Has post-scarcity killed the culinary traditions of Earthlings?


Food was the centerpiece of many scenes in star trek, but the franchise rarely examines the cultural impact of the simple (but essential) task of eating. The only impression we have for most, in the Federation at least, is that opinions and traditions of food consumption are “normal”.

There are a few exceptions, but Federation officers mostly enjoy Western cuisine, with the rare “exotic” ethnic dish here and there, and consider cooking more of a hobby than a necessity. But, is it really as simple as that?

We can assume that every Federation world has access to replicator technology. There are agrarian worlds whose inhabitants seem to really enjoy roughing it, but even they probably have replicators for emergencies. So, in a post-scarcity society, why is the Federation so boring when it comes to eating? If you could make almost any food come to life in just a few words exactly the way you wanted, would you still ask, “Tea. Earl Grey. Spicy?”

“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”


Despite their alliance at the end Deep Space Nine, the Federation, and the Klingons are opposites in many ways, including their cooking habits. While the Federation primarily relies on replicator technology for its food products, Klingons tend to shy away from imitation cooking. We hear many times throughout the franchise, especially during the Dominion War in DS9 that Klingon ships carry live food like Gagh and that officers tended to bring their own casks of Bloodwine on board.

In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Sins of the Fathers”, Worf’s brothers had to remember that Federation members relied on Replicators for food. While this could be interpreted to mean that the Klingons are unaware of replicator technology, it seems impossible that an empire technologically equivalent to the Federation would not have discovered or acquired it in the 2360s when The next generation takes place. Instead, he seems to be talking about a significant cultural difference between the two powers.

The Klingons are a vocal race with a history of xenophobia and violence. They are also bound to a strict warrior code and tradition, indicating a potential reluctance to introduce the comforts of technology into their daily lives. When we see them on screen, the only technological applications we see are for weapons and the means of transportation to use those weapons.

A visual approximation of Klingon food, gagh.

A visual approximation of Klingon food, Gagh.


Besides having starships and disruptors, Klingons tend to be happiest in a feudal state. This extends to their ideas behind the food. We usually see Klingons right before or after a fight, and their dining experience is usually centered around a major figure such as their commander or chancellor, with plenty of jubilation and intoxication. They prefer their food to be alive when they start consuming it, and therefore replicator technology is of little interest to them.

In contrast, Federation officers rarely comment on their diet. As well as eating out of necessity, we’ve seen some who cook as a hobby, Benjamin Sisko being the most notable. However, his father, who owns a restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana on Earth, is considered quite eccentric, even by his son. This suggests that the availability of any dish at any time via a replicator has in fact stifled the culinary traditions of Earth and possibly the Federation as a whole.

Unlike the Klingons, the Federation members don’t seem overly excited about food or drink. Whenever we see a party or gathering, it usually takes place as if everyone is attending a seminar at the local Ramada Inn. There is none of the drunkenness and rejoicing of a Klingon gathering. Instead, everyone stands in neat groups until Geordi, Kira, or Tuvok signals through comm that something is up, then everyone disperses.

When someone on a Federation starship or facility is cooking, it’s usually treated as a big deal by those involved. This makes the act of preparing a meal from raw ingredients (or even replicated products) seem more of an amateur thing. This is supported by the fact that there is no “food of the future”. In the west 350 years ago people still mainly ate potage, which was throwing everything they had in a pot over their fire and that was about the extent of the culinary expertise of an average person.

Data and a child share a drink.

The 19th century saw the revolutionary inventions of refrigerators and canners, and throughout the 20th century food became and went out of style, so to speak. A plate of today’s Taco Bell or McDonald’s would be completely foreign to someone who lived only a few centuries ago and even someone from the early 1900s would probably be surprised. Microwaving a frozen dinner would also be a foreign concept to anyone who lived before World War II.

So why don’t we see culinary cornerstones in the 24th century? With all of the myriad races that make up the Federation, it seems like there should be a melting pot of many edible traditions that combine to produce mind-blowing fusion dishes. But, there just isn’t.

Have you ever had a house full of food and you’re hungry, but moping around from fridge to cupboard, bored with everything you have? Sometimes the more food you have on hand, the harder it is to crave a particular dish. I think the Federation as a whole is suffering from this on a much larger scale.

Sure, Troi freaks out about chocolate from time to time, but for the most part the Federation characters we get to know have a small variety of foods they eat, and there’s very little fanfare to that. topic. So when Jean-Luc Picard orders his multiple cups of Earl Gray every day, he seems to say “it’s good” instead of “I love Earl Gray tea”.

You could say that Starfleet learned to cope with its perpetual culinary malaise by simply ordering the same thing over and over; everyone wants a cup of Raktajino because it’s good enough. Funnily enough, this could also be why we never see the problem of food addiction in star trek. No one is really more interested in food outside of their daily dietary needs. It’s possible that unlimited access to food had the ironic effect of limiting the personal palates of Federation citizens to a handful of dishes.

It could be that the Klingons like the food because they keep making it live rather than from a replicator. They’re always happy to eat because they don’t have the huge selection that Federation members have. If you eat Gagh six days a week, Bregit’s Lung Tuesdays become something to look forward to. We can also assume that more valuable consumables, like Bloodwine, are kept in reserve and distributed much like rum was on ships of the 1700s and 1800s. If you do good in battle, part of your reward is probably the privilege of drinking from the officer’s storeroom. Among the Klingons, food is still considered a prize, a status symbol, and an integral part of their culture.

Cask of blood wine.

Of course, all of this plays into our culinary beliefs today. There is a subconscious belief in almost every culture that the more civilized you are, the less you should have to deal directly with food preparation. In the United States, in particular, the average citizen is almost entirely separated from the supply chain that brings meat, fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy to their fingertips. It’s enviable to eat in restaurants — the more expensive the better — and when presented with ethnic cuisine, it’s often seen as a novelty.

What we do know is that the Klingons, despite their outward aggressiveness, have a rich history and, even in the 24th century, continue to relish their culinary traditions. In contrast, the more “cultured” Federation seems to have only a shadow of the interest in cooking that we see on Earth today. Hopefully, we too can move into a post-scarcity future, where food is available for everyone who is hungry. However, I hope we will continue to celebrate and evolve the myriad of culinary arts schools that bring so much fun and allow us to enjoy a different culture just by having a bite to eat.

Brittany Vincent (her) has been covering video games and technology for over a decade for publications such as G4, Popular Science, Playboy, Empire, Complex, IGN, GamesRadar, Polygon, Kotaku, Maxim, GameSpot, Shacknews, Yahoo and more. She’s also appeared as a speaker at video game conventions like PAX East and has coordinated social media for companies like CNET. When she’s not writing or acting, she’s searching for the next great visual novel in the vein of Saya no Uta.


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