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We have to feed the masses and we have to do it cheaply.
Enters the goo
Our scientist are still debating what the main ingredient(s) of this thick paste should be.
Can you help them?
The target consumer is the AVGCIV, the average citizen. As they are connected to VR (Virtual Reality) most of the time they don't like to engage in activities in the MR (Meat Reality). That includes eating.
The goo is government provided and one of the basic rights of citizenship. As AVGCIV make up the majority of the population any saving in its preparation would make a substantial difference on the budget.
What AVGCIV need is something that can sustain them without causing health problems in the long run.
Since they lead mainly sedentary lifestyles an intake of 1600-1800 calories per day has been deemed sufficient.
Luckily we are in 2147 and we are confident we can do this for the happiness of everybody.

Goo requirements:
As already established more than a century ago this is the recipe for a healthy diet for our sedentary AVGCIV (% is relative to total daily calories)
Carbohydrates 70% - Of which Sugars 5%
Proteins 10%
Fats 20% - Of which unsaturated fats 15% - saturated fats 5%

The best main ingredient should be selected by:
Coverage of the daily requirements (carbohydrates, proteins, fats).
Ease and speed of production / farming in large quantities.
Automatic processing is a must. Human labor should be kept at a minimum.
Resistance to pests / infections, thus lessening the need of introducing drugs in the food chain.
Ease of containment: we don't want that whatever makes up the goo may cause runaway reactions along the food chains.

Availabilities:
In 2147 we can fix any issue with taste, that is not a concern.
Energy can be cheaply produced on the spot of the goo production with our Unmöglich Generators.
Water is available at a cheap price by desalinization of seawater. Most population is still living near sea coasts. Sanitation and recycling are in good conditions and should be able to turn waste products from the goo production and consumption into useful products (fertilizers, cleaning products, lubricants, etc).
Transportation is generally cheap.

Costraints:
Genetically engineered cell cltures are already available but expensive. Not for AVGCIV.
Total volume of production facilities should be reasonable.
Cricket farming: this is the current main proposal. We are looking for alternatives.
While transportation is cheap, distribution isn't necessarily so, depending on location. Higher calories yield by kilogram are to be preferred.
Total number of AVGCIV depends on the social-neoscientist you ask. But most estimates are in the 25-30 billions. This to give the scale of the problem.

You can also provide additional side ingredients if you think is necessary.

Our researchers have dug from ancient archives this bit of related information:
What farming practices would allow the Earth to support a population as high as 200 billion

And What food production methods would allow a metropolis like New York to become self sufficient

Our issue is different though as it revolves around the main ingredient that would allow our goo to meet most or all of the criteria while satisfying the cheap requirements.

In the first linked source an interesting suggestion was found regarding cricket farming. See also here.
While this is interesting other options are being actively searched.

Do partake in this endeavor with your suggestions. A bounty of virtual points awaits you

Virtual embrace,
SUPUPRCIV Fjodor Woo, MDSS

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Mar 9 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ "Soylent Green is people!" $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Mar 9 at 19:57

10 Answers 10

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Sweet potatoes and potatoes, milk, kale, and oatmeal.

This is the classic irish diet.

Five white potatoes a day gets you all the protein you need. 3 red potatoes gives you a good mix of vitamins and valuable compounds. Milk gives you calcium and some extra fat. Kale gives you a bunch of useful vitamins and extra stuff. I calculated a basic daily diet here. and added in some baked beans as an extra option for some iron.

1802 calories, 13% from protein 18% from fat, 69% carbs. 1 baked beans, 4 potatoes, 400 grams of kale, 500 grams of milk, 3 sweet potatoes. 25% unsaturated fats.

All of these are easy foods to make. Even milk is pretty energy efficient, at 25% energy efficiency, something which is probably higher with advanced tech. You can adjust the ratios of foods slightly with breed and such to get the perfect mix. All of them are easy to automated for efficient production.

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Potatoes are great food in many ways, but five potatoes/day doesn't give you all the protein you need, unless you're quite small and the potatoes very large. You need - as a bare minimum, to not fall ill - 0.8 g protein/kg bodyweight <health.harvard.edu/blog/…> and 5 large potatoes give 5*7.9=39.5 g protein <fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170027/nutrients>, just shy of the 40 g a person weighing 50 kg (110 lbs for our US friends) needs to not fall ill from protein deficiency. $\endgroup$
    – gustafc
    Mar 10 at 9:26
  • $\begingroup$ Hence I added a bunch of other foods. As the calculator notes, this provides a full set of needed proteins. 5 potatoes is close, and the red potatoes provides a lot more. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Mar 10 at 10:16
  • $\begingroup$ This is very interesting, also @gustafc comment. Could it be included? $\endgroup$ Mar 10 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ Could what be included? This has the full set of proteins already. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Mar 10 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep i mean could gustafc's comment regarding minimum requirements be included? I think it would enrich your answer $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 8:26
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Algae

The Earth is mostly saline water. One of the proposed methods to eliminate world hunger is to use this water to produce algae or seaweed. In large portions of the coast, they can grow quickly and abundantly even without water agriculture. They are not just suggested for food, but also to produce many other products like energy.

The weeds' quick growth also means quick differentiation. Breeding new forms can be done quickly. In addition, gene editing can help greatly in its survivability without the need of medicine or overprotection. Breeding many forms also reduces genetic defects or the likelihood of a single organism or virus eliminating the population of what you're growing. This might happen to bananas as a fun fact.

Algae or seaweed can easily be adapted to your specifications and more. In addition, it can be grown close to the coastal cities as well as a huge portion of the world. I'm not sure about the 200 billion figure, but I do know that without water agriculture you'll not get there. The added advantage is that you do not need to desalinate the water.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you please expand your answer? how well would algae provide carbohydrates / proteins / fats? Any suggested species to start with? Please note that the 200 billion figure for mankind was in one of the linked questions. Here we are dealing with 25-30 billions to feed. $\endgroup$ Mar 7 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ check out spirulina in specific. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirulina_(dietary_supplement) $\endgroup$
    – Allan
    Mar 7 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ Soylent, a meal-replacement shake, is made from algae protein. It tastes like chocolate skim milk. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Mar 7 at 19:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Tom Soylent actually only used algae protein for a short time, today their products all use Soy Isolate Protein $\endgroup$
    – Bitsplease
    Mar 8 at 3:19
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    $\begingroup$ Soylent Green is made of People $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 9 at 11:01
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This is a Frame Challenge

One main ingredient doth not a sensible diet make — even a cheap one for the masses.

I once read an article (and for the life of me I can't find it again!) where a dietician (or nutritionist...) was taking heat for suggesting that a basic McDonald's hamburger was a sensible food choice for poor families. While opponents who feel that pretty much everything on McDonald's menu has the nutritional value of paint suggested that lentils or rice-and-beans would be a better food source, the proponent pointed out that there's more to diet than just food. People need the ability to prepare it and the overworked/underpaid working poor usually don't have the time to provide better meals. Consequently, that person's conclusion was that a cheap McDonald's hamburger was a great choice for the masses.

But what made it valuable is that there's more than just one "main ingredient"

And that brings me to the bulk of an answer I gave to Garlic as staple food for colonies?


Wheat has 2X the calories per serving [of garlic], 2X the carbs (don't let diet fads fool you, the body actually requires carbs — just not as many as people tend to eat), 2X the protein, 3X the fiber, etc. gram-for-gram it's a much better product with only one exception: that fast growing time enjoyed by garlic.

So, what could you use?

From here we learn something my wife has been telling me for decades:

Potatoes (along with grain corn) will give you the most calories for the least space. They are easy to grow — just bury a piece of potato about the size of an egg with a couple of “eyes” on it in the ground in a 4-inch-deep furrow. In climates with cool summers, plant early, midseason and late varieties two to three weeks before your last spring frost date. Potatoes will be ready to harvest in about 65 to 90 days, depending on the variety.

Sweet potatoes, with their high beta carotene content, are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. They love the heat, but you can grow them as far north as Canada.

But if you want more options, let's look at this list from a great article on survival gardening:

  1. Beans
  2. Corn
  3. Squash
  4. Cabbage
  5. Potatoes
  6. Kale
  7. Sweet Potatoes
  8. Lentils
  9. Onions
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Spinach
  12. Peas
  13. Beets
  14. Carrots
  15. Berries
  16. Garlic
  17. Peppers
  18. Cucumbers
  19. Melons
  20. Herbs

What's the take-away from that list? There is no "one food." Even staple foods like wheat, corn, potatoes, etc., are not recommended to be a super-high percentage of what's on your plate. Frankly, if you're looking for a food that can be the, let's say, 80%-of-what-we-eat-food, you probably should be thinking of fish.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good as a general "what's best to supply to humans" answer, but in the case of people strapped into virtual environment gear who 'eat' in-game and just need nutrients... I don't think they'll miss the herbs all that much :P $\endgroup$
    – Corey
    Mar 9 at 0:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Corey You've never eaten just for nutrients, have you? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 9 at 4:14
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    $\begingroup$ Oh I have, and it's not fun, but I interpret the question as not being about the niceties of taste and texture and more about supplying the minimal nutritional needs of an underclass of drones. Synthetic flavors could help I guess, but are the overminds in this situation really concerned? After all, they don't have to ever taste the goop. $\endgroup$
    – Corey
    Mar 9 at 4:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Corey The point of my Frame Challenge is quite literally that there must be something more than just providing nutritional needs. (Pointing out something contrary to the premise of the question that one feels is important is the whole point of a Frame Challenge.) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 9 at 4:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Corey Your interpretation of the question is correct. $\endgroup$ Mar 9 at 20:07
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The human body needs a variety of things in food to ensure continued health including dietary fibre (usually cellulose), carbohydrates, fats, proteins (well, amino acids), carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals (mostly in trace amounts)... and so on. The fun part here is that no one diet can fit all individuals: your food goo will have to be customized to each person.

Fortunately there are sources of all of these things that can be farmed quite readily.

Algae

The popular choice in other answers so I won't go into too much detail here. Suffice to say that we can get all sorts of goodies from algae: amino acids, dietary fibre, carbs and a fair variety of other necessities. Algae farms can be built in coastal areas to take advantage of supplies of nutrients and sunlight that the algae requires to flourish.

Yeast

Standard Baker's Yeast contains some of what we need - protein, dietary fibre, vitamin B6, magnesium, even a little fat... but there are millions of yeast variants, and if we can't find one that fits the bill we can do a lot of work on yeast genomes these days. Once we pick the right variant - or combination of - then setting up yeast farms is fairly simple. Give them the right nutrients and temperature and you'll have tons of biomass in fairly short order.

The downside in yeast production is the byproducts. Nutritional yeast (53% protein, 20% fibre, 13% other carbs) is great and all, but byproducts include things like acetaldehyde which has to be captured and further treated. And of course there's various alcohols... but we're not talking about champagne yeast here.

Fungi

For anything that we can't harvest from algae and yeasts there are plenty of sources in the fungus kingdom. We have plenty of examples of mushrooms that contain vitamin C for instance.

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  • $\begingroup$ Am afraid customization for each person is out of the budget for this year. People with issues with the goo can file form of dissent @404. In the meantime they will have to provide their nutrition with their own means. - Virtual embrace, SUPUPRCIV Fjodor Woo, MDSS $\endgroup$ Mar 9 at 20:13
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Microorganisms

Genetically modified microorganisms can be produced vast tanks and used to make anything required for living from raw materials or waste materials

There was a story about the Japanese producing "meat" from sewerage. Meet the Turd Burger. It was a hoax but theoretically possible.

NASA has already done work on artificial carbohydrates production for space missions and colonization of Mars

With the invention of 3d food printers, the output of bio-tanks could be made into everything from steak and chips to apples and oranges.

The only thing stopping it these days is it's more expensive than chucking some seeds on the dirt and waiting but feeding more and more people every day, standard farming techniques will hit a wall and bio tanks will take over.

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Pure Sunlight

Algae is a great solution for the next fifty years or so, but we're talking about the year 2147 here, and I think we could do better by then.

Why waste energy eating when you can cut out the middleman and fuse your circulatory system to a bio-engineered photosynthetic organism that creates all of the nutrients you need? After all, these people are sitting still anyway.

Each VR-enabled pod is directly connected to a photosynthetic mat that produces free sugars, proteins, and fats, and passes them to a pipe that is mainlined directly into the bloodstream of the people in the pods. A computer system monitors the state of the host and ensures that they are receiving a balanced nutritional intake.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hum... you may want to expand how you make proteins out of sunlight. I can see using the sunlight as energy, but there must be a source of materials. Are you plucking oxygen and carbon from the air? And if so are you not worried about oxygen levels dipping too low in densely populated areas? $\endgroup$ Mar 10 at 15:39
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Corn

Very few people actually understand just how much corn we grow, at least in America. For proof, try to find something in your pantry without High Fructose Corn Syrup. (Actually, after doing some research, it's banned in Europe. Interesting.)

Plus, as evidenced by plant-based burger companies, it can be made to taste like ANYTHING. And mixing it with beans could get any amount of protein and fat you'll need.

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  • $\begingroup$ Growing corn is very harsh on the soil. In many places in the Midwest, the original 6 feet of topsoil has been washed away by years of corn growing. Right now, the only way that we are able to keep growing so much corn is through major amounts of fertilizer. We will run out of oil to make that fertilizer at some point. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Mar 8 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ @David R We just need the oil for energy. They have abundant energy, so they can make fertilizer. $\endgroup$ Mar 8 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ My understanding (based on frequently visiting my grandfather who had a farm in Iowa) is that most of the corn grown in the Midwest US, at least, is destined to be used as animal feed. $\endgroup$ Mar 8 at 22:51
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I'm thinking it could be something like Soylent, but completely synthetic... all the components would be produced by chemical processes in a factory, rather than growing them. There would be no living organisms involved. Sure, that would involve a bit of advances in chemistry, but it is 2147, after all.

It would require some source materials, most of which would be produced (via more chemistry) from waste treatment plants. When you scale it up, you get a complete closed cycle - just add energy in the form of electricity. Sure, there will always be some inefficiencies, and the number of humans will change, etc - so some capacity for adjustment by sourcing outside materials will always be needed - but it will be small by comparison.

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In 2147 there are two possible scenarios:

1: We have completely solved the problems with resource waste, energy supply (fusion now works effortlessly), we have complete control over biochemistry and we know all there is to know about our nutritional needs. The world is at peace, the biosphere is in balance, the world population is large, but much smaller than now, and we can simply produce any foodstuff directly rom chemical elements. Thus everybody can have anything they want to eat, and everybody knows exactly what is the best diet for them.

2: We never managed to solve the problems; climate ran amok, about 90% of life went extenct, and there are now only a small number of survivors, who live as hunter-gatherers, like our ancestors used to.

It sounds like you have chosen the first scenario. As others have pointed out, a good diet is not just what our bodies need in terms of vitamins, protein etc. It is becoming increasingly clear that our health, mentally and physically, depends strongly on the presence and diversity of microbes in our gut, so the diet must include whatever is necessary to keep them in balance - look for Tim Spector for more information (he seems to be a serious scientist, not a crank).

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  • $\begingroup$ You are proposing two extreme scenarios, in between there are countless possibilities. $\endgroup$ Mar 9 at 20:16
  • $\begingroup$ @DuncanDrake I know - I'm being a bit of a provocateur here. My point is, we have to solve the problems that face us now; the question is, will there be an advanced society or even humans? The very real crisis we face right now all have their root in mindless consumerism - we either get away from that by making some intelligent changes to our societies, or nature will solve it for us, as far as I can see. There really is no way we can continue like this indefinitely. $\endgroup$
    – j4nd3r53n
    Mar 11 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ That has little to do with the original question.... and SUPUPRCIV Fjodor Woo, MDSS would consider submitting you to the rectification center. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 23:50
  • $\begingroup$ @DuncanDrake My comment is not part of my answer, on of the reasoning behind. And I have no idea what the second part of your comment means. $\endgroup$
    – j4nd3r53n
    Mar 12 at 13:44
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The main challenges of a healthy diet usually are proteins, fiber and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), as well as keeping unhealthy fats in check. There is no one natural ingredient that can satisfy the equation so a combination would be needed. The best plant-based sources with high concentration of useful nutrients would probably come from a variety of types and families of plants such as legumes (lentils, peanuts - great micronutrients, substantial proteins), fungi (mushrooms, yeast - great proteins), greens (kale, asparagus - great fiber, substantial proteins), cereals (wheat, corn - balanced staples) and maybe algae and some synthesized or separately harvested micronutrients (I believe some important vitamins like C and D can be challenging without a specially maintained focus).

However in a highly industrialized and automated food production environment the nutritional values of the sources can be of much lesser significance than ease of production so that fluid mixing of a huge variety of easily grown, partially fungible sources can be preferable to maintaining a rigid balance of a few highly concentrated ones, let alone a diet designed around a single intractable "main" ingredient.

That said, if there has to be a single "main" ingredient, it should be peanuts or lentils.

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