Geek in the Galley

Categories: Sheehan (RIP)

I am a serious science fiction geek. And while, in the food world, I generally contain my geekery to zombie movie references, Starblazers jokes, Blade Runner allegories and a recent, minor obsession with the high-tone weirdness of molecular gastronomy, lately I've been thinking about some of the other foodie promises of science fiction literature that have gone unfulfilled.

Food pills, for example. Whatever happened to food pills? While Ian Kleinman served an encapsulated miso soup on one of his first tasting menus at O’s Steak and Seafood at the Westin Westminster that I marveled at two years ago in "Mr. Wizard," that’s not quite the same thing. I’m talking about the full-on, steak-and-potatoes-and-blueberry-pie-for-dessert food pill experience. I mean, if Willy Wonka was able to do it with gum (even if it did turn Violet Beauregarde into a giant blueberry), I don’t see why one of our bright young mad scientist chefs can’t manage it with a pill.

So last week, I was flipping through the most recent copy of Wired , and what should I come upon but a brief article about the Stara Technologies “Mosquito”—a miniature guided parafoil used to make precision military airdrops from high altitude.
In the Wired blurb, writer Bob Parks makes a brief, joking mention of this technology being adapted for high-speed, aerial pizza delivery. This, of course, got me thinking about one of the foundational lines of the excellent Neal Stephenson novel Snow Crash -- the one in which the main character, Hiro Protagonist, describes the current state of the world:

When it gets down to it — talking trade balances here — once we've brain-drained all our technology into other countries, once things have evened out, they're making cars in Bolivia and microwave ovens in Tadzhikistan and selling them here — once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel — once the Invisible Hand has taken away all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani brickmaker would consider to be prosperity — y'know what? There's only four things we do better than anyone else:
music
movies
microcode (software)
high-speed pizza delivery

And while the pizza delivery angle—five minutes or less, dropped from 10,000 feet and arriving intact right on your front porch—was a good one, I started thinking about what else, food-wise, we might use this technology for. I went to the company’s website for more info.

STARA Technologies, Inc. is the only developer of miniaturized guided parafoil sensor delivery systems. Unlike other larger systems, our patented guidance units are the only products small enough to be delivered from both manned and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

Our patented delivery system is designed to handle payloads weighing between 1 and 400 pounds. Payloads can be, but are not limited to, sensors that detect the presence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), munitions to neutralize enemy military hardware or personnel or blood packets to resupply injured troops in remote, inaccessible locations.

If you have a payload that you would like to drop don't hesitate to call.

It was that last line that got me. So I did call, and got ahold of someone in the Stara Technologies office who passed me along to one of the guys in charge of the Mosquito project who promptly didn’t call me back at all. Busy, I guess. What with all the wars and rumors of wars, all the munitions and blood packets that must need delivering these days, it was understandable.

My plan had been to ask the man if anyone else (other than the military) had expressed an interest in Stara’s delivery system. I wanted to know how much the thing cost and what, if anything, the engineers had discussed using it for besides killing stuff or the delivery of killing apparatus. I wanted to know if anyone else at Stara was as geeked up about this as I was.

Best laid plans and all that… So since I couldn’t get anyone from the company on the blower, I decided to just go ahead and come up with my own list of possible food service uses (beyond high-altitude pizza delivery) for the Stara mosquito. They are as follows:

1) Project Order Up: Ever been sitting at a restaurant eating dinner and realize that you’d much rather be eating something else from somewhere else? Like say you go to your local Italian joint. Halfway through your plate of marsala, it occurs to you that what you really wanted for dinner was sushi. Well now, you can have it. Just call in your coordinates from your GPS and Project Order Up will take your order, pack a sashimi sampler into the Mosquito’s delivery canister, and before you can say “tekka maki” it’ll be on its way. Sure, it’ll cost you ten grand (the estimated cost of each Mosquito airdrop, including the UAV delivery), but when a man really needs a salmon roll, price is no object.

2) Three words: pinpoint cheesecake airdrop.

3) Project Picnic: Imagine, anywhere in the world, up 400 pounds worth of gourmet picnic supplies being delivered right to you. Top of Mt. Everest? Cool. Middle of the Mojave desert? No problem. You can be the most romantic motherfucker on the planet by having two bottles of Petrus, a leg of San Danielle prosciutto, some cheese, stone-ground wheat crackers and a small violin player to serenade you all dropped from a high-flying jet and arriving right at your chosen location.

4) Project Pollan: Author Michael Pollan is always getting his panties in a twist over food locality and the carbon footprint of long shipping distances for gourmet items. So why not shut him up for good (and maybe salve your conscience a little) by having all your food delivered by parachute? The military has already developed solar-powered ultralight, unmanned planes. And Stara has their Mosquito. So why not combine the two, get your Manhattan lox and California arugula packed up, sent skyward and delivered to your front door by guided parafoil? Yes, it would be murderously expensive, but being able to hold this kind of thing over the heads of your tree-hugging friends? That’s just priceless.

Got more suggestions for creative uses of technology in food service? That’s what the comment button is for, kids. Let me know what’s on your mind and I’ll see if I can work them into my next sci-fi geek foray into the modern galley. -- Jason Sheehan

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