by HUGH GILMORE
I imagine that some night in the future a hungry person will be able to sit down at the dinner table before an empty plate. He’ll pick up an electronic FSD (Food Summoning Device), press a few buttons, and, voilà! – a delicious, steaming hot, perfectly spiced, Chilean sea bass with fragrant rice and baby asparagus will appear. Warm rolls, too, butter if needed, and a nice warm slice of apple pie. Yummy.

On other nights, perhaps, roast beef, chicken, soyburgers, hotdogs, whatever your little heart desires. Just have the purveyor of your choice beam it to you. There’ll be menus, choices of ethnicity, formal vs. informal dining, and snack foods too. You’ll be billed each time you download, or monthly, via a charge against your account.

The food will taste good after the initial kinks have been eliminated from the system. After a while, it will taste as good as anything you ever remember eating. And it will be filling. And nutritious. You can even order extra, so there’s some for lunch tomorrow.

Once in a while, though, you’ll sigh and say aloud that you miss the feel of handling three dimensional vegetables and meats. The children will roll their eyes to say, “Not again,” and keep eating, hoping the subject of homework does not come up. (There will always be homework – the dinner table will always be the play-at-home version of the Inquisition.)

“No,” you’ll say, “you don’t understand.” And once again you’ll speak wistfully of those days of your childhood and young adulthood when people had kitchens. (The space in modern homes will have been given over to what is called the “Wii family fun room.” Like home treadmills and hot tubs, they’ll typically be abandoned after the second week of use.)

“Why back then, there was a neat ‘crunch’ as you sliced carrots or potatoes. And peas snapping: what a nifty sound!” The kids will say nothing. Silence gives consent, so you’ll go on. “You’d crush a clove of garlic and the pungent smell would rush up into your nostrils. Oh boy, you kids would’ve loved the smell of garlic cooking. You’d walk into the kitchen, and what a rush – your appetite would rise out of nowhere. You couldn’t wait to eat. But you’d have to. It took time, maybe a half hour or hour, or even more. And all that time, the house would fill up with the delicious aroma of the meal you’d be eating.”

“Sounds gross,” little Emma will say.

“Believe me, it was great,” you’ll counter. “Sometimes the heat from the stove and oven would fill up the kitchen. The windows would steam. The smell of baking bread was unforgettable. You never get over it.”

Little Willie, who shows an aptitude for kelketronic symbionization, and may even major in it some day, will say, “What’s wrong with the food we’re eating? I read on my Daily Retina Feed that a person could not tell in several blind taste tests the difference between a TPM (Traditionally Prepared Meal) and a Beam-transmitted Meal.”

“I know. I know,” you’ll say, “I saw the same retina feeds.”

Emma will add, “Well why are you two always going on about TPMs” ?

“I don’t know, my little plutonium, it’s just that fembreeder and I … we feel there’s something missing.”

“Well it all sounds very vague,” she’ll say.

“And inefficient,” chimes in Willie.

“Yeah, well …” you’ll say, and let it rest. You’ll keep chewing and enjoying one of the best-tasting meals you’ve had lately, sorry you didn’t start ordering sooner from this purveyor your friends told you to dial up. Still, you’ll need to suppress another sigh. The food’s good, you’ll think, but emotionally there’s something missing.

Later that night, you’ll lie in your Sleep Enhancing Platform, staring up at the Night Sky Simulation wondering why this is such an issue lately. You’ll turn to your Child Rearing Partner and say, “Hey hon?”

“Yes?” Good, still awake.

“How do you feel about making a TPM for the kids one night this week?”

“Are you kidding? Where would we get the ingredients?”

“From Farms ‘R’ Us or something … we could drive there … go on a Sunday and take the kids. They’d get a kick out of seeing vegetables being pulled from the earth.”

“It’s too far. And they’ve seen umpteen-million school documentaries about this. And had all those vegetable-growing-simulations in 3-D.”

“Let’s try it anyway. Okay? I’d like them to see what it was like when we were kids.”

“Where would we find the time? Every night we have Interactive TV meetings, clubs, discussions. My personal trainer is hard enough to schedule without getting backed up. Maybe sometime in the future. On vacation. We could visit one of those Traditional Food Making villages and see how they used to do it.”

Too late in the evening to insist. With a sigh you uncover the Sleep Inducer. You set the Alpha Rhythm to “high” for a change, and press. Quality sleep, the best sleep you’ve had in weeks follows.

(Written after seven nights reading Madame Bovary on a borrowed Kindle. Detailed notes to follow in next week’s column)