The tamale tastes like home
November 4, 2021 10:24 AM   Subscribe

As a side note… I am really annoyed by one thing about Star Trek. “Replicated food is not as good as real food.” That’s ridiculous. In Star Trek, replicator technology is part of the same tech tree as transporters. Replicated food would be identical to the food it was based on, down to the subatomic level. Tumblr user aqueerkettleoffish inadvertently sparks a conversation: what about food makes it good, if not its chemical composition?
posted by sciatrix (149 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
what about food makes it good, if not its chemical composition?

Timing.
posted by clavdivs at 10:26 AM on November 4, 2021 [18 favorites]


"I would kill to work on the deflector dish! Most of my day is spent repairing food replicators."

"They really break that often?"

"Only when you get food in 'em!"

"Banana...hot."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:33 AM on November 4, 2021 [10 favorites]


In Star Trek, replicator technology is part of the same tech tree as transporters.

Transporters are suicide booths. Just like with food, the key is in the presentation.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:33 AM on November 4, 2021 [7 favorites]


It's not good if it isn't made with love.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:33 AM on November 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


Can't imagine industrial cafeteria food tasting bad? Ok but couldn't be me.
posted by bleep at 10:36 AM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


It may just be a "nothing sounds as good as vinyl" thing for foodies, but a few more points to add at the ones at the link:

1) Although it's part of the same technology tree, it's easy to assume that food (and basic consumer good) replicators (replicators on that setting?) aren't as high-res as transporters. If I was doing the world-building, that's how I would describe it. The more fidelity you need, the more power (and - perhaps mostly - processing power) you need. So maybe there is a "flatness" that hipsters at least claim to detect?

2) In addition to every burger or plate of pasta coming out the same, it is (again) easy to assume that the "recipe" being used as a consensus one, designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience... so, probably bland. A recipe no one will object to too much, but not anyone's favorite.
posted by kikaider01 at 10:38 AM on November 4, 2021 [34 favorites]


The way it functioned was very interesting. When the Drink button was pressed it made an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject's taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject's metabolism and then sent tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centers of the subject's brain to see what was likely to go down well. However, no one knew quite why it did this because it invariably delivered a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:40 AM on November 4, 2021 [52 favorites]


Loved that. I can imagine replicator food always being exactly the same -- like, somebody programmed in a cheeseburger and from now to eternity you get the same cheeseburger, every time. Never more rare, never more cooked. You can get it with or without onions, but they'll always be the same onions.

However, after more than 18 months of not eating out because of the pandemic, I'd love a replicator. Fed up with meal planning...
posted by jzb at 10:49 AM on November 4, 2021 [13 favorites]


The Lower Decks has indicated that higher ranking people get access to a better "menu" of replicator dishes, but that seems to be silly and not really fitting with the Star Trek ethos.
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 10:51 AM on November 4, 2021 [11 favorites]


It may just be a "nothing sounds as good as vinyl" thing for foodies

I'm a foodie, and to me vinyl just sounds chewy. Would prefer a good lasagne.
posted by flabdablet at 10:54 AM on November 4, 2021 [6 favorites]


It's not good if it isn't made with love.

this is not true; all of the best things I've made were made out of spite. But that is all baking, so ymmv.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:55 AM on November 4, 2021 [31 favorites]


When Bryan Fuller was working on the new Star Trek I started thinking about how replicators would enable completely victimless cannibalism. Scan someone’s leg in, replicate a copy of just the leg, butcher it, cook with it, program the resulting dish in - now you can have it whenever you want, no trouble at all! You can’t tell me NOBODY has EVER tried this in the Trek universe…
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:56 AM on November 4, 2021 [24 favorites]


Imagine the last meal you got on an airplane. Now, imagine if your mom or your favorite restaurant, or you made it yourself. Now imagine that airplane meal being reproduced all across the galaxy in every single food replicator.
posted by briank at 10:57 AM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


I mean, there are individual environmental factors to things, like how dishes could differently in different kinds of pots (and thus taste different) or on different timelines or vegatables /fruits at different ripeness or with different regional variations of things like water quality (isn't that part of the whole thing with bagels in NYC)? I mean someone in a lab could probably replicate all of those conditions, but there's also the fact that Nana's spaghetti sauce tastes one way on the day it is cooked and slightly different (and honestly better) when you reheat on the second day, etc. etc.

Also part of a meal (for me anyway) is the company, the scenery, the accoutrements, etc, etc. I often tell people one of the best meals I had in my life was on lunchtime terrace Saint-Paul de Vence in the south of France. Was that because the food was really that good, or was it the view, the perfection of the spring day , my best friends, the wine list, or the fact that I passed an actual Alexander Calder mobile just hanging over the woodpile on the way to the bathroom. I could probably replicate the food (maybe), but the way it all tasted and felt in that moment? Probably not.
posted by thivaia at 10:59 AM on November 4, 2021 [3 favorites]


Yeah, all of the nu-trek additions to replicator lore have been terribly doof yat best, actively undermine the central premise at worst. One thing I did like was explicitly mentioning they recycle waste molecules into food in DISCO.

Replicator food would be able to perfectly replicate any dish, even one made by your lover or parents from childhood. If you wanna get dark, it could likely also produce chemical triggers to get you to experience some of the same emotions you'd feel if the meal was made lovingly by hand by someone you love and enjoy their company, even if they weren't there.

Trying to construe reasons why replicator food could suck is just trying to work against the miracle of the technology, there's no reason why there'd only be dispensed "consensus" foods, it would be able to know exactly how you prefer your particular spaghetti and give it to you that way.

>Now imagine that airplane meal being reproduced all across the galaxy in every single food replicator.

Okay, but this is Star Trek so now imagine every meal being replicated being as good as a homemade meal you enjoy more than usual. (also idk about you, but cooking my own food is a one way ticket to the the food's quality not even mattering. If i'm not already full from snacking on ingredients while cooking, i'll be tired and over it by the time the meal is poperly done and eat it so fast that I remember why cooking for yourself is almost never worth the hassle.)
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:01 AM on November 4, 2021 [4 favorites]


I bet there’s more than one version of at least the most popular foods, and you get a random one of those… but not THAT many versions. Like how McDonalds only has four chicken nugget shapes.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:02 AM on November 4, 2021 [9 favorites]


It wasn't until the sequel to Star Trek II that replicators were programmed to serve cold revenge.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:04 AM on November 4, 2021 [5 favorites]


I'm picturing it more like a videogame character builder screen where the variability in the food is the result of various parametric adjustments you can make to it. In that world I'd personally starve to death from being too busy dragging the sliders around in an attempt to make the onions look as ridiculous as possible.
posted by 7segment at 11:08 AM on November 4, 2021 [12 favorites]


completely victimless cannibalism

Although I'm not sure that Mr Fuller's favourite cannibal would find it quite so much fun without the victim.
posted by Grangousier at 11:10 AM on November 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


Definitely interesting explorations of different permutations of the premise, though I'm with GoblinHoney on this one myself. "In a utopic post-scarcity world, would people find things to take issue with on food?" Possibly. But it's a utopic post-scarcity world. Reducing it all down to cafeteria clones would fit with other types of sci-fi, but it feels a bit jarring within Star Trek in particular. "Surely it can't be as good as we imagine it to be" can be a neat exploration, but it feels like the cultural default is closer to "nope, everything has to suck in some ways" these days.

(not "you're bad & wrong to want to riff on the Universal Cloned Hamburger" by any sense, to be clear, I enjoy the concept there)

The ideas around replicators enabling tightly-honed culinary accommodations stood out to me nicely, along those lines.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:10 AM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Transporters are suicide booths.

... but the crews are in deep, deep denial about this. Instead, they bitch about the replicators' food, desperately trying never to acknowledge the creeping implication that if those food machines produce faulty meat, then the transporters must do so too.
posted by Paul Slade at 11:11 AM on November 4, 2021 [33 favorites]


I'm picturing it more like a videogame character builder screen where the variability in the food is the result of various parametric adjustments you can make to it.

Well, now I'm picturing it like, you can get any type of European-derived cream sauce you can possibly imagine, but there's one option for "soul food" and one for "Asian noodles."
posted by stevis23 at 11:14 AM on November 4, 2021 [13 favorites]


Well, yeah- why do you think Sisko always cooks his own Jambalaya?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:16 AM on November 4, 2021 [7 favorites]


on DS9 they've used the transporter to successfully move things their scanners can't understand that originated in the wormhole between spacetime, so I'm not sure the suicide machine theory holds up. If we accept DS9 as canon, the only way the machine could work would be as a short distance wormhole-type portal itself that relocates planck-level data from one place to another without interacting with it in any way.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:21 AM on November 4, 2021 [10 favorites]


why do you think Sisko always cooks his own Jambalaya?

Sisko is the most extra Captain on Star Trek and he would cook his own Jambalaya regardless. The man built a space ship by hand just for funsies. In summation, Sisko is the best and yeah, it's probably like the difference between using fresh or dry herbs.
posted by slimepuppy at 11:23 AM on November 4, 2021 [16 favorites]


I'm surprised you all buy into the replicator propaganda. They are simply a type of transporter, linked to the multiverse, and every time you punch in a hamburger (etc) and hit the 'zap' button.. somewhere/when, someone's exact version of that hamburger disappears. how could this not be obvious
posted by elkevelvet at 11:25 AM on November 4, 2021 [26 favorites]


It's not good if it isn't made with love.

this is not true; all of the best things I've made were made out of spite. But that is all baking, so ymmv.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:55 AM on November 4



Not here to nitpick but just sometimes, the secret ingredient is crime.
posted by viborg at 11:25 AM on November 4, 2021 [3 favorites]


I can't really imagine the food and drink synthesizer not having access to some kind of dataset about individual crewmember preferences with regards to various dishes, so it knows exactly how you like your chicken enchiladas, for example... you aren't settling for some generic version! All the parameters about how you like various foods have been accumulating in your personnel file since birth, nevermind how an AI could make pretty good guesses about how you'd like a novel dish prepared based on your other food preferences. Since it's being built up at the molecular level, it's not like there's any difference in prep time... why not have 2.7 million variations on a baked potato programmed in there?
posted by lefty lucky cat at 11:28 AM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


every time you punch in a hamburger (etc) and hit the 'zap' button.. somewhere/when, someone's exact version of that hamburger disappears

If we're breaking the speed limit by travelling faster than light, may as well also break a few laws of thermodynamics along the way.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:30 AM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Came for the Hitchhiker's Guide reference, left satisfied.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:31 AM on November 4, 2021 [4 favorites]


I can't really imagine the food and drink synthesizer not having access to some kind of dataset about individual crewmember preferences with regards to various dishes, so it knows exactly how you like your chicken enchiladas, for example...

In a post-scarcity society, there's a decent chance that this will mean that everyone's got a USB stick or holocard or something with their personal, secret, highly tuned and totally unique recipe collection on it, that they've been carefully curating for their entire lives, on which are the recipes they hoard for themselves or use to impress guests that they don't ever share, because secret knowledge you use to give other people a novel experience is the only meaningful common currency left.
posted by mhoye at 11:34 AM on November 4, 2021 [40 favorites]


It's part of Trek canon that replicators (at least Federation ones) can't replicate living matter. Since the only difference between living and nonliving matter is microstructure, this suggests that there is indeed some sort of "resolution" issue with the replicators. The sense of taste is much more complex than simply what chemicals are present: we're exquisitely sensitive to texture, among other things. Most of what makes a potato chip taste stale is changes to its mechanical, not chemical, structure, changing the way it crunches in the mouth. The claim that replicated food doesn't quite taste as good certainly be explained by this: the chemical composition and macrostructure are perfect, but the microstructure is not quite right due to resolution issues. Which isn't to say that these post-scarcity humans aren't being a bunch of prima donnas when they complain about it.

As for why transporter technology is able to reassemble living matter perfectly while replicator technology can't, that's a good question. There's an episode of DS9 where an explosion at exactly the wrong moment during transport causes a power surge that prevents several crew members from rematerializing. The crew only has a minute or two to make a decision on how to save them before the "pattern buffer" decays. They order the station's computer to store the data using any means necessary, and the crew members' bodies are transferred to a running holosuite program (where Dr. Bashir is LARPing as James Bond), while their neural data is transferred into the station's main computer systems, consuming all available memory and causing the station's systems to shut down. I'd suggest that the "pattern buffer" is some kind of transient physical phenomenon capable of storing and transferring huge information density for a brief time, which is available as an intermediate data storage medium for transporters and allows the high-resolution microstructure necessary for living matter to be replicated, but no such technology exists, or it is prohibitively complex, to allow long-term storage to get the microstructure of food exactly right for the replicators.

I, uh, have been rewatching some Star Trek recently...
posted by biogeo at 11:35 AM on November 4, 2021 [35 favorites]


"Pringles...bbq flavor...stale."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:38 AM on November 4, 2021 [13 favorites]


I wish some Star Trek series had given us the weirdo character who always orders food with something slightly wrong with it on purpose.
posted by biogeo at 11:41 AM on November 4, 2021 [5 favorites]


Oh biogeo beat me to the punch and did a better job of it.

I've always pointed to the transporter buffer and associated lore to explain why replicated food is seen as inferior: if maintaining the data for even a single individual is a big task, how likely is it that the replicators are storing patterns for millions of possible foods at full fidelity?

There's some lossy compression going on there, which could plausibility make the food taste weird.
posted by selenized at 11:44 AM on November 4, 2021 [12 favorites]


I'm surprised you all buy into the replicator propaganda. They are simply a type of transporter, linked to the multiverse, and every time you punch in a hamburger (etc) and hit the 'zap' button.. somewhere/when, someone's exact version of that hamburger disappears. how could this not be obvious

Can we also assume that the hamburgers are literally disappearing from the plates of people in other realities, making the replicator into a form of interdimensional pillaging? If the technology became widespread enough throughout one universe and stole enough food from other universes that did not have the technology, perhaps it would lead to a multiversal war in which the ransacked realities banded together to stop the prime reality once and for all.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:48 AM on November 4, 2021 [4 favorites]


^ if hamburgers aren't disappearing in mid-bite for maximum comic effect, then my theory is worth nothing
posted by elkevelvet at 11:54 AM on November 4, 2021 [8 favorites]


If it's not being transported then the raw materials the synthesizer is working with are like a 128-color box of flavor crayons, and presumably take up like 1/3rd of the volume of the ship?
posted by lefty lucky cat at 11:55 AM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Evil Spock was just pissed off that Kirk stole his lunch.
posted by biogeo at 11:56 AM on November 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


how likely is it that the replicators are storing patterns for millions of possible foods at full fidelity?

There's some lossy compression going on there, which could plausibility make the food taste weird.


That's how I've always thought of it. Freshly prepared food will always be a bit different: slight (or significant) differences in ingredients, quantities, cooking time, serving temperature, exactly which bits ended up in your serving of stew, whatever. I would expect any given replicated recipe to taste exactly the same, every time, which is great if you crave consistency but not so much otherwise.
posted by jedicus at 11:59 AM on November 4, 2021 [3 favorites]


Do I have headcanon about this? Of course I have headcanon about this!

I've always been of the opinion that the results of the Maillard reaction, in particular, are extremely difficult to store within the limited memory space of replicator recipes. So raw foods are relatively easy to replicate, but if you want to get a good sear on a burger or steak (or some nice soccarat in your paella, or crusty bread), you're going to have to cook things the old fashioned way.

Drinks are manageable, raw foods are easy--but if you want some hot food, it's going to taste like it came out of a microwave.

(Also, for the nth time: it is canon that users of transporters in Star Trek maintain consciousness during transport. They are not suicide booths!)
posted by thecaddy at 11:59 AM on November 4, 2021 [9 favorites]


because secret knowledge you use to give other people a novel experience is the only meaningful common currency left
+
the weirdo character who always orders food with something slightly wrong with it on purpose.

I think I have an idea here. Look at music. At least within Western musical history (since that's what I'm familiar enough with to make this analogy) you have a long period of harmony being desired, then increasing tolerance & eventual desire for dissonance. There were pieces 'before their time' which were violently reacted to; Grosse Fuge, Rite of Spring, etc. But nowadays they're lauded.
Over the last 70? years or so in particular: distortion, cacophony, dissonance, they're all tasty spices now.

Taking that as framing & matching it to all of the "this would be tuned to your tastes personally" prompts, perhaps "Autotune mode" on the replicator is the smooth, harmonic experience. You get a chicken enchilada that's a local maxima of the best chicken enchilada to your known tastes.
But going off-track for dissonant flavors? That's *novelty* there, that's value. Bring on the incompatible food triad!

(and then eventually you'd have culinary glitch-pop, where people come up with new flavors/sensations by circuit-bending the replicator protocol itself rather than cooking a recipe with manual processes & replicating that.)

The replicator-enabled culinary equivalent of 100 gecs remains a question for the reader to answer.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:04 PM on November 4, 2021 [9 favorites]


The memories of the reconstituted clone person about being transported aren't evidence. The person who steps into the transporter is STILL suicided.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 12:05 PM on November 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


The Lower Decks has indicated that higher ranking people get access to a better "menu" of replicator dishes, but that seems to be silly and not really fitting with the Star Trek ethos.

Rank still has its privileges; the TNG episode "Lower Decks" (which the cartoon series is very, very loosely based on) has the junior officers in bunks, as does Star Trek VI.

Replicator food would be able to perfectly replicate any dish, even one made by your lover or parents from childhood. If you wanna get dark, it could likely also produce chemical triggers to get you to experience some of the same emotions you'd feel if the meal was made lovingly by hand by someone you love and enjoy their company, even if they weren't there.

This isn't canon and is beyond the capability of Federation tech. It would be possible to do a deep scan of your favorite childhood dish when it was fresh, and keep that data on (as someone else put it) the equivalent of a USB stick, and have the replicator work off that. Although, inevitably, as you got older and your tastebuds started dying off, you wouldn't get the same sensory impression that you used to, or maybe you no longer like food that's about 50% sugar. It's kind of like recording your prom and then replaying it on the holodeck every Saturday night; even if it was a really good recording, you'd eventually get sick of it, and then what? You don't even have nostalgia, just contempt bred of familiarity.

The real attraction of real food would be that it's not always exactly the same, that it's not always perfect. Maybe gumbo has never been quite the same since the Xindi carved a huge trench across the Florida peninsula in the twenty-second century and did something to the Gulf shrimp beds. Maybe you can't really replicate Romulan ale. Maybe replicating Chateau Picard would make it no more special than Two-Buck Chuck. Same reason that people date other people instead of just taking it to the holodeck. cf. Talking Heads, "Heaven."
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:08 PM on November 4, 2021 [5 favorites]


Man, talk about over thinking a plate of replicated beans. Do you want fries with that?
posted by y2karl at 12:08 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


The memories of the reconstituted clone person about being transported aren't evidence. The person who steps into the transporter is STILL suicided.

We literally see the inside of a transport beam from the POV of the person being transported in some episodes, and there is no caesura.

Any real life tech operating on similar principals would absolutely be a suicide machine but--within the context of Trek fiction!--the transporter is not one. It's a magic machine with "heisenberg compensators"!
posted by thecaddy at 12:11 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Part of it is clearly that knowledge of the source of the food is part of the experience of eating. If my kids make cookies, I enjoy them more because, hey, my kids made these!

But, I can also see some other problems. Replicator food is calculated. Regular food has imperfections and it's those imperfections that add to the overall experience. It's like listening to a computer play music vs. a person. Small imperfections give the music texture and personality.

Of course, great replicators could be programmed to introduce those imperfections, so that every cup of Earl Grey tea was a little different, but it's also possible that the Star Trek universe doesn't have a complete grasp on the sorts of imperfections that exist and which ones work well. So the food is imperfect, but is imperfect in ways that don't add to the interest of the food.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 12:17 PM on November 4, 2021


"Because you have to wonder: how do the machines replicators know what Tasty Wheat tasted like? Maybe they got it wrong. Maybe what I think Tasty Wheat tasted like actually tasted like oatmeal, or tuna fish. That makes you wonder about a lot of things. You take chicken, for example: maybe they couldn't figure out what to make chicken taste like, which is why chicken tastes like everything. "
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 12:18 PM on November 4, 2021 [9 favorites]


You don't even have nostalgia, just contempt bred of familiarity.

To be fair, I had that at my actual high school prom.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 12:23 PM on November 4, 2021 [6 favorites]


Do you really expect me to believe that Starfleet doesn't dial down the resolution of food replicators for the enlisted crew just to save a few bucks?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:26 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Maybe you can't really replicate Romulan ale.

If I recall correctly, the replicators also replace things in the original recipe, famously replacing alcohol with synthehol in synthesized booze. So it could be that a replicator on default settings is basically giving you the health food version of every recipe.
posted by selenized at 12:26 PM on November 4, 2021 [5 favorites]


This is a bizarre plot point in the book Light From Uncommon Stars, where the new owners of a donut shop use their replicator to make the exact same donuts that were being already sold in that exact same location, and yet, customers still apparently notice a difference.

Maybe the donuts are missing their 21 grams of soul.
posted by one for the books at 12:26 PM on November 4, 2021 [3 favorites]


If I recall correctly, the replicators also replace things in the original recipe, famously replacing alcohol with synthehol in synthesized booze. So it could be that a replicator on default settings is basically giving you the health food version of every recipe.

Oh god, so it's like the space equivalent of my mom sending me to school with carob-chip cookies?

God damn what was it with 70s American moms and carob?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:29 PM on November 4, 2021 [13 favorites]


In a post-scarcity universe, the only thing scarce is authenticity.

I'd think imperfections would be easy to simulate. Take 1,000 cups of hot Earl Grey. Scan them. Keep track of the diffs. Obvious patterns would arise which would let you simulate a cup of Earl Grey in any condition. To derive from inference a cup of Earl Grey that's within expected parameters but different from the 1,000 scanned. No cup would be flawed in the same way twice.

My favorite replicator complaint came from David Gerrold's book World of Star Trek (TOS). Food on the Enterprise started out in early Season 1 with the ship's chefs making a turkey dinner on a special occasion. And then the replicators showed up. As the seasons went on, the replicators replicated across the ship. Eventually, the replicators spread like a virus into the transporter room. Which made sense to me, but apparently frustrated Gerrold to no end.

And if the fan theories here about replicators knowing your most intimate food preferences are true, then that makes the Federation (or at least Star Fleet) one of the more comical surveillance dystopias. They watch everything you do. They even somehow determine your thoughts. Either directly or from close AI-enhanced observation. And then they use this massive body of information to determine your favorite version of chicken marsala.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 12:32 PM on November 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


What exactly is synthehol, anyway? I thought it was some kind of replacement that wouldn't get you drunk, but I think I recall O'Brian and Bashir getting drunk on synthale in at least one episode of DS9. But maybe I'm misremembering and it was real booze. I'm sure I could go look it up on Memory Alpha but it'll probably be more entertaining for all of us if one of you nerds wants to explain.
posted by biogeo at 12:33 PM on November 4, 2021


And if the fan theories here about replicators knowing your most intimate food preferences are true, then that makes the Federation (or at least Star Fleet) one of the more comical surveillance dystopias. They watch everything you do. They even somehow determine your thoughts. Either directly or from close AI-enhanced observation. And then they use this massive body of information to determine your favorite version of chicken marsala.

In the process of writing some fanfiction set in the Trek universe (shush) in which a bunch of crimes are committed, I realized that actually, surveillance in Trek is ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE. They don’t even use security cameras. People are tracked on the ship vis their combadges, meaning you can defeat the tracking by just taking the thing off. They frequently use voice recognition despite the widespread existence of computer programs that can perfectly replicate a person’s voice. And with the truly stunning number of times their ships get infiltrated or hacked into, they continue to do nothing whatsoever to improve their security. I can only assume that there was some massive privacy violation scandal in pre-TOS history that resulted in the very concept of robust tracking and automated security being banned, like computers in Dune.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:40 PM on November 4, 2021 [12 favorites]


So homemade pizza with real bunnycorn sausage tastes better than the replicator version and is just another example of the moral backsliding that's taken place in the Federation since the end of the ST:TNG tv series.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:40 PM on November 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


I can only assume that there was some massive privacy violation scandal in pre-TOS history that resulted in the very concept of robust tracking and automated security being banned, like computers in Dune.

Thank you, you have just fixed a whole boatload of DS9 episodes for me. And helped explain why Odo is so frustrated all the time.
posted by biogeo at 12:43 PM on November 4, 2021 [7 favorites]


I also love the thought that in the Star Trek universe, there's replicator foodie versions of this guy.
posted by biogeo at 12:45 PM on November 4, 2021


In a post-scarcity society, there's a decent chance that this will mean that everyone's got a USB stick or holocard or something with their personal, secret, highly tuned and totally unique recipe collection on it, that they've been carefully curating for their entire lives, on which are the recipes they hoard for themselves or use to impress guests that they don't ever share, because secret knowledge you use to give other people a novel experience is the only meaningful common currency left.

This strikes me as equally evil in both the real world and the trek-utopia world. IRL that recipe is the collective property of all humans, no component of it can be owed to anything less than the entire chain of beings that existed and acted such that you could exist to make such a recipe. Every thought, every idea, is built upon the thoughts and ideas of countless before you, from the immediate caretakers and people in your life, to ancient people's you can never hear of because there was no history recorded (nor would there ever be if everyone adopted the selfish IP approach). It is our obligation as and to sentient beings to share any and all good information than can be shared.

In Trek universe, there would still be people who desired to hoard secrets, enjoy the power and exclusivity, maybe want to leverage it in some way. Those seem like urges some living beings will have sometimes but that have no place in a civilized world and while there might not be a good way to eradicate that secreting behaviour across the galaxy, it should definitely be fair grounds on which to deem someone else kind of a rat or asshole.

>In a post-scarcity universe, the only thing scarce is authenticity.

Perhaps but that would also mean people would be working overdrive to figure out what that means and how to provide it unauthentically while being perceived as authentic by anyone.

Re: Trek Surveillance State, it's a weird topic. Lower Decks confirms people, like, basically watch the same episodes of Trek we do more or less. At the same time, there are plenty of episodes with apparently massive plot holes where nobody thought to solve a mystery just by checking surveillance footage.

Tangent here, but I'd love to see a sci-fi would with perfect surveillance and accountability. I think surveillance state is on a curve, where at some point where there becomes so much surveillance and accountability that literally everyone is equitably accountable for their actions and perfectly and accurately punished immediately. I have no faith in any living human being however to write such a story without immediately dipping into why surveillance states lower on the curve are so disastrous (and they wouldnt be wrong to make art focusing on real world issues rather than a fantasy implementation of a justic god).
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:46 PM on November 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


No, no, no - food replicators can and would be programmed with variance in mind. All kinds of parameters can both be randomized and dialed in per preference. Dozens if not hundreds of variations on a cheeseburger to choose from including historical standouts, sorted by chef, restaurant and time period. Order a slider sampler from across the ages and let the software track your favorites.

These are things we can do now and do do now, wrt programming.
posted by Wetterschneider at 12:53 PM on November 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


Tangent here, but I'd love to see a sci-fi would with perfect surveillance and accountability.

The short story I See You by Damon Knight is this! Someone invents a technology that allows people to see everything that has ever happened, past and present, anywhere in the world - and because they realize how disastrous this technology would be if it were kept in the hands of the powerful few, they distribute copies of the device throughout the world before they announce what it does.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:53 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


No cloning theorem. We know the transporters are operating at the quantum state level because O’Brien literally says this in TNG during one of the transporter accident episodes. Transporters are moving, not copying, the quantum state data of every particle in the confinement beam, and we know they do so at the speed of light.

As far as the universe and the person transported are concerned, all of their particles jumped in location at exactly the event propagation speed limit plus encoding/decoding time. It likewise stands to reason that, due to quantum effects, the “observation” of the transmitted state data can only be put off for so long, which is why pattern buffers degrade (unless you’ve got Scotty around, apparently).

The replicator limitations are because the writers - just like Mark Twain in Time’s Arrow - refuse to admit to themselves that post-scarcity means you get to have your lunch and eat it too. That improvements to quality of life can be unalloyed good. Your post-modern diminishing returns relativist but-at-what-cost instincts can fuck right off, because that shit’s ultimately just another knock-on effect of capitalist fear-mongering about a future where most people aren’t wage slaves, or any other kind of slave. Liberation is fully delicious, just like this replicated hamburger that was tailored precisely to my taste preferences.
[*chomp*]
posted by Ryvar at 1:03 PM on November 4, 2021 [12 favorites]


I mean all the characters (except people eating nelix's cooking) seem to like home cooked food more so in canon something is happening.
posted by Ferreous at 1:04 PM on November 4, 2021


one for the books, thank you. I knew I'd seen the idea of too-repetitive-replicability in two places, but I couldn't remember the one other than the _The Unincorporated Man_. It's thematically better in _Light from Uncommon Stars_-- that book has more about the importance of unique personal relationships, though it's not completely missing from _The Unicorporated Man_.

To my mind, replicators could go beyond random variation to estimates of seasonal variation and such. As people have pointed out, there's a question of how much processing power is available, though I think reasonable variation would be a rounding error compared to producing decent food at all.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 1:04 PM on November 4, 2021


I mean all the characters (except people eating nelix's cooking) seem to like home cooked food more so in canon something is happening.

Humans being irrationally sentimental is also canon.
posted by Ryvar at 1:07 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


showbiz_liz, there's also "The Dead Past" by Isaac Asimov, it which it's figured out, too late, too late, that a time viewer which can get arbitrarily close to the present is effectively universal surveillance.

Punchline: "Happy goldfish bowl to you".

Offhand, I can't think of any sf which portrays a real universal surveillance society, not just top down like 1984.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 1:08 PM on November 4, 2021


And to boot, while I think Roddenberry-esque need to federation perfection is lazy writing and cowardice and was rightly discarded, in a post scarcity society if your desire is homemade food you have the resources to create it. Energy is basically free so you can make a place to grow food by hand anywhere. It becomes a hobby, a hobby which is enabled by a post scarcity life.

It's the same as getting annoyed that people still could hand make furniture in the future.
posted by Ferreous at 1:09 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


I think it's like Librivox: every food used has to be public domain, for some legal reason. So they're all whatever version of a burrito someone felt it necessary to grant to the world, and once it's done no one revisits it, regardless of poor quality.
posted by condour75 at 1:10 PM on November 4, 2021 [6 favorites]


Speaking of Damon Knight, he also wrote A for Anything, in which he postulates that a replicator that could replicate anything--including itself and people--would be anything but an unalloyed good.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:11 PM on November 4, 2021


"Transporters are moving, not copying, the quantum state data of every particle in the confinement beam, and we know they do so at the speed of light."

Is that true? Didn't Khan transport to Kronos from Earth? How long did that take?

As for continuation of consciousness being proof that death does not occur when someone is transported... it's not proof of anything. That could very well be a modeled consciousness, after all we don't include any mention of consciousness when discussing the difference between a living body and dead one. Separate all the atoms of a living body... and it's dead. There is no more functioning anything going on, metabolism, electrical function, mitosis, anything at all.
posted by Wetterschneider at 1:12 PM on November 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


In "Star Trek," I always figured two factors converged on the "replicated food doesn't taste the same" mentality:

First, in most food prepared by humans, there is variation meal to meal. I know there are places I go where the guac or salsa is a bit different each time--a bit spicier or more garlicy than average. A burger may be cooked a bit more or less. Two cuts of meat have different marbling. Things are cut slightly differently time-to-time. Two peppers grew up to have a slightly different flavor. Terroir is a thing, after all. Even bags of chips may be saltier, or broken in a different way that changes the experience.

I know that there are things I cook where I deviate a bit from the recipe, either in ingredient or process, that may have a perceptible yet small impact. I make red beans and rice, and, because I eyeball my trinity, each batch may have a different ratio. Within a batch, each bowl's ratio will vary.

Replicator food is different because it may be programmed to be exactly the same way, to the atomic level. What people are feeling is not that they are having a bowl of "Mr. Guilt's Red Beans and Rice," but that this bowl is exactly the same as every other bowl. Extreme consistency could be what makes replicated food taste replicated. I suppose it may be a foodie version of the uncanny valley.

You could program in some of that randomness, and it may be enough for most folks. But that brings me to the second factor. No matter how evolved and enlightened the denizens of the Federation are, there will always be That Guy. That Guy who swears vinyl sounds better, especially with gold Monster Cables. That Guy who talks about not owning a TV. That Guy who swears Shakespeare is best in the original Klingon.

And, there is That Guy who won't eat a replicated Pop Tart without insisting a non-replicated one is better.
posted by MrGuilt at 1:17 PM on November 4, 2021 [3 favorites]


Transporters are moving, not copying

Thomas Riker would beg to differ.
posted by biogeo at 1:19 PM on November 4, 2021 [6 favorites]


There is an SF novel about 100% surveillance: Greg Bear's Blood Music.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:21 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


There's some lossy compression going on there, which could plausibility make the food taste weird.

Tastes like jpeg

Maybe there`s certain compression algorithms that work best for fresh fruit and others best for pasta, etc.
posted by RobotHero at 1:25 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


IIRCC universal surveillance is entirely possible on a GSV, but actually reading minds is considered rude.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:26 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Apples "from concentrate".
posted by biogeo at 1:27 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


It's not good if it isn't made with love...

...juice.
posted by maxwelton at 1:28 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Pretty much every explanation of how the transcendental self (or "soul", or "consciousness") and transporters coexist as concepts founders on the shores of either (a) the fact that Data is generally recognized as having a transcendental self despite being constructed, and he is in fact transportable but apparently not replicable in any other way, or (b) the fact that apparently both Will and Tom Riker are apparently possessed of full personhood and that neither of them is a philosophical zombie. Basically, Star Trek goes with whatever definition of consciousness goes best with the story they're trying to tell at any given time, and they don't want to get too bogged down on just what the hell it means, philosophically, that a transporter can apparently clone your soul (but only by accident; never on purpose, although re-engineering the accident that produced Tom Riker doesn't seem like it'd be so very hard).
posted by jackbishop at 1:32 PM on November 4, 2021 [7 favorites]


Cheeseburger...White Castle...soggy.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:33 PM on November 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


I mean all the characters (except people eating nelix's cooking) seem to like home cooked food more so in canon something is happening.


Utopia or not, I'm never telling my mom that a machine makes her chicken and dumplings better than her. Plus, having big opinions about food is a pretty normal part of personality and discussion for many folks and objective reality needn't define what they communicate or feel about the food.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:37 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Iain Banks nailed this one in Look to Windward: in the post-scarcity world the only thing in short supply are concert tickets. Speaking of…

actually reading minds is considered rude.

It is strongly implied it is in fact considered worse than murdering the person in question by the mainstream Culture. A handful of Minds have murdered with relatively moderate reputational damage. The only ship to read minds without the express permission - and usually insistence - of the person in question was given absolute, permanent pariah status of the most severe kind throughout the entire civilization.

Thomas Riker would beg to differ.

Thomas Riker cannot exist. No cloning means no direct copies of the quantum state data, and reading the state data to make a copy the old-fashioned way requires observation, so…Mirrorverse crossover during the accident or “something with Q” is what we’re down to.

Is that true? Didn't Khan transport to Kronos from Earth? How long did that take?

I was about to say subspace but I didn’t remember this so I looked it up, and… If you’re suggesting that we treat the Abrams-verse as canon (or worthy of anything other than decrepitation) then we simply cannot have a civil discussion. Ryvar to Enterprise: one to beam out.
posted by Ryvar at 1:37 PM on November 4, 2021 [6 favorites]


there will always be That Guy. That Guy who swears vinyl sounds better, especially with gold Monster Cables. That Guy who talks about not owning a TV. That Guy who swears Shakespeare is best in the original Klingon.

And, there is That Guy who won't eat a replicated Pop Tart without insisting a non-replicated one is better.


That Guy would be Michael Fucking Eddington.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:39 PM on November 4, 2021 [5 favorites]


Oh good, someone's already here with the Ryka Aoki reference. I knew I could count on y'all
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:47 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Offhand, I can't think of any sf which portrays a real universal surveillance society, not just top down like 1984.

I think David Brin's Earth had universal surveillance.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:50 PM on November 4, 2021


Maybe people's complaints about replicators are a memetic disease.

What if early replicators were terrible and could only produce a mushy, first-order approximation of food. Even though the technology has improved and they can now produce great tasting food, everyone still clings to the belief that they're not good enough and there's just enough occasional malfunctions to reinforce this unfounded belief.

I bet late night Federation television is full of jokes about replicator food.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 1:59 PM on November 4, 2021 [7 favorites]


If transporters were just replicators there would never be any transporter mishaps

You'd just "cancel print" and then start over

But there are transporter mishaps all the damn time
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:10 PM on November 4, 2021


I wasn't suggesting anything, just chatting about Star Trek, transporters and replicators.

As for the uncanny valley of food. We've been mired in it for a century. We eat all kinds of things from chicknugs to red "delicious" apples - just one example of all kinds of fruit designed for transport at the expense of flavor and texture. And for the most part, we don't care. Sure some of us complain, or reminisce about the "original" Coke, but it's valley all the way to the horizon now.

There's no way that replicator food, at its worse, would be less edible than what we're currently scarfing.
posted by Wetterschneider at 2:10 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


In a real world with replicator food, I imagined something like the celebrity chef slash food youtuber would arise. Like, you can dial in to their show where you see them prepare a meal and then replicate the result. People would recommend one another their favourite chefs.
posted by RobotHero at 2:14 PM on November 4, 2021 [3 favorites]


RobotHero - your replicator could be spitting out little samples for the entire video. A pinch of each ingredient to taste, or sniff. A spoonful of the batter or the frosting or the sauce. A little cut of the meat that's overdone to compare with a cut of the meat that done just right.

Wait, can a replicator just blast you with yummy cooking/baking scents while you're watching the show?
posted by Wetterschneider at 2:18 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Just hit up the Holodeck and be IN the show!
posted by lefty lucky cat at 2:24 PM on November 4, 2021


Hell I think the whole concept of "replicators have to be as good as cooking" is basically engineering/science types patting themselves on the back and treating skills viewed as menial or less worthwhile as easy to obsolete. "I've gone to school for matter replication for 4 years, I obviously know more than generations of farmers and people who cook!"
posted by Ferreous at 2:25 PM on November 4, 2021 [5 favorites]


Threads like this, a reason to love Mefi.
posted by Oyéah at 2:28 PM on November 4, 2021 [3 favorites]


"Oh, yeah- Data's in the holodeck cooking with Emeril Lagasse again."

"...aaand, holodeck malfunction. Whoops- Emeril Lagasse just turned evil. Again."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:34 PM on November 4, 2021 [6 favorites]


I watched It's Only a Paper Moon (DS9) just a few days ago and I've been wondering where Nog went to take a dump in the holodeck
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:38 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


"Now you're the one in the holographic simulation! Bam!"
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:39 PM on November 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


Wait.
If replicators can't replicate living matter, then what about that Klingon worm stew?
Gagh? Gog? Gak? (something like that)

I recall it being alive, though I may be mixing it up with the weird food for alan rickman in galaxy quest.
posted by Acari at 2:52 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


I bet late night Federation television is full of jokes about replicator food.

I can easily imagine that some degree of the complaints about replicators are just because it's a safe, universally agreed-upon subject to broach with people you don't know. You can't exactly chat about the weather on a starship in deep space, so what's the next-safest, universal subject? "So what's the deal with airplane food, anyways?"

Perhaps, if you catch one of the highest-ranking Starfleet admirals in an unusually candid, unguarded moment, they may even admit that they could improve the replicator food on starships, but that actually, starship replicator food exists in a perfect state of balance, honed over decades, of being juuust good enough to avoid being actively detrimental to crew morale, while still being consistently, universally bad enough to give new crews something to bond over.
posted by mstokes650 at 2:54 PM on November 4, 2021 [3 favorites]


It's pretty much canon that real gagh has to be imported live from Klingon space. Jadzia Dax once ordered a variety of gagh as a birthday gift for General Martok, which Ezri Dax later discovered she could no longer tolerate.

"Oh, yes. I can remember what each one tastes like… and the way they… move when you swallow them. Torgud gagh wiggles. Filden gagh squirms. Meshta gagh jumps…Bithool gagh has...feet…Wistan gagh is packed in targ blood… I have to go now."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:58 PM on November 4, 2021 [4 favorites]


(Also, for the nth time: it is canon that users of transporters in Star Trek maintain consciousness during transport. They are not suicide booths!)


Did a transporter write this?
posted by JohnFromGR at 2:58 PM on November 4, 2021 [3 favorites]


>Do you really expect me to believe that Starfleet doesn't dial down the resolution of food replicators for the enlisted crew just to save a few bucks?
Isn't that exactly what post-scarcity is asking you to believe? Maybe it's not about time or energy budgets but is about motivating better and promotion-worthy performance from the lower ranks, but it's not about (what-even-is?) a few bucks.
posted by k3ninho at 3:02 PM on November 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


Hell I think the whole concept of "replicators have to be as good as cooking" is basically engineering/science types patting themselves on the back and treating skills viewed as menial or less worthwhile as easy to obsolete. "I've gone to school for matter replication for 4 years, I obviously know more than generations of farmers and people who cook!"

In a historical context, don't ever forget that the heyday of American scientific optimism resulted in a whole lot of weird experimental attempts at producing new, processed foods that could mimic traditional foods but without the time and expense of existing variations... and that Star Trek began just as that era was beginning to wane.

In some ways, those processed, labor-saving versions have remained popular and are generally agreed to produce as good a product as the "original" sort (e.g. boxed cake mixes); in others, they are generally agreed to be universally worse than the "original" version (e.g. MREs). In reducing the last-minute effort to produce the food, we sacrifice certain things about taste and texture. What those things are reveals pieces of the technology we're using to produce the food, too. For example, consider sous vide as a recently-popular-in-certain-circles food technology, and the tell-tale absence of any Maillard reaction unless you subject the cooked food to a quick sear somewhere in the middle: we miss the browned flavor and seared outcome of cooking with a heat source, so even when we decide that sous vide is the lowest-effort way to prepare a food we often dip back to tradition to enhance food with a specific technique. Frozen foods are often a little softer than their fresher counterparts, but how much softer depends on the construction and assembly of the food itself, since the softness is an artifact of the size of frozen crystals of water. Microwaved foods are often more "steamed" than food cooked in an oven or on a stovetop because of the lack of evaporation in the sealed space. When we innovate new ways to prepare food, there are certain tell-tale signatures of the technology we use left in the structure of foods if not their substances.

I think it's interesting to consider the complaints about replicator food in the context of the writers of various Trek series reacting to and experiencing new food technologies which claim to be labor-saving--and sometimes even are!--as the series progresses and changes. When we talk about replicators, after all, we're talking about speculative responses to futuristic culinary technology informed primarily by real responses to real culinary technology.

Thinking about what, exactly, a replicator might do worse gives us some really interesting insight into the structure of the food itself--and the ways we think about and value food in our everyday lives.
posted by sciatrix at 3:11 PM on November 4, 2021 [16 favorites]


The food replicators can provide variety by just mixing stuff up. This Snack Does Not Exist!
posted by SPrintF at 3:16 PM on November 4, 2021


T sciatrix, thank you you put it better than I could have. It's much more useful to think about the replicators as tools vs a final step with no downsides or limitations. Treating something as an end stage with no trade offs is a failure of imagination.
posted by Ferreous at 3:21 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Isn't that exactly what post-scarcity is asking you to believe? Maybe it's not about time or energy budgets but is about motivating better and promotion-worthy performance from the lower ranks, but it's not about (what-even-is?) a few bucks.

A lot of people in this thread are assuming that if the Federation is post-scarcity, it therefore logically follows that each individual Starfleet starship is post-scarcity at all times, as well. I don't think Starfleet is necessarily worried about "saving a few bucks" but there are going to be things on a starship which are simply not in infinite supply, even if, in the macro sense, the Federation as a whole has access to an infinite supply of the thing. Like the bunkbeds for the lower-ranking crew - in the Federation as a whole, there may be so many millions of empty-but-habitable worlds, so any citizen of the Federation is, in theory, entitled to as much living space as they want. (They can't all get vineyards in France, but that's a whole nother question...) But that doesn't mean, on a specific starship of finite size, that every crew member gets as much living space as they want. Some of them are gonna get their own private quarters with enough space for a private sonic shower and a table to play poker with their buddies, and the rest of them are gonna get bunkbeds.

Same thing with the replicators; in theory, the Federation has the resources to give each person a replicator with a huge array of incredibly-detailed recipes perfectly customized to their tastes. And if you live on a heavily-settled planet, maybe you do have one of those. But on a starship with finite data storage capacity - which already needs to have basically a vast encyclopedia of knowledge about all kinds of stuff - there's not necessarily gonna be room for Ensign Ricky's personal preferences for exactly how creamy he likes his ice cream. Especially when you figure that crew members can get transferred from one ship to another a lot more easily than databanks seem to. So yeah, I can envision Fleet Admiralty looking at the costs (in materials, or construction time, or ship design efficiency, or whatever) for improving replicators on a starship and deciding that even though they could, they're not going to.
posted by mstokes650 at 3:29 PM on November 4, 2021 [7 favorites]


In voyager we learn that that growing plants from seed with the added energy input needed to convert ship energy sources to the light and nutrients plants need to grow is less energy cost than replication so by that logic the costs of replication work best in a place with a surplus of energy as well. It's by definition a less efficient system than using traditionally grown crops without even the benefit of free energy from a star in the form of visible light.

It's clearly not a perfect system.
posted by Ferreous at 3:35 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


It's not good if it isn't made with love...

The secret is that food replicators know what Data never could, and that is how to love. Each and every replicator, fleet wide, is programmed with a deep love of the crew it serves, and makes each meal, each cup of tea with all the love it’s circuits can muster.

The food they make is delicious, yet the crew has their innate biases that prevent them from realizing the love that went into their food.

That, or the programming for love takes up so much space, they had to ditch things like “how to make food good.”
posted by Ghidorah at 4:15 PM on November 4, 2021 [3 favorites]


The secret is that food replicators know what Data never could, and that is how to love.

Look at the way he interacted with his friends. Data knew how to love.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:47 PM on November 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


I think that music is instructive, on both ends. The idea that you could only get one hamburger ever? Ask a smart speaker to play "Hallelujah". It'll play a version, probably Leonard Cohen, maybe Jeff Buckley or kd lang. But you can get plenty of different versions of it if you wanted. I envision the replicator people being smart enough to realize that people want variety; you could imagine that "New York style Pepperoni Pizza Slice" has dozens of slices recorded at several top pizza joints; if you weren't picky, you'd get the most popular, but if you were really into it and had a slice every day, you'd get a variety.

But on the other hand, I think varying the food could be a lot more difficult than people imagine. If there was a pizza making machine that took dough, stretched it, topped it and baked it, then it would be trivial to provide a reasonable amount of variety; the temperature of the oven, the cooking time, the amount of ingredients can all be a statistical distribution as easily as they can be a single value. But the replicator works molecule-by-molecule; it would be a humongous amount of effort to develop the information on which molecules exactly constitute a bit of pepperoni, and what the behaviour of each additional cheese molecule is. I could see the ability to change temperature or simple things like how salty something is (since it's a single chemical), but complete customization is wildly complex. In the music metaphor, I can increase the volume, or the bass, or even the speed, but I can't get kd lang and Leonard Cohen dueting to Jeff Buckley's instrumentation, much less, say, Mae West and Lil Nas X doing it with P-Funk as the backing band.

And at some point, I suspect that once you can instantly get dozens of excellent slices of pepperoni pizza (and dozens with extra pepperoni, dozens with extra cheese, dozens with sausage, etc.), as well as every other food there is, there will be other problems that need the effort more than being able to tweak the pepperoni to the nearest decimal place.

But I also suspect that the view of food and eating would be wildly different with this technology; in the same way that there are genres of music that practically require recorded music to exist (like hip hop), and there are already tons of excellent foods that are only really produced industrially (like Oreos or Frosted Flakes or virtually every other snack food), there could well be new styles of food enabled by replication that would be impractical other ways. And the view of nostalgia would also be different -- we find it perfectly reasonable to hear a recording of a song that takes you back to what you were doing years ago when listening to the exact same recording, and we don't think our nostalgia is somehow less because the song is identical.
posted by Superilla at 4:47 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


>Look at the way he interacted with his friends. Data knew how to love.
There's gigaquads and gigaquads of Data/... fanfic in the always-physical-lovers take on Star Trek's forward-thinking culture.

The setting is a "Wagon Train to MacGuffin" for us to reflect on ourselves, and that's where I'm happy to let it be.
posted by k3ninho at 4:53 PM on November 4, 2021


Twitter thread from MeFi's own garius that starts with replicator geekery, spirals out into more general Star Trek nerdery, and spawned its own dedicated alt account.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:02 PM on November 4, 2021 [4 favorites]


Replicators can't be transporters, or at least it's not optimal if they're transporters, because the starship has to conserve mass. If food is transported in from some elsewhere (doesn't matter where at the moment), the ship gains mass every time somebody eats. This then affects its ability to navigate, accelerate and decelerate. They would have to compensate by jettisoning everybody's waste on a regular basis. It seems like a massive consumption of energy on both ends, pardon the expression.

It makes more sense if a replicator was a component in the ship's total water and waste system, in which a decomposer reduces waste to standard organic products that the replicator uses as raw material.

> The Lower Decks has indicated that higher ranking people get access to a better "menu" of replicator dishes, but that seems to be silly and not really fitting with the Star Trek ethos.

It might not be a matter of having different replicators, but of different classes having different food experiences. Somebody whose family dined in future-Michelin restaurants have different culinary experiences than somebody whose family could only afford to take them to future-Applebees on their birthday. And all the lower-ranking commissioned officers whose middle-class foodie parents took them to all the future-ethnic restaurants for brunch every Sunday.

> and then eventually you'd have culinary glitch-pop, where people come up with new flavors/sensations by circuit-bending the replicator protocol itself rather than cooking a recipe with manual processes & replicating that.

There's no reason why food assembled from molecular principles couldn't be currently-impossible things, like say a blue rare steak with cherry syrup replacing the myoglobin. It would make current trends in molecular gastronomy look like infants playing with blocks.
posted by ardgedee at 5:12 PM on November 4, 2021 [4 favorites]


If the technology became widespread enough throughout one universe and stole enough food from other universes that did not have the technology, perhaps it would lead to a multiversal war in which the ransacked realities banded together to stop the prime reality once and for all.

True fact: This was covered in Star Trek XVIII: The Final Burger. Covered in Klingon ketchup, that is!
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 5:42 PM on November 4, 2021


I can imagine replicator food always being exactly the same -- like, somebody programmed in a cheeseburger and from now to eternity you get the same cheeseburger, every time. Never more rare, never more cooked.

"Try the cheeseburger."

[sigh] "I have, a hundred times. I'd rather have a cheeseburger."
posted by The Tensor at 6:34 PM on November 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


There's no reason why food assembled from molecular principles couldn't be currently-impossible things, like say a blue rare steak with cherry syrup replacing the myoglobin. It would make current trends in molecular gastronomy look like infants playing with blocks.

See also: doing some really imaginative stuff with the holodeck.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:44 PM on November 4, 2021


Put a salted boar leg in a transporter, place on Mobius loop, wait 73 years, let rest, enjoy the prosciutto.
posted by clavdivs at 8:45 PM on November 4, 2021 [2 favorites]


73 years?!? By that point it'd be literally petrified.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:53 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


It’s all in the nafas. My aunt had this, she cooked better than all of her sisters, and they were all great cooks. There was just something special about her food.

Dang it, now I need to get up and make a snack.
posted by waving at 9:05 PM on November 4, 2021


sorry Greg, Mobius loop feature takes the boar to planet Generix IV where atmospheric and geological aspects are relative to the Allanfeild ratio of 73 years:47 seconds, give or take 2,098,763 nano seconds.
I'm sticking with Heraclitus, can't eat the same prosciutto twice beyond it's intial size.
posted by clavdivs at 9:20 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


Oh of course! I should have realized. Silly me.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:47 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


it is canon that users of transporters in Star Trek maintain consciousness during transport.

If that's true, pattern buffers must be some kind of hell.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:52 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone has brought this up: how much physical space does it take to store a replicator recipe? We're used to the space it takes to store (say) a book being much smaller than a book. But that's because a printed letter is huge on the molecular scale. When we're duplicating atoms, that no longer holds.

Wolfram Alpha tells me that a pound of water (as a standin for a meal) has ~ 1025 atoms. We need to record the location and velocity of each atom. To record the location of an atom, we can hardly use less than an atom. So the recipe itself takes up 1025 atoms-- a pound of computronium. You still want to believe that every crew member's version of a cheeseburger is separately recorded, and multiple variants to boot?

No problem, you say, we'll compress the hell out of the data. But, there is no lossless compression. You're losing information, and some of that information was important to the taste.
posted by zompist at 9:57 PM on November 4, 2021 [4 favorites]


a pound of computronium

But that stuff is really bland, you need to salt the hell out of it or douse it in hot sauce or something.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:15 PM on November 4, 2021 [5 favorites]


buttered computronium eggs buffet.
posted by clavdivs at 10:39 PM on November 4, 2021 [1 favorite]


We need to record the location and velocity of each atom

Mr Heisenberg would like a word with the chef.
posted by basalganglia at 12:13 AM on November 5, 2021 [4 favorites]


The chef has a payoff to compensate Prof. Heisenberg's inconvenience.
posted by k3ninho at 12:56 AM on November 5, 2021 [1 favorite]


The Heisenberg Umami Principle?
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:54 AM on November 5, 2021 [2 favorites]


The replicator food would be missing affection, of course.
Food, like everything worthwhile, is emotional as well as physical.
posted by signal at 4:01 AM on November 5, 2021


> Wolfram Alpha tells me that a pound of water (as a standin for a meal) has ~ 10^25 atoms. We need to record the location and velocity of each atom.

That's not necessary to satisfy your example and sounds very inefficient. Water is H2O plus other suspended substances, so you could define the molecular structure of each component, then describe the contiguous bounded space and the number of each type of molecules needed to fill it.

Still a lot of data by our standards but considerably less than if you were to define and locate each atom discretely.

Additionally there will probably be more data efficiencies won by being able to create common datasets for things like water, since for example water behaves very consistently when liquid at temperatures and atmospheric pressures that humans can withstand, so they don't have to be redefined for every food.
posted by ardgedee at 6:21 AM on November 5, 2021


No problem, you say, we'll compress the hell out of the data. But, there is no lossless compression. You're losing information, and some of that information was important to the taste.

Experience with other lossless compression formats suggests that this is very unlikely to be true, given a well designed codec and limited rounds of recoding from decoded material.

But yeah, GIF cheeseburgers are pretty zucked up. Awful mouthfeel.
posted by flabdablet at 6:23 AM on November 5, 2021


(and then eventually you'd have culinary glitch-pop, where people come up with new flavors/sensations by circuit-bending the replicator protocol itself rather than cooking a recipe with manual processes & replicating that.)

"Please state the nature of your medical emergency."

"... glitched tamale."

"Oh, it's you."
posted by mhoye at 7:01 AM on November 5, 2021 [5 favorites]


I'd like to see an episode where some plot McMuffin disables all the replicators so the galley is left strugging to feed half a dozen different alien races, each with its own unique digestive system, nutritional needs and taste preferences.

(I know, I know: no galleys on a starship, right?)
posted by Paul Slade at 7:49 AM on November 5, 2021 [3 favorites]


oh god no shut it down before Neelix hears you
posted by sciatrix at 8:02 AM on November 5, 2021 [5 favorites]


Replicators can't be transporters, or at least it's not optimal if they're transporters, because the starship has to conserve mass.

Well, as you suggested... the math works if the toilets are transporters too! But there's a pretty thankless job on a gross planet somewhere.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 8:55 AM on November 5, 2021 [1 favorite]


Also a tankless job, if they don't even bother storing it onboard.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:30 AM on November 5, 2021 [1 favorite]


I mean, I never saw any sewage pipes in those Jefferies tubes
posted by lefty lucky cat at 11:35 AM on November 5, 2021 [1 favorite]


You only see those in the blooper reels.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:58 AM on November 5, 2021 [1 favorite]


Tangent here, but I'd love to see a sci-fi would with perfect surveillance and accountability.

You might be interested in Golden State.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:40 PM on November 5, 2021


Water is H2O plus other suspended substances

Yeah, of course, but I just used water as an example. Think about replicating a steak. You have to reproduce details down to the intra-cellular level... after all, if you don't replicate the proteins correctly, the food isn't even nutritious. That is, satisfying the stomach requires a lot more precision than fooling the eyes with a JPG.

Every compression you do is an opportunity to change the taste. E.g. maybe we decide that we only need to store the recipe for 1 cm3 of steak and replicate it as needed. Saves a lot of data! But it would also make for a bizarrely homogenous steak, too evenly cooked.
posted by zompist at 3:07 PM on November 5, 2021 [1 favorite]


Sure but even a single cell storing water contains billions of H2O molecules. Describe the container and say "put a few billion H2O molecules here", and hey presto, a 1:1,000,000,000 or better lossless data compression rate.
posted by ardgedee at 6:22 PM on November 5, 2021 [1 favorite]


A more sinister take is that federation replicated food is designed to be healthy for the person consuming it. That it's a balanced source of macro nutrients and values health over taste. Sure they on paper replicate the taste of a request but in the framework of something that's healthy for the consumer.

Maybe the food you cook from scratch avoids being balanced for health
posted by Ferreous at 6:44 PM on November 5, 2021 [1 favorite]


Perhaps Councelor Trois' love for chocolate was the insider blooper reel trope on replicators because, chocolate.
posted by clavdivs at 8:56 PM on November 5, 2021


The sewage pipes in the jeffries tubes are labeled "GNDN" in TOS.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:24 AM on November 6, 2021


OK this is a well-trod space, but I've always been with the "repetition tickles the senses" crowd on this topic. When TNG was first on, I used to play games on my Commodore 128, and occasionally I'd wonder why a television that could show Picard's face to a high degree of fidelity couldn't be convinced by my computer to generate such a face.

Part of it is that the Commodore didn't have enough RAM to store all of the depth of colour that an analogue NTSC signal could render (however inconsistently), or the ability to display each raster line's value as incredibly subtle shifts in value (I don't think I've ever seen a computer do more than break each raster up into 640 pixels). But also how would you render a face algorithmically on a 6502 clone?

There are, of course, procedural generation "tricks" that can generate complexity without needing to store infinite detail. But they are limited, and you're forced to work within those limits. It's a common sentiment among programmers who work with this stuff (often in graphics) to say that they learn to "smell" Perlin noise.

The authors of Star Trek were just projecting their present into the future: fake scrambled egg, overused banana ester, blue raspberry, wonderbread, etc.

Regarding hipsters, this was actually covered in TNG. There's a scene where some senior officers get together after hours to make an omelette, gushing about "lost arts" and "the taste of a true hand-made meal" and bragging about how they acquired the requisite fresh produce on such-and-such planet. But when they take the first bite, they all realise they don't actually know how to cook and the result is unpalatable.

Sisko's jambalaya may just be an attempt to keep his skills fresh.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:48 AM on November 6, 2021 [2 favorites]


There are, of course, procedural generation "tricks" that can generate complexity without needing to store infinite detail.

Demoscene guy puts 5.25” floppy in replicator, gets lobster thermidor using mostly chicken protein primatives built into the ROM.
posted by condour75 at 7:25 AM on November 6, 2021 [7 favorites]


The 256 byte lobster compo is still a popular event amongst Mk-I replicator enthusiasts.
posted by biogeo at 9:58 AM on November 6, 2021 [3 favorites]


And it has to be acknowledged that there are flavour profiles that come out of the old 8 bit quantizers that you just don't find anywhere else, though they can be a bit of an acquired taste.
posted by flabdablet at 10:48 AM on November 6, 2021 [2 favorites]


Regarding hipsters, this was actually covered in TNG. There's a scene where some senior officers get together after hours to make an omelette... and the result is unpalatable.

Worf liked the eggs.
posted by xedrik at 4:06 PM on November 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


This thread has me thinking: what if you just used the replicator as an amazing food processor? Replicate all the raw ingredients as needed: already chopped, shreded, sliced, and in the correct amounts. Cooking with those might not be as good as cooking from real ingredients, but you'd come out ahead of the fully-replicated stuff (maybe), and it'd be a hell of a time saver.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:11 PM on November 8, 2021 [3 favorites]


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