The scenario is that of a futuristic spaceship, and you are astronauts heading to Mars. No doubt you deal with the on-board systems, the route and the experiments to be done, but only one question will keep coming to your mind throughout the day. And it's "what's for dinner?". Man does not live by technology alone, friends. Even the astronaut needs food.
Our human experiences will keep us company in the great void of space, and food is an integral part of it. Even millions of kilometers from the Earth one owes magnà.
What will we put on the "space" plate
When it comes to food in space, it's not just a question of calories and nutrients. Just like on Earth it will be important to be able to taste, experience and enjoy a good meal. This is why the neurogastronomy, a revolutionary scientific discipline that aims to transform astronaut food from simple nourishment to a complete sensory experience.
Far from the stove of his "academic" kitchen Bob Perry, chef at the University of Kentucky, collaborates with Humanity in Deep Space, a group dedicated to finding solutions to the challenges we face in becoming an interstellar species.
Long-duration space missions, Perry explains, have a psychological impact. Neurogastronomy, a term coined in 2006 by Gordon Shepherd, a neurobiologist at Yale University, explores the fascinating connections between the brain and our experience of food by figuring out how we perceive and like what we eat. The latest study on the subject you find it here.
The culinary challenge towards the Red Planet
Traveling to Mars isn't exactly like spending an evening at a pizzeria. It's not just about feeding the crew, it's about keeping the balance between nutrition and food enjoyment.
The challenge does not only concern the production of food on board spaceships, but also how the particular space atmosphere affects the microbiome and digestive processes: the health of the astronauts' intestines becomes a fundamental focus.
By studying all the interactions between food and the body, researchers can devise dietary strategies that optimize nutrient absorption and promote general well-being. Food, you know, is not just sustenance: and that of astronauts should be no exception.
Food for body and mind
The isolation and hardships of deep space travel can profoundly affect human psychology.
Everywhere in the story is found a table where people gather to eat in every single society. Zero-gravity cooking tools and apps will be essential for 'gastronauts', enabling them to tackle challenges and prepare meals in a microgravity environment.
The thoughts of boomer Trekkies like me naturally turn to the figure of the "space cook", a crew member who will also be in charge of "connecting" his colleagues through food. Perhaps by managing small, closed-loop sustainable food systems.
Understanding how to give future "Neelixes" in space a kitchen (and a vegetable garden) can inspire us to optimize the use of food on Earth as well, to reduce waste and grow nutritious meals, thus addressing the issues of food scarcity and sustainability here home, where the man has already set foot. Here I am.