CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Thu Sep 09, 2010 9:02 pm

I'm always reading in the SF books about people in space or the future eating food made artificially from the ground up, from the cellular level I guess, straight from the elements, like carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, I think Frederick Pohl's Gateway series had it (CHON food). How close are we to actually making that kind of stuff, in a realistic way?

For the moment, I'm thinking that animal protein is pretty irreplacable for our health (I don't think plant protein really does the trick for us), but even though I'm a sometime deer hunter, bird hunter and avid fisherman, I sometimes feel bad for the critters I'm killing. Weirdly.

I know it's easy enough for us to think how much lower animals, especially grass eaters, are on the cognitive scale than we are, so we therefore shouldn't feel bad about eating them (I know we have to), but I also suppose there is alien intelligence out there (if we aren't unknowingly the livestock on some alien's farm...lots of people go missing ;)) as superior to us as we are to insects. I'd imagine they'd feel no more qualms about squashing us than we do about swatting flies, which is to say, none at all. I think it's actually possible to enjoy animals without eating them!

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Thu Sep 09, 2010 9:39 pm

Asimov assumed we could engineer fungi to have the taste, nutrition and texture of anything we desire.

He also parodied the idea that it would actually be as good as the original food.

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Thu Sep 09, 2010 10:20 pm

A vegetarian diet is perfectly healthy. I was a strict vegetarian for a long time. A vegan diet is even OK, as long as you make sure you get your B12.

I have no problem with eating meat, but you don't need it, as long as your vegetable proteins are reasonably well balanced.

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Thu Sep 09, 2010 10:34 pm

Since we're talking about engineering algae to produce a replacement for fossil fuel, perhaps it would be a good idea to work on variants that can have the taste of anything we like.

It's not assembly level food, but it should be doable in a large way.

As far as actually making assembly level food, I think we could do it even currently, but considerable energy will be required. Get back to me when fusion power kicks in.

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Thu Sep 09, 2010 10:40 pm

NicknamedBob wrote:Since we're talking about engineering algae to produce a replacement for fossil fuel, perhaps it would be a good idea to work on variants that can have the taste of anything we like.

It's not assembly level food, but it should be doable in a large way.

As far as actually making assembly level food, I think we could do it even currently, but considerable energy will be required. Get back to me when fusion power kicks in.
Imagine the humans evolving to have plankton/algae filters in their mouths, a la the cetaceans. And no further engineering would be needed. Where now you might be passing by some youth eating a sandwich or drinking a soda, you'll be passing the same youth straining a whole large vat of algae and maybe blowing his hole at you.

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Thu Sep 09, 2010 10:49 pm

GSlob wrote:
NicknamedBob wrote:Since we're talking about engineering algae to produce a replacement for fossil fuel, perhaps it would be a good idea to work on variants that can have the taste of anything we like.

It's not assembly level food, but it should be doable in a large way.

As far as actually making assembly level food, I think we could do it even currently, but considerable energy will be required. Get back to me when fusion power kicks in.
Imagine the humans evolving to have plankton/algae filters in their mouths, a la the cetaceans. And no further engineering would be needed. Where now you might be passing by some youth eating a sandwich or drinking a soda, you'll be passing the same youth straining a whole large vat of algae and maybe blowing his hole at you.

It's possible that may have already happened.

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Thu Sep 09, 2010 10:57 pm

RWP wrote:A vegetarian diet is perfectly healthy. I was a strict vegetarian for a long time. A vegan diet is even OK, as long as you make sure you get your B12.

I have no problem with eating meat, but you don't need it, as long as your vegetable proteins are reasonably well balanced.


You disgust me.

Vegetarians are farty, hairy, and stinky. This is written.

YOU HAVE EYE TEETH. NOM NOM.

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Thu Sep 09, 2010 11:02 pm

NicknamedBob wrote:
GSlob wrote:Imagine the humans evolving to have plankton/algae filters in their mouths, a la the cetaceans. And no further engineering would be needed. Where now you might be passing by some youth eating a sandwich or drinking a soda, you'll be passing the same youth straining a whole large vat of algae and maybe blowing his hole at you.

It's possible that may have already happened.
I have seen them blowing their holes, but I have not seen them straining vats.

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Thu Sep 09, 2010 11:08 pm

GSlob wrote:
NicknamedBob wrote:
GSlob wrote:Imagine the humans evolving to have plankton/algae filters in their mouths, a la the cetaceans. And no further engineering would be needed. Where now you might be passing by some youth eating a sandwich or drinking a soda, you'll be passing the same youth straining a whole large vat of algae and maybe blowing his hole at you.

It's possible that may have already happened.
I have seen them blowing their holes, but I have not seen them straining vats.



    Image

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Thu Sep 09, 2010 11:39 pm

Soy and tofu were, at one time, supposed to be a replacement for beef ...
able to be "engineered" to look and taste like a t-bone steak.

Well, that never quite happened.

As for hunting and fishing, I wouldn't feel bad about that.
I do think that beef and poultry "farms" that raise cattle and chickens as if they were turnips (or mushrooms) are not so good on various levels.

I'm not a full vegetarian, but when I want to take off five or ten pounds I'll go vegetarian for a few weeks or a month ... seems to work well.

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Fri Sep 10, 2010 1:03 am

f_christain wrote:Soy and tofu were, at one time, supposed to be a replacement for beef ...
able to be "engineered" to look and taste like a t-bone steak.

Well, that never quite happened.

As for hunting and fishing, I wouldn't feel bad about that.
I do think that beef and poultry "farms" that raise cattle and chickens as if they were turnips (or mushrooms) are not so good on various levels.

I'm not a full vegetarian, but when I want to take off five or ten pounds I'll go vegetarian for a few weeks or a month ... seems to work well.


Replacement for beef? There are a few soy 'meat' products that I think are 'OK', but most too me really lack the texture and rich taste of real meat. Some are horrible (hot dogs), but some vegie burgers are OK with enough condiments.

I too have some issues with 'mass produced' cattle and poultry - raising of animals in pure captivity for their whole lives seem unnatural as hell to me. But I'm not worried enough about it to join PETA. And in my experience organic beef and free range chicken does taste better - albeit much more expensive.

As for loosing weight by eating a vegie diet? It's worked for me the times I've tried it. I find pure vegan to be too strict, but eggs and cheese and yogurt is not too bad. I've finally decided (at 60 YO) that a light diet of lean meat (fish and poultry, mostly) with lots of fruits and vegies, works best. I also found that a vegie diet was a problem when I travelled a lot on business it was often an imposition on the host, or hard to find something on the menu.

As mentioned upthread, you do have to watch what you eat if you go hard core vegetarian. I did go the vegie route for a while and it messed up my metabolism. My doc found out by looking at my blood chemistry. I got anemic, and was told to get lean meat into my body - including some beef - to get back in shape. It took a couple of weeks, and I had more energy. He also prescribed a full complement of vitamins, which I take daily (they come is a one pack of 6 tablets, per day - very convenient).

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Fri Sep 10, 2010 12:04 pm

I've lost weight both by cutting out fat and cutting out starch, either works well. But I generally feel like hell if I cut out fat for any length of time and I won't do it anymore if I can help it. Eating meat tends to keep me from being hungry, unless I eat bread with it, like in a sandwich, then I'm hungry again more quickly. Sugar I think also stimulates the appetite.

Meat, veggies and fruit ought to work well, but I don't think it pays to go too lean.

When I was a kid, in the 50's, Mom used to tell us that if we watched it on the bread, potatoes and sweets, we'd never be heavy, and I still believe that to be good advice.

I'm not very impressed with the soy "meat" products, not even the Morning Star sausages.

I have a piece of property here in VA, mostly woods, but there would be room to put a few bison, I think. I'm pretty sure one bison would have enough meat for wife and I for a year.

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Fri Sep 10, 2010 2:03 pm

People without the ability to digest food can get everything they need through an IV.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parenteral_nutrition

As to whether the ingredients are chemically synthesized in a lab versus being obtained from biological sources, I'm not sure, but it probably is a function of which source (production method) is more economical while meeting the requirements.

As for "synthetic food" as a consumer product, I think it's a combination of the economics of production and palatability of the product. Obviously some people buy candy, etc., that have "artificial flavors," but the main carbohydrate content is still cheaper to make from corn, etc., rather than synthesizing sugars from precursor hydrocarbons.

Similarly with the oils/lipids, it's probably still cheaper (2010) to produce them by growing and squeezing oil-seed crops than direct synthesis in a factory.

The essential amino acids are simple and cheap, but "meat" as a product that people actually want to buy and eat is still inexpensive enough to produce by growing animals, that the market for "synthetic meat" hasn't really appeared yet. As noted above, even vegetable-based meat substitutes are still relatively marginal.

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Fri Sep 10, 2010 4:30 pm

Sam Cree wrote:I'm always reading in the SF books about people in space or the future eating food made artificially from the ground up, from the cellular level I guess, straight from the elements, like carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, I think Frederick Pohl's Gateway series had it (CHON food). How close are we to actually making that kind of stuff, in a realistic way?

For the moment, I'm thinking that animal protein is pretty irreplacable for our health (I don't think plant protein really does the trick for us), but even though I'm a sometime deer hunter, bird hunter and avid fisherman, I sometimes feel bad for the critters I'm killing. Weirdly.

I know it's easy enough for us to think how much lower animals, especially grass eaters, are on the cognitive scale than we are, so we therefore shouldn't feel bad about eating them (I know we have to), but I also suppose there is alien intelligence out there (if we aren't unknowingly the livestock on some alien's farm...lots of people go missing ;)) as superior to us as we are to insects. I'd imagine they'd feel no more qualms about squashing us than we do about swatting flies, which is to say, none at all. I think it's actually possible to enjoy animals without eating them!


let me preface this by stating that i am an omnivore, and i do consume meat.

however, i will also say that i no longer believe in the popular dogma that humans are somehow "above" other animals. we have a more advanced prefrontal cortex. that's about it.

we are overclocked apes. even with that additional processing power, it's hard to form an argument that we have some sort of supremacy that makes eating another animal any more right than it would be if that other animal ate us.

ideally, with increased power of cognition, empathy is achievable. when an intelligent individual hunts a deer, that individual has the potential to observe the deer's desperate struggle and panic as it tries to avoid predation. the hunter can imagine himself or herself in a similar role facing long odds. to me, that's as an essential a part of being human as being an omnivore is, if not more so in some ways.

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Fri Sep 10, 2010 5:33 pm

Stereoeclectic wrote:
Sam Cree wrote:I'm always reading in the SF books about people in space or the future eating food made artificially from the ground up, from the cellular level I guess, straight from the elements, like carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, I think Frederick Pohl's Gateway series had it (CHON food). How close are we to actually making that kind of stuff, in a realistic way?

For the moment, I'm thinking that animal protein is pretty irreplacable for our health (I don't think plant protein really does the trick for us), but even though I'm a sometime deer hunter, bird hunter and avid fisherman, I sometimes feel bad for the critters I'm killing. Weirdly.

I know it's easy enough for us to think how much lower animals, especially grass eaters, are on the cognitive scale than we are, so we therefore shouldn't feel bad about eating them (I know we have to), but I also suppose there is alien intelligence out there (if we aren't unknowingly the livestock on some alien's farm...lots of people go missing ;)) as superior to us as we are to insects. I'd imagine they'd feel no more qualms about squashing us than we do about swatting flies, which is to say, none at all. I think it's actually possible to enjoy animals without eating them!


let me preface this by stating that i am an omnivore, and i do consume meat.

however, i will also say that i no longer believe in the popular dogma that humans are somehow "above" other animals. we have a more advanced prefrontal cortex. that's about it.

we are overclocked apes. even with that additional processing power, it's hard to form an argument that we have some sort of supremacy that makes eating another animal any more right than it would be if that other animal ate us.

ideally, with increased power of cognition, empathy is achievable. when an intelligent individual hunts a deer, that individual has the potential to observe the deer's desperate struggle and panic as it tries to avoid predation. the hunter can imagine himself or herself in a similar role facing long odds. to me, that's as an essential a part of being human as being an omnivore is, if not more so in some ways.

That's why I get all of my meat from the store. That way no animal has to die to feed me.




For the humor challenged: I kid. I know where meat comes from.

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Fri Sep 10, 2010 5:54 pm

RWP wrote:A vegetarian diet is perfectly healthy. I was a strict vegetarian for a long time. A vegan diet is even OK, as long as you make sure you get your B12.

I have no problem with eating meat, but you don't need it, as long as your vegetable proteins are reasonably well balanced.

Vegetarianism would be so easy if foie gras and bacon weren't the closest thing to a proof of God's existence.

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Fri Sep 10, 2010 6:08 pm

Desty wrote:Vegetarianism would be so easy if foie gras and bacon weren't the closest thing to a proof of God's existence.

And here is a good segue into one of my favorite puns ...
"If God didn't want us to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat ?"

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Fri Sep 10, 2010 6:25 pm

RWP wrote:A vegetarian diet is perfectly healthy. I was a strict vegetarian for a long time. A vegan diet is even OK, as long as you make sure you get your B12.

I have no problem with eating meat, but you don't need it, as long as your vegetable proteins are reasonably well balanced.
One is what one eats, and I do not see any need to become more of a vegetable than I already am.

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Fri Sep 10, 2010 6:30 pm

What's the alternative: becoming a swine, a a bovine or a barnyard fowl?

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Fri Sep 10, 2010 6:35 pm

js1138 wrote:What's the alternative: becoming a swine, a a bovine or a barnyard fowl?

A deer, I think, or stag.

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Fri Sep 10, 2010 6:40 pm

Variety will keep you from getting in a rut.

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Fri Sep 10, 2010 6:41 pm

James Lileks harks back to the days of proposals to have astronauts eat "algae cakes" here:

http://www.lileks.com/institute/funny/biglittle/4.html

These are also described as “Cap’n Kirk McAllister’s famous algae cakes...


The image below is cropped slightly from the one posted at Lileks' website.
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Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Fri Sep 10, 2010 6:47 pm

js1138 wrote:Asimov assumed we could engineer fungi to have the taste, nutrition and texture of anything we desire.

He also parodied the idea that it would actually be as good as the original food.

Are you thinking of his short story, Good Taste?

Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Fri Sep 10, 2010 6:57 pm

GSlob wrote:
NicknamedBob wrote:
GSlob wrote:Imagine the humans evolving to have plankton/algae filters in their mouths, a la the cetaceans. And no further engineering would be needed. Where now you might be passing by some youth eating a sandwich or drinking a soda, you'll be passing the same youth straining a whole large vat of algae and maybe blowing his hole at you.
It's possible that may have already happened.
I have seen them blowing their holes, but I have not seen them straining vats.

Then you haven't hung out at the wheatgrass counter at a healthfood store or a Jamba Juice.
wheat_grass_cup.jpg
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Re: CHON Food, how far are we from making it?

Fri Sep 10, 2010 7:03 pm

Every artificial environment that I have fictionally created, (and thus do I provide my credentials in this regard), has had the equivalent of fruit trees to provide a direct plant to traveler form of nourishment.

Even if one had only a tomato plant in his lunar underground hovel, that would be a mark and memory of our ancestral nature.

In addition to this, of course, a computerized manufacturing facility provided more basic but nutritionally complete fare, with more or less successful attempts to achieve a natural variety of flavors.

Milk would appear to be the test of success. Unless milk is provided, whether artificial or through other means perhaps not necessarily to be discussed, I would not be willing to set foot on the space ship. It's simply a mark of defective engineering, and I wouldn't trust the thing enough to let my weight down all the way.

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