Meal in a pill no substitute for a good conversation

Last week a friend opined that if there was a pill you could take three times daily to give you all the food nutrition you need, she'd never cook another meal.

Aghast silence followed and then a torrent of explanations came from around the table as to all the things we'd miss about actual food. The recipe porn. The cooking, the eating.

The shopping, even, except for when you time it wrong and combine the end-of-school-rush with a mid-afternoon sugar low.

Is it soulless to even try to reduce food and feeding to a case of swallow and go? It's one aspect of retro-futuristic science fiction that hasn't come to pass.

I mean, nobody just takes a mouthful like George Jetson's burnt toast breakfast pill, right?

Although, emptying my shopping into my pantry this week, I had a good look at the ''medicine'' shelf and found ultimate multis, gentle iron, go go evening primrose, something with a chemical title akin to a barcode and dessert-in-a-pot cherry tart.

OK, it's tart cherries as a desperate sleep solution, but essentially a food pill nonetheless.

Even astronauts don't eat meal pills, yet, although some scientists reckon that by 2020 they'll have the necessary technology to condense the calories, as well as the vitamins, into capsule form.

Freeze-dried food, now much utilised by trampers and those wanting fancy herbs, was first designed for astronauts.

And, incidentally, the UK Space Agency is currently running a competition for a kid to design ''The Great British Space Dinner - a meal fit for an astronaut''.

I'm wondering how long it'll be before someone coins an astronautical diet for millions of us to slavishly follow: after all, one of this year's trendy diets is Caveman. So why not spaceman?

Diaeta, from the Latin, meant ''a way of life, a regimen'' and it seems that the dollar value of the diet industry increases every year with our waistlines.

You can diet like people from South Beach, like inhabitants of the Mediterranean or like those who have no microwaves and eat their food raw. You can diet like Atkins, like Jenny, like Dr Oz.

You can rage that French Women Don't Get Fat. You can diet on cabbage, grapefruit and mayo.

You can take Xenical pills with your meals at an approximate cost of $180 a month, which is the price of a lot of kale, which you can make into delicious chips with caveman spices if you believe the palaeo-hype.

Even writing about the different types of diets exhausts me. And makes me hungry. And therein is the trap of diets as deprivation.

As a child, I wasn't really allowed (and more to the point, my family definitely couldn't afford) routine portions of fizzy drinks and chippies.

Although I did get 10-penny bags of lollies. Cola bottles, a penny each. White chocolate fish and chips at 3d each and a 2d gummy cherry.

And I remember a stage of feeling like the gold ticket chocolate factory kid when I left home and was in charge of my own budget.

All those shiny packets. In the supermarket. For meeeee. And that too has passed. And I quite like kale these days.

At least you know where you are with kale. There is one ingredient: kale.

Nobody has worked out a way to breed it with high fructose corn syrup. Which seems to be in everything in a packet these days.

All these additives while we're being told to take things away.

With all the emotive hype around food, with all the things we're supposed to count and control, it's no wonder some people want the structure and simplicity of a tablet or a meal plan.

Still, for me, meals are instrinically linked to ritual, conversation and celebration - and there's no way you could pack all of those into a pill.


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