deficiencies in nutrients like potassium, iron, and zinc then sending that information to a nearby printers that can produce food bar to alleviate those specific issues. It’s practical solution – if a bit unappetizing. It’s also potentially groundbreaking, as illustrated by the story of Percy Spencer.
During World War II, Spencer, an engineer, lingered by a large radar magnetron, a high-powered wave transmitter used for telecommunication, and discovered, when he finally decided to do some soldiering, that the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. That’s the story anyway. What’s definitely true is that, a few prototypes later, Spencer had a machine that could cook food much faster than conventional convection ovens. An early versions of the microwave cost a staggering $52,809 (roughly half a million calculated for inflation) and were the size of refrigerators. But sizes and prices soon came down and the microwave infiltrated the American kitchen.
Which brings us back to printers. The 3D food printers that exist now are much like other 3D printers, except that the cartridges used are filled with a protein-fiber, starch, or sugar paste (either animal-based or vegetarian). While a instantly rendered, piping hot 3D-printed pizza slice remains a ways off, longer lasting, more densely nutritious MRE’s (meals ready to eat) are already in testers’ hands. What that means for eaters is that super-practical power meals may be a reality in the not-so-distant future. Seamless isn’t obsolete, but targeted meals are on their way.
The question is whether or not the army’s snacking technology will make its way into civilian life on the sooner or later side. Either way, we’ll embrace it. Sometimes it’s better to be satisfied than to feel satisfied.
Photos by Columbia Pictures