Less is Better

(Part of The Future: A Retrospective)


No-Calorie Sugar

No-Calorie Sugar
Odds 85%
Year 1995
Cost "Competitive with other non-caloric sweeteners"

Left-handed sugars will save the world! They taste sweet but the human digestive system can't process them. Dr. Gilbert Levin has devoted his life to making people eat this damn sugar, and it's still not happening. Also to convincing people that there's life on Mars, which has been even less successful. I'm not making stuff up!

Levin shows up in this 2003 Wired article, plugging tagatose, one of the left-handed sugars. Tagatose has been shopped around, rights bought and then nothing done with it, manufactured and then not used, given many different brand names that don't actually move product, etc. Meanwhile artificial sweeteners like Splenda steal its thunder. When will the indignity end? Possibly in 2008, when patents like #5078796 expire.


Non-Fattening Fat

Non-Fattening Fat
Odds 70%
Year 1993
Cost N/A

"For the millions of health-conscious Americans who love to eat, the idea of non-fattening fat is almost too good to be true... Procter & Gamble has conducted a hundred tests on a substance called olestra..."

Just like the left-handed sugar, your body can't process olestra (in this case, because the molecules are too big). Great, except this might lead to, in the words of the gross-out FDA warning label mandated on olestra-containing products, "abdominal cramping and loose stools." So these potato chips (it was mainly potato chips) had this terrible warning label that wasn't even cool and dangerous-sounding like the cigarette warning label.

In case you weren't around during the 90s, olestra was a leading cause of stupid jokes on late-night TV, right up there with Monica Lewinsky and OJ. Olestra is probably the one failed product from Future Stuff the average person knows about. The olestra disaster makes me wonder if something similar will happen with left-handed sugars. Or what would happen if humans didn't normally need fiber in their diets, and someone started putting fiber in foods to bulk them up.

In 2003 the FDA stopped mandating the warning label, and with a quick rebranding the offending potato chips were back on the shelves.


Cholesterol-Reducing Powder

Cholesterol-Reducing Powder
Odds 80%
Year 1992
Cost "Same as meat tenderizer"

"'Ten years from now we'll have shakers on the table for salt and pepper—and one for the cholesterol slasher.'" That's Donald Beitz of Iowa State University, partaking in what I can only assume is a bit of dramatic license.

This Future Stuff entry is kind of a mess. It refers to "eubacteria, which is naturally found in the body." You may know eubacteria as "bacteria". So, some of the bacteria in your gut contain "an enzyme that alters cholesterol so that it is absorbed poorly." You know what, just look at Beitz's Patent #5436004.

Ah, that's better. We've gone from enzyme-in-a-saltshaker to a "pharmaceutical carrier... resistant to degradation in the environment of the stomach but capable of degradation in the environment in the small intestine." The magical enzyme is called the "cholesterol reductase". The plan is to overclock your lower intestine so that more of the cholesterol is turned into coprostanol, which can't be absorbed.

So far, all the entries in this chapter focus on making it possible to eat something but not suffer the consequences of digesting it. It all goes right through you like so much Solka-Floc®. Is it any wonder that the olestra fiasco played out as it did?


Low-Proof Liquor

Low-Proof Liquor
Odds 90%
Year 1991
Cost N/A

This idea was a big hit! I haven't actually verified that, but this is low-proof, after all.

Unfortunately a quick search ruins that joke. Low-proof liquor is just a technical term for "beer". Sepracor, inventor of the alchohol removal process mentioned in Future Stuff, saw its lowproof liquor idea flop, hit rock bottom, and became a pharmaceutical company. Unfortunate, because this is the first entry in this chapter where something is taken out of the food before it goes into your body.

Fun fact: Sepracor marketing director Steve Brandt, quoted in Future Stuff, has a last name that's "Brandy" except with the Y changed to a T. "[H]e does not expect the system to be used to produce alchohol-free drinks, but rather to produce flavor concentrates and reduced-alchohol spirits only."


Low-Calorie Beef

Low-Calorie Beef
Odds 100%
Year 1990
Cost $39.75/1989 ($65/2007) "for a package of 24 ounces of steak and 3 pounds of ground beef"

Dakota Lean Meats, the company that sounds like a command you might give in a text adventure, has cross-bred cattle for leanness, and slaughters the animals early before they can get fat. "The cattle were raised without hormones or antibiotics, and a computer tracked their intake of mixed grains." Dakota Lean Meats isn't around anymore, but this sounds a lot like modern organic beef. Grass-fed beef is in fact leaner than the stuff you get at the C-Town, and $65 is about what I'd pay in New York for two pounds of steak and three of ground beef. So a pretty accurate prediction, although the proposed motivation for peoples' buying it is off.


Cholesterol-Free Eggs

Cholesterol-Free Eggs
Odds 90%
Year 1992
Cost N/A

Phasex, the first Future Stuff company to have "sex" in its name, uses "supercritical fluid extraction" to dissolve cholesterol from eggs. What's the secret? Those bacteria from "Cholesterol-Reducing Powder!" No, not really. The secret is carbon dioxide, and the aforementioned extraction. Here's an article on the technique, and here's a patent awarded to some unrelated people in California.

Obviously you can't extract supercritical fluid without breaking the egg, but it does look like this technology was used to create reduced cholesterol packaged egg products containing real egg yolk. Products on the market as of Future Stuff publication "remove the yolks and add food coloring." Ah, delicious Yellow #5.


50% Leaner Pork

50% Leaner Pork
Odds 100%
Year 1992
Cost N/A

Middle-of-the-road pork that doesn't have strong opinions about anything. See, American pigs have been bred to be leaner and leaner over the past 50 years. They're now twig-pigs without much flavor in the meat. Maybe Terry Etherton of Penn State has a solution that makes the pigs leaner without sacrificing porky flavor?

"Etherton injected pigs daily with a natural pig growth hormone that he produced in quantity with recombinant DNA techniques." Holy crap! That's about 50% of the things you shouldn't do to pigs! Etherton's not apologizing. His weblog is devoted to "[e]ducating the public about the benefits of biotechnology" and has a lot of stuff on it about the rBST bovine growth hormone. Okay, he's got his weblog, and I've got mine, and I don't think food animals should be given hormones.

"Several companies are already working on development of a slow-release, long-term delivery system, possibly putting the hormone inside tiny biodegradable beads that can release it slowly... 'We're not in this for the economic incentive to the producer,' says Etherton, 'but rather, to make a leaner product for the consumer and to help fight the battle against coronary heart disease and saturated fat.'" That said, this was probably one of the most commercially successful ideas mentioned in Future Stuff.


This document (source) is part of Crummy, the webspace of Leonard Richardson (contact information). It was last modified on Monday, March 31 2008, 00:26:30 Nowhere Standard Time and last built on Tuesday, July 29 2014, 06:00:04 Nowhere Standard Time.

Crummy is © 1996-2014 Leonard Richardson. Unless otherwise noted, all text licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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