Why Even Our Most Radical Visions of the Future Include Pizza

By Matt Novak on at

According to futurists of the 20th century, food of the future was supposed to be calorie-dense, inexpensive, and ready in a flash. And in many ways that future has arrived. But we're still waiting on one high-tech food prediction from the 1980s: The rehydrated pizza of the film Back to the Future: Part II.

The 19th and 20th centuries are littered with endless predictions about the future of food. And whether they're optimistic or pessimistic predictions (think the 1973 film Soylent Green), they almost always have one thing in common: they're a more efficient way to give humans what they need to survive and thrive. Whether we're talking about meal pills or restaurants with conveyor belts fit for humans, efficiency is the name of the game.

Yet, again and again, we see the strange inefficiency of pizza — a food that's certainly more messy and labour intensive than a meal pill — pop up in the most techno-utopian fiction. It seems that pizza represents a kind of comfort and familiarity that's needed to ground a futuristic narrative in something that viewers can find palatable. Pizza reminds us that no matter how a protagonist might struggle, the future won't be all bad.

In the case of Back to the Future: Part II, the pizza shows up in the form of a miniaturized Pizza Hut pie. Once the tiny pie is removed from its branded packaging and placed into a Black & Decker "hydrator" for a mere four seconds, it emerges as a full-sized pizza. We see similar representations of pizza pop up repeatedly in 20th century futurist stories. From The Jetsons to The Net to even Apple concept videos, pizza is there for us when we need it.

The future might be unfamiliar and a bit terrifying, but pizza will still exist.

I spoke with Ben Johnson over at Marketplace Tech about the retro-future of food — the meal pills, the lab-grown meat, and, of course, the pizzas. You can hear our conversation below.