The internet has been falling all over itself this week, salivating at the news that NASA is developing a 3D printer that will 'print' meals for its astronauts. Reportedly, they've put up $125,000 in the hope that Anjan Contractor, a mechanical engineer of some standing, will be able to prototype a machine capable of printing pizza. Inevitably, the world has begun celebrating this as the most important culinary advancement since sliced bread, and everyone's looking forward to seeing a slice of the hot stuff roll off the presses. Everyone, I should think, except the people who will actually have to eat it.
Have a look at the above photo. This, apparently, is what 3D-printed food looks like. Not exactly food porn, is it? The dry husks look bad enough, but a more pressing concern is the nature of the alien-like life forms in the top left hand corner. What food was the printer hoping to depict there? Space worms? To paraphrase Shakespeare: if tech be the language of food, shut it down before someone does themselves an injury.
The descriptions don't exactly get the saliva glands juiced up either. 'The printer will first print a layer of dough,' explains one particularly eager website, 'which will be cooked while being printed. Tomato powder will then be mixed with water and oil to print a tomato sauce. The topping for the pizza will be a "protein layer" which could come from any source - animals, milk, or plants.' I think it's safe to say that Anjan Contractor won't be appearing on MasterChef any time soon.
The fast food companies needn't worry, either. One wag on Twitter has suggested that the inventor of the machine that can print pizza will 'win the economy', though sitting here with a Domino's pizza menu and a cheap calculator, I've worked out that I could get around 6,845 small Pepperoni Passions for NASA's grant money. I'm no economist, but that seems like the better deal to me. What's more, the printing time on Contractor's machine will never prove competitive. As I recall, early home printers - dot matrix machines, especially - took forever to knock out a single sheet of A4. It's going to be a good few years before the astronauts see anything to challenge 21st century pizza delivery times.
Isn't it the case that these culinary guinea pigs have suffered enough? Yuri Gagarin, the poor sod, survived on 'three toothpaste-type tubes, two servings of puréed meat and one of chocolate sauce.' And it didn't stop there. According to Wikipedia, astronauts forced to consume 'tubes of semiliquids' on later missions found them 'unappetizing'. Only the coldest soul would accuse these pioneers of being picky eaters.
Seriously, at $125,000 you'd think NASA might be able to come up with something actually worth eating. Is it too much to ask that Gordon Ramsay be sent up with them instead? Sure, they'd have to deal with his temper, but he wouldn't take up too much room, and I bet he'd do it at a more reasonable rate.