What Will People Eat on Mars?
On the surface this seems more like a fun question rather than one of fundamental importance, but that is only at the surface. Meals have long been said to be both for food and fellowship. No matter who you are or where you come from, you know what it is like to gather around sustenance with other humans…and that has been true for tens of thousands of years. And when we gather around that sustenance (aka food), whether it is at a dinner table in America or a chabudai in Japan or around a campfire in ancient Mongolia, what we do is also the same; we eat and we talk. It has long been a place where we vocalize what we think to the people we know, either our whole lives or someone we met moments ago on a first date.
Eating not only gathers humans together but lifts some barrier we normally have to telling another human what we think - what we really think. And at this point, that has been true long enough that we should not ignore it.
I am not here to try to tell you why this is true, just to make sure we realize it is true as we think about living on Mars. Perhaps our animal brain (limbic system) lets down its guard when there is actual food in front of us long enough to let our human brain (cerebral cortex) take over and express itself. From experience, when I am hungry I don’t really feel like expressing deep thoughts and I certainly am not in the mood to hear what anyone else thinks.
As I have written about before, no matter how many humans are on Mars, the scariest resource on Mars will be humans. (The same is true on Earth, whether you believe that or not is just a function of your understanding of the problem). So, along with all the other ways we design a civilization on Mars, the food must first optimally satisfy the nutritional requirements of every Martian in a way that is not affected by one’s ability to sit down and eat - by time, money, location, etc. This tautologically leads me to the conclusion that we will need to separate the act of eating (and therefore the act of eating with others) from nutrition, if for no other reason that the human genome is still varied enough that the ideal nutrition for one human is not ideal for another. Therefore shared food around a table is only ideal if we group only genomically people together while eating - and what could go wrong with that???
So assuming it is, at least largely, true that we need to separate nutrition from the act of eating, the next question is do we really need the ritual act of eating - especially eating together, also known as dining? Hopefully the beginning of this post will help you answer that question with a resounding yes. With that in mind, what does separating nutrition from dining actually look like?
Well first, it makes it far easier to make sure every Martian has the ideal nutritional regime. I am not sure exactly how that will work but for now let’s just assume that a robot feeds you intravenously while you sleep. (BTW - if this doesn’t sound awesome to you, Mars is not the place for you and I have got bad news about where the future is heading.) With nutrition solved in an optimal way for everyone, both from an efficacy and cost standpoint, we actually have a lot more room for how we deal with dining.
The first and most obvious new room is cost. We are knocking out nutrition in a radically cheaper and better way than we handle it now, so not only can we allocate some of the cost savings of that towards dining but we can allocate some of the savings from the removal of all the negative downstream effects of bad nutrition we are used to today. If half the population isn’t obese then healthcare costs a lot less. (If that isn’t a forehead slap moment you haven’t thought enough about it).
So what do we do with all this newfound money available strictly to deliver the benefits of dining and dining alone? Well we maximize the benefits of dining - which I think is fellowship. More on how I think we do that to come…