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Food, the next frontier

Mark Schatzker boldly goes to a restaurant in the year 2118 and reports back on the foodies of the future

The year is 2118. You have just stepped out of a time machine. You are gassy. The time machine manual warned you about this. But you are also hungry, so you find the nearest restaurant and sit down. The waiter arrives holding a single, white plate on which sits a single, perfect strawberry.

Pointing at the strawberry, you say, "May I?"

"Too late," the waiter says. What you just missed, she tells you, is the ultimate heirloom strawberry, in which genetic engineering has been used to achieve a berry so pre-agricultural and old-timey that its window of ripeness lasts less than a minute. Eat it too early and you find yourself gnawing on sour rubber. Eat it too late and your mouth is filled with overripe, rotten slime. But eat it during the 18 seconds that it's ripe and the experience is so mind-blowing that roughly 50% of people who try it have to be treated with naloxone.

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The menu isn't a menu. It seems to be written in a pictographic language made up of emojis and hashtags. You point at what looks like a beer next to a keg, a thumbs-up and a drunken smiley face.

"We have this ah-mazing new IPA," the waiter says. Scientists, she explains, found a Neanderthal grave in a cave in Siberia and were able to propagate yeast from microscopic bits of food in its woolly beard. "This cool new microbrewery"—there are now more microbreweries than people—"used it to make this beer."

The pasta of the day seems like a safe bet, but it turns out the price of spaghetti has become quantum. The value is calculated using a block-chain that incorporates wheat futures—whose own price fluctuates more than a trillion times a second thanks to a fleet of drones that monitor growing conditions in real time—along with the constantly fluctuating popularity of low-carb diets.

"We could set up an algorithm to buy wheat when it hits a certain price," the waiter says, but that could take years. "Or you could short it. But a customer tried that last year and ended up losing his house." (A gratuity of 18% was added to his bill.)

"How about the steak?"

"Unfortunately," the waiter says, "the steak is no longer on the menu."

Technically, it wasn't even steak to begin with. It was the latest plant-based meat, grown in a lab in Slovenia, where genes from Wagyu cattle were spliced into the seed of a palm tree-cactus hybrid, the result of which was a 12-ounce striploin filled with antioxidant-rich coconut oil and more fibre than a box of Red River that takes less than a thimble-full of water to grow and whose flavour is indistinguishable from A5 ribeye from Matsusaka.

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"The problem," the waiter says, leaning in and lowering her voice, "is it was too good. A vegan got triggered." The vegan posted an image of the steak on a social network that doubles as a class-action lawsuit, asking, "Like, is it really, like, okay for, like, science to emulate the taste of murder?" A wave of outrage followed. "When it hit 60 billion likes, our lawyer settled."

Returning to the menu, you say, "How about…" but the waiter shushes you. A millennial at the next table is photographing his dinner, and the entire restaurant has become silent. The millennial—who, despite his white hair, age spots and oxygen tank, has maintained the eye-rolling insouciance characteristic of his generation—is sitting in a director's chair, barking orders into a bullhorn. He shouts, "Action!" A fog machine starts churning out mist. Another waiter approaches his table and sets down a grilled cheese sandwich. At that moment, the afternoon sun illuminates a west-facing window, drenching the millennial's toasty sandwich in a perfect moment of soft, misty light. The millennialist takes the snaps, then sits there, staring at his phone and reading comments as the sandwich gets cold. You turn to the waiter. "I'll just have what he's having."

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