The reports from China have been electrifying. Everyone, everywhere, is talking about them. Around the world some hailed them with joy, others with dismay.
For many, the first reaction was disbelief. Little wonder. The pill Chinese scientists say they've developed sounds like something out of science fiction. Indeed, over the decades many a science-fiction novel has featured a Magic Pill, a pill containing all the nutrition necessary to sustain human life. A pill that, to quote a Chinese press release, "Makes food unnecessary. Pop our pill and you won't have to eat."
Details of the breakthrough remain sketchy. What Chinese scientists have said is the pill has been tested and found safe and could soon be ready for mass production. They haven't disclosed what the pill is made of, how it works or what it's likely to cost.
If the price is low enough and the pill is widely adopted, the implications would be staggering. Meal preparers across the globe poured into the streets holding banners gleefully proclaiming, in dozens of languages, "No more hot stove." Many of the demonstrators were women. A history professor at the London School of Economics called the pill "potentially the greatest advance for the female sex since the suffragettes won women the vote."
American commercial farmers were stunned. They've spent years fending off critics demanding they produce more vegetables and less meat and animal feed, but up until now no one has ever tried to render them irrelevant. "And we thought plant-based meat was a chemistry experiment," moaned Iowa corn grower Jack Bequick. "This is about the worst thing we could imagine. You have to wonder if any of us will still be in business five years from now."
Rumors raced through the countryside that the pill was part of a conspiracy between the Chinese military and American "progressives" to force U.S. farmers into bankruptcy and take over their land. The rumors were unsubstantiated. Those believing them could only point to statements from environmentalists hailing the possibility of an ag-free planet that would boast cleaner air and water, fewer carbon emissions and more diverse biodiversity.
Big Food was as shellshocked as Big Ag. In New York, prices tumbled on shares of Deere, Tysons, McDonald's, Mosaic and scores of other major companies up and down the food chain. The only faintly optimistic note was sounded by B.F. Eader, a spokesman for a group of meatpackers: "Our members have been investing in plant-based meat, and while that investment now looks to have as little future as our packing plants, there's nothing stopping us from investing in pill manufacturing."
If fast-food outfits were running scared, advocates of "slow food" were terrified, not to mention outraged. "Food is more than just nutrition," said Cibo Mangiamo, an Italian chef and one of the slow-food movement's earliest enthusiasts. "Food is an expression of culture. It brings people together in pleasurable social interactions. To lose it would be a disaster. Our movement favors slow food, not no food."
In the wake of the reports from China, U.S. Defense Department officials huddled with hawkish politicians. They said little publicly but privately one official admitted they had been blindsided. American scientists have been doing their own meal-in-a-pill research but have so far made little headway. That's clearly a matter of concern to the defense establishment.
"The U.S. cannot afford to be on the wrong side of a Magic Pill gap," warned Republican Senator J. Accipiter Buteo. In response, he has introduced a bill providing billions in additional pill-research funding.
In their pill publicity China's propaganda arms couldn't resist making political points. "Americans may have invented the iPhone and the Tesla, but we made the Magic Pill," crowed an editorial in the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily. "It isn't just democracies that do great science."
And the Chinese weren't the only ones celebrating. Science fiction writers everywhere felt vindicated by the news. "We told you a meal-in-a-pill was coming," said I.C. Ilfuturo, president of the International Society of Science Fiction Freaks. "Don't be surprised if flying cars are next."
Ilfuturo did, however, also sound a cautionary note: "It may take a few more decades before we can beam you up."
All in all, the most sensible reaction came from Greg Horstmeier, DTN's editor-in-chief. "I wouldn't worry too much about this pill thing," he said. "Just check out the date we published this piece."
Urban Lehner can be reached at email@example.com
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