Ideas about the future of food are hard to digest


I HAVE PEEKED AT what we might eat and drink in the new millennium, and it is scary: pizza topped with alligator meat, cakes that glow in the dark and "functional foods."

These trends in eating are among the predictions offered by experts in the food business. Ordinarily, I try to avoid serious research and deep thinking. But recently I was invited to be one of the speakers at Friends School to address the weighty topic of life in the next millennium, and I felt a need to change my style.

When I read the program, I quaked. Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and GOP gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey were speaking about politics. State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick was talking about the future of public education. And State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy and U.S. Attorney Lynne Battaglia were speaking about the evolution of the legal system.

These people dealt with facts. By contrast, I tend to go light on the objective data and heavy on the tap dancing. Moreover, I was speaking to high school students, about 300 teen-agers.

This scared me because I share a home with two teen-agers. Almost any time I try to give them a speech, they either roll their eyes or put their heads down on the kitchen table and assume the posture of napping possums.

I decided I needed to add a little substance to my act. So I asked the computer-facile staff of The Sun library to probe databases -- food and beverage journals, magazines, even newspapers -- looking for reports on foods of the future. The probe produced a pile of printouts. I read them, took notes, and, when I took to the podium, tried to sound authoritative as I relayed the findings to my audience.

I reported that come the millennium, our pizzas might be topped with bold, exotic ingredients. One forward-looking restaurateur in Chicago advised that we should be on the lookout for pizza topped with Chinese barbecue chicken with hoisin-barbecue sauce, glazed fowl, roasted peppers, scallions and ginger.

Meanwhile, a New York pizza prognosticator said Peking duck pizza was the next big thing. In California, a restaurant chain was touting pizza topped with tasso (Cajun smoked ham) and alligator sausage.

I said that a company in Pittsburgh was working on ways to make food glow in the dark. The idea is to put bio- luminescent protein in yogurt, ice cream and cakes. I guess this means that in the new millennium, birthday cakes will not need candles.

I also told the group that so-called functional foods were predicted to be popular. These are foods and drinks that perform another task in addition to filling you up. One crystal-ball gazer predicted that in the dark days of the new millennium, consumers will sip bottles of iced tea with the herb St. Johnswort to fight depression.

The audience of teen-agers did not warm to the idea of having alligator on their pizza, St. Johnswort in their tea or birthday cakes that glow without candles.

They seemed more receptive to the idea of continuing the eating patterns practiced by most Americans in the tail end of this millennium, which, according to one research report, consist of eating chicken nuggets fried in oil, drinking soda and having Pop Tarts for breakfast.

The youths also seemed to cotton to another idea I offered, one based on very little fact and relying heavily on opinion. Namely, that the key to happiness in the new millennium would be to drop that slice of Peking duck pizza for a slab of homemade pie.

Pub Date: 02/22/99

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