Synthetic Meals: Simulacra
Jonathan Wang '10

Attempts to continuously recreate past pleasures evolves into an all-new alchemy of unprecedented ideas, a concept described by French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. A simulacrum, according to him, is a copy of a copy of a copy, which goes on for so long that the object no longer depends on an original for identity, and stands on its own. At some point, the extent of the chemical manipulation of food and need for cultural/corporate creation leads to the production of items never before seen or tasted. New advances in flavoring and colors, now reproducible in laboratories, can lead to new concoctions of unforeseen results. A century ago, the idea of a bubbly drink flavored like raspberry and colored blue would have been the most far-fetched idea imaginable, but thanks to the advances of artificial flavoring and synthetic colors, even the most mundane tonic water can be turned into an outlandish treat. The use of artificial colors and flavors, as well as new artificial substances, has led to the creation of new desserts never before seen or imagined. Modern Jell-O is now the simulation of an already artificial snack, gelatin, with new levels of sugar, coloring, and flavors never before seen. There is no food in nature that has the same shape or consistency as Jell-O, save for extremely raw milk from certain animals, and certainly none that taste like strawberry, mango, or vanilla. A mixture of science and senses brings forth strange candies conceptualized only in human imagination, not natural evolution. Especially in the case of chewing gum and mints, the synthesis of replications of certain plants transcends the realm of food, using the mastication process for a social purpose rather than the original intention of nourishment.

Even more advanced than the simulation or creation of unusual foods is the derivation of all new flavors, totally synthetic and infusable into any food. Food technology has advanced enough to create a strawberry flavor without using any strawberries, to emulate cherries through chemicals, and to generate unprecedented, generally accepted tastes such as cola. The idea of synthetic flavors takes the previous experience with taste to a new level, enhancing snacks with impossible sweetness, indescribable character, and bizarre shapes. A laboratory can twist the composition of corn from a starchy bushel of kernels into the sweetest sugar ever tasted, the most nutritious vitamins taken, or the most outlandish goos that make up much of what people now eat. Techniques that once attempted to recreate the taste of fruits and other exotic delicacies have so practiced the act of copying something so as to no longer concern itself with simulating something so much as capturing certain characteristics. Food science has reached the realm of characteristic combination, such that scientists can bring into existence different products that hardly even existed in the imagination. Nobody could have imagined a bean that tasted like popcorn, but Jelly Belly accomplished it; even more astounding is the phenomenon of such foods as sour belts, chewing gum, and bubbling sodas, which hardly could have been imagined in the past and have little, if any, basis on natural or existing designs. These new creations become so bizarre, outlandish, and somehow delicious that people can hardly tell what is real and what is not anymore, what even to believe. A gummy substance that provided flavor for a thousand chews, a delicious potion with fizzly sensations, and a sticky strip of sour, solid sugar; all of this would have seemed like the mad musings of a science fiction author centuries ago, but today they are commonplace and popular, even necessary by some standards. Merely the combination of a whole slew of synthetic and artificially derived characteristics, new candies, foods, and beverages are generated all the time, thanks to the alchemy of modern food science. All that is left is to condense the wonders of a meal into the size of a pill.