Had we imagined the meals of an astronaut in 2015 twenty years ago, we would have thought of colored pills ordered by flavor, or reduced to a minimum bulk, perhaps vanishing in favor of some kind of microchip, such as those courageous (or crazy) diet freaks stick on their bellies today, to suppress the hunger stimulus. Twenty years ago the future was much more futuristic and engaging than it is today.
None of our wild imaginings have come true: teleport technology, no flying cars, no space food in pills and bars, no aeronautical Odyssey of those promised by films. Maybe innovation and discovery are forging ahead, however, in other areas. For example, what is happening in the food sector in recent years demonstrates that progress can’t be measured only in terms of advanced technological innovation; it also has to do with more sophisticated tastes, widespread research, greater awareness of a common heritage with medical and agricultural sciences, and obviously also with design culture.
At the same time, for design food becomes an interesting territory of operation, because the external, historical, familiar dimension of the ‘mise-en-plat’ combines the challenge of ingredients, portions, exactitude, relationships, balances, ‘the limit’ in short, and brings it into play in the graphic design of communication, which has to be immediate but captivating, original but recognizable, ordinary but also special, because it addresses a content that is – or should be – part of everyday life, available to all, inserting a ritual attitude that is now gaining new attention inside the gestures that have to do with this sphere (from cooking to setting the table, serving to consuming).
This is why the astronaut’s meal becomes a field of interest for design – and it is no coincidence that the food supply of Samantha Cristoforetti was displayed together with twenty other meals of ‘soldiers in action’ in the interesting exhibition “K Ration” curated by Giulio Iacchetti at the Milan Triennale a few months ago – because it sums up, in an ‘exceptional’ preparation, all these aspects we are used to ‘chewing on’ thanks to today’s communication: slow food, genuine quality, ritual behaviors, aesthetics, experimentation, measure.
In these months our astronaut is living on a menu she prepared herself together with a very young chef, Stefano Polato, crossing her preferences (vegetables, legumes, no animal fats, no refined products) with certain obligatory features, such as freeze-drying, long conservation times without alteration of organoleptic qualities, absence of salt which must be avoided for reasons of hydric retention, for a diet that is substantially as healthy as possible, because the ageing to which Samantha’s body is subject in these months is about 10 times greater than what would happen on earth.
All this had to be achieved without breaking the main rule of the game, namely to provide familiar flavors, making the meal a moment of pleasure and delight for the senses, though some of the gestures involved are inevitably different from those of home (just consider what happens trying to get food to your mouth in a situation of weightlessness). For Cristoforetti, Polato has developed four ready-made dishes and a range of other ingredients the astronaut can combine at will. The research and development of the project happened inside Argotec, an aerospace engineering firm in Turin with a very young staff.
Responding to the very ambitious project assigned by the European Space Agency to take charge of the development and supply of space food for the European astronauts on the International Space Station, Argotec has independently created the Space Food Lab, a center for the study of astronaut nutrition, which had already provided Luca Parmitano with space lasagna, risotto al pesto, caponata, and tiramisù.
The side-effect of this operation is also a message of correct diet, arriving directly from space, and made available – in an intelligent marketing operation – also to those who have both feet on the ground, thanks to the website readytolunch.com, where anyone can purchase a space food kit.
Text by Chiara Alessi