Synthetic meals: Simulation
Jonathan Wang '10

It has been a common and ancient practice to attempt to emulate different kinds of food with what one has at hand. The combination of simulation and taste is no new concept, as restaurants and products have continuously bragged about cooking food that tastes "just like Grandma used to make" or some similar, nostalgic idea. If it's not playing on memories of home, many meals mean to magically recreate the lap of luxury, offering those with a microwave an instant steak. Countless meals are not trying to establish themselves as a new or unique experience, but rather as close as some people can get to certain, nearly unattainable pleasure. Advances in preservation and preparation technology has produced a bevy of opportunity for the poor, busy, or otherwise incapable masses to experience cooked beef, edible vegetables, or custom confections. Food technology is used not only to simulate the experience new or delicious foods, but also to emulate the social desires for home, for wealth, for independence. People are no longer required to slave away in the kitchen for hours in order to produce a family's dinner; the very act of cooking is simulated through technology, such that even the traditional techniques of food preparation in the past is replaced by the microwave, the freezer, and the supermarket. These false foods can taste, feel, and be enjoyed just like a long, slowly cooked meal, customized to virtually any desired circumstance by the mind boggling array of choices in the frozen foods aisle, but do not require the actual work of cooking. Foods created from many different chemicals not only allow such long shelf lives that allow the multiplicity and availability of such foods, but also include the opportunity to taste like one thing while actually being something else. At some point, simulations attempt to imitate other simulations to the point that food becomes a form of simulacrum; a copy of a copy that has assumed its own identity. Oils and animal fats make old vegetables suddenly delectable, hydrogen gives Twinkies immortality, and crab is imitated by the fish-based Japanese kani.

An important aspect of food technology is the way that is creates a sense of wealth or opportunity by simulating the rarest, expensive foods with cheap, plentiful resources. Canned Spam gave many poor families the opportunity for inexpensive, readily available meat on the dinner table, recalling old love of corned beef and easily providing a salty taste. Corn is grown in unimaginable abundance in the US, and it's ridiculously cheap cost allows food manufacturers to generate the taste of rare berries and fruits, to give fudge the traditional, thick consistency, or to fortify that snack bar with sudden vitamins. Processed fish comes cheap, and offers the poorer or inland folk with an opportunity to taste crab. Soy and rice have been subjected to intricate processes that turn them into close representations of dairy products for the lactose intolerant or vegan consumers. It is all about taste; as long as it resembles the target food in a certain way, than the illusion of wealth can be maintained easily.