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Old March 13 2013, 02:42 AM   #1
yousirname
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'That replicated rubbish'

Does anyone else find this irritating? Pretty well constantly throughout TNG-era trek, characters criticise the food that comes from replicators as inferior to 'real' food. That irks me slightly and I find it lazy and objectionably sentimental.

From what I understand, replicators use transporter technology to reproduce actual meals that were prepared for the purpose of being replicated. I think I even read in one of the TNG novels (I know, I know) that the meals in question were prepared from the finest ingredients by master chefs to ensure they would be delicious. Eddington tells Sisko that the food from replicators "isn't real chicken" or words to that effect, but I think that's more of a metaphysical claim than a physical one. I'm pretty sure the whole point of the replicators is that what comes out of them is physically indistinguishable from chicken.

There are a few ways to try and justify this in-universe, which I don't think hold water, and at least one way to justify it as a tool of characterisation, which I think is lazy and cliched.

Meals from the replicator are always the same. The idea being that the meals are from a previously existing serving. So you order Chinese chicken curry on your last day on Risa. The sauce tastes a certain way, has a certain consistency and there are fourteen chunks of chicken. Then you head back to Earth and order another Chinese chicken curry when you get there - and it's the same meal. Down to the number of chunks and the position, shape and texture of those chunks. So replicated meals are not bland or tasteless so much as they're boring.

To me this doesn't really hold water. Even now, video games can be coded to use stochastic processes to generate pseudorandom outcomes subjectively indistinguishable from real-world variance. So it seems like the replicators should easily be able to vary the meals they produce in ways that mimic the variances of traditional cooking.

People psychologically 'prime' themselves to dislike replicated food because it seems 'artificial'. The mere fact that replicators produce food in a way so radically different from traditional cooking means that people believe it tastes different, even though it doesn't.

While superficially plausible, it seems to me that this is technology that's decades old at least. So there should be young people to whom the idea of using fire or hot metal to prepare food sounds weird and "unnatural" - not like the good old replicators they grew up with.

The real-world justification, obviously, is that replicated food:Trek characters::microwaved/frozen food:Trek viewers. But I still don't think it can be justified anything like as often as it's used. It seems like a lazy and frankly unnecessary way to make characters appear sympathetic. The best example I can think of doesn't actually concern food but is a textbook example of the kind of thing I mean. In one of Michael Piller's early drafts of Insurrection, Boothby listens to vinyl records on a Victrola record player, because in the 24th century, when holodeck technology has made it possible to reproduce a person's appearance and voice to a degree indistinguishable from the real thing, still, nothing sounds better than vinyl.

Am I alone in thinking that that's just lazy? Just once I wouldn't mind if the character expressing that kind of view was regarded by everyone around them as a sentimental idiot, or if a character would pipe up after such a remark is made and claim to be unable to tell the difference between replicated and 'real' food. That would absolutely make my day.
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Old March 13 2013, 02:54 AM   #2
LobsterAfternoon
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Re: 'That replicated rubbish'

I figure it's akin to a better microwave. Quick, easy, and usually fine, but for people with a refined palate, it tastes a bit off.
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Old March 13 2013, 02:58 AM   #3
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Re: 'That replicated rubbish'

yousirname wrote: View Post

Am I alone in thinking that that's just lazy?
Yes.
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Old March 13 2013, 03:05 AM   #4
teacake
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Re: 'That replicated rubbish'

Most people when they get to a certain age are luddites. If you're a luddite while you're still young you're a hipster. It is just a tiny way to make these people living in a fantastical future seem more like us, a kind of reassurance that we won't lose our humanity to machines when the future shows up.

I'm sure punching the buttons isn't the same as having Sisko make you some steaming jambalaya right in front of you, but I seriously doubt it is at all like army rations. There is no way it is rubbish tasting or repetitive, and given that we've seen you can actually stuff up the programming (Janeway burning potroast) and that people pride themselves on meals they've come up with I'm sure it's as broad if not broader a culinary discipline as any we have today.

You can punch your buttons for "chicken curry", a standard. Or you can program it to make chicken curry with lemongrass, but a younger lemongrass than usual and spring onions but only a few shavings of the white parts, and topped with the green ends curled and you can be very specific about what kind of chillies you want, when you want them included in the taste, if you want the seeds, how many..

If it is replicated rubbish it's the fault of the programmer whether that is you or some idiot who was in charge of the standards you can order.
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Old March 13 2013, 09:11 AM   #5
J. Allen
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Re: 'That replicated rubbish'

yousirname wrote: View Post
Does anyone else find this irritating? Pretty well constantly throughout TNG-era trek, characters criticise the food that comes from replicators as inferior to 'real' food. That irks me slightly and I find it lazy and objectionably sentimental.

From what I understand, replicators use transporter technology to reproduce actual meals that were prepared for the purpose of being replicated. I think I even read in one of the TNG novels (I know, I know) that the meals in question were prepared from the finest ingredients by master chefs to ensure they would be delicious. Eddington tells Sisko that the food from replicators "isn't real chicken" or words to that effect, but I think that's more of a metaphysical claim than a physical one. I'm pretty sure the whole point of the replicators is that what comes out of them is physically indistinguishable from chicken.

There are a few ways to try and justify this in-universe, which I don't think hold water, and at least one way to justify it as a tool of characterisation, which I think is lazy and cliched.

Meals from the replicator are always the same. The idea being that the meals are from a previously existing serving. So you order Chinese chicken curry on your last day on Risa. The sauce tastes a certain way, has a certain consistency and there are fourteen chunks of chicken. Then you head back to Earth and order another Chinese chicken curry when you get there - and it's the same meal. Down to the number of chunks and the position, shape and texture of those chunks. So replicated meals are not bland or tasteless so much as they're boring.

To me this doesn't really hold water. Even now, video games can be coded to use stochastic processes to generate pseudorandom outcomes subjectively indistinguishable from real-world variance. So it seems like the replicators should easily be able to vary the meals they produce in ways that mimic the variances of traditional cooking.

People psychologically 'prime' themselves to dislike replicated food because it seems 'artificial'. The mere fact that replicators produce food in a way so radically different from traditional cooking means that people believe it tastes different, even though it doesn't.

While superficially plausible, it seems to me that this is technology that's decades old at least. So there should be young people to whom the idea of using fire or hot metal to prepare food sounds weird and "unnatural" - not like the good old replicators they grew up with.

The real-world justification, obviously, is that replicated food:Trek characters::microwaved/frozen food:Trek viewers. But I still don't think it can be justified anything like as often as it's used. It seems like a lazy and frankly unnecessary way to make characters appear sympathetic. The best example I can think of doesn't actually concern food but is a textbook example of the kind of thing I mean. In one of Michael Piller's early drafts of Insurrection, Boothby listens to vinyl records on a Victrola record player, because in the 24th century, when holodeck technology has made it possible to reproduce a person's appearance and voice to a degree indistinguishable from the real thing, still, nothing sounds better than vinyl.

Am I alone in thinking that that's just lazy? Just once I wouldn't mind if the character expressing that kind of view was regarded by everyone around them as a sentimental idiot, or if a character would pipe up after such a remark is made and claim to be unable to tell the difference between replicated and 'real' food. That would absolutely make my day.
I agree, and I pin it down to the idea that humans like to entertain, even now, that if it's not "real", it's somehow bad for you or just simply "not as good" as the "real" thing. As you mentioned in your second point, we prime ourselves to dislike something because it doesn't seem "natural". It's why people pay two to three times as much for organic food as they would food produced using standard methods. They figure since it's more "real", it must be better for you and better tasting. Whether it's true or not is wholly subjective, but because these people have decided that it is so, they will always see organic food as tasting "better".

I believe Penn & Teller did an episode on this very idea, a hidden taste test where they had a plate of organic apples and apples produced via standard methods. In their test, everyone chose the standard apple thinking it was the organic apples, the whole time believing that the organic food tasted so much better. People will believe what they want to believe, whether true or not, and I think that same rule applies to the replicators. Because it's not home grown/organic/"real", it's somehow inferior.

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Old March 13 2013, 10:40 AM   #6
T'Girl
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Re: 'That replicated rubbish'

yousirname wrote: View Post
There are a few ways to try and justify this in-universe, which I don't think hold water, and at least one way to justify it as a tool of characterisation, which I think is lazy and cliched.


No matter how hard you try to pretend otherwise, it's still an artificial substance that is produced by a machine.

It's been shown on the show that the replicator can not reproduce certain drugs, even if a sample of the drug is availible for scanning. The replicator couldn't get the drug "right."

You mentioned two possibilities, meals from the replicator are always the same, and that people psychologically 'prime' themselves to dislike replicated food because it seems 'artificial'. Another possibility is that the replicator, despite it best efforts, simply can't manufacture the favor and texture of food correctly.

Beyond "it's not like mother used to make," there is an aspect to it that is (in some way) off. Not a psychologically prejudice, but the actual taste and texture as it moves over your tongue.

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Old March 13 2013, 11:18 AM   #7
yousirname
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Re: 'That replicated rubbish'

T'Girl wrote: View Post
No matter how hard you try to pretend otherwise, it's still an artificial substance that is produced by a machine.

It's been shown on the show that the replicator can not reproduce certain drugs, even if a sample of the drug is availible for scanning. The replicator couldn't get the drug "right."
Yeah, that's true. My assumption's always been that those drugs are highly complex in some unusual way that precludes replication. Otherwise how could any drug be replicated?
You mentioned two possibilities, meals from the replicator are always the same, and that people psychologically 'prime' themselves to dislike replicated food because it seems 'artificial'. Another possibility is that the replicator, despite it best efforts, simply can't manufacture the favor and texture of food correctly.
But I don't understand how that could be the case. The transporter moves a conscious human being from one place to the other and there's no sense that people who've been transported "aren't quite right" or whatever.

Working on the assumption that the replicators essentially 'hold' the 'pattern signature' (or whatever ) of the meal, how can a good chicken curry be harder to pull off than a human being? It doesn't make sense.

Maybe your explanation is the intent of the writers. But even if that was their decision, I still feel it's a lazy and shoehorned-in way of making the characters on the show 'identifiable' or whatever the term is. Imagine if they were always whinging about how the holodeck just isn't the same as TV. That'd make me feel more or less the same.

Though of course it is only a minor gripe.
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Old March 13 2013, 11:30 AM   #8
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Re: 'That replicated rubbish'

It's a thematic point. Star Trek is all about the triumph of the human spirit and has always had a troubled relationship with technology. Which is why there are no robots in Star Trek whereas we should probably see more of them, supercomputers are always evil and androids are only acceptable when they aspire to become human. Replicated food is artificial food, which in Star Trek means that we're meant to find it suspicious.
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Old March 13 2013, 12:37 PM   #9
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Re: 'That replicated rubbish'

I thought I heard an explanation somewhere that the replicators were low-grade transporters. One would not want to be transported by a replicator system, but the crudeness is safe enough for food. And to think that people whinge about GMOs today!
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Old March 13 2013, 01:52 PM   #10
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Re: 'That replicated rubbish'

A theory I remember being posted years back relating to why no one ever goes to the bathroom is that the ship's computer can detect when the crew has to go, then automatically beams the waste out and transfers the matter into the replicator systems. And that's the real reason why everyone complains about relpicated food being inferior to the real thing.
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Old March 13 2013, 01:58 PM   #11
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Re: 'That replicated rubbish'

The Wormhole wrote: View Post
A theory I remember being posted years back relating to why no one ever goes to the bathroom is that the ship's computer can detect when the crew has to go, then automatically beams the waste out and transfers the matter into the replicator systems. And that's the real reason why everyone complains about relpicated food being inferior to the real thing.
Gives the expression "it tastes like shit!" a whole new meaning.
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Old March 13 2013, 02:24 PM   #12
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Re: 'That replicated rubbish'

teacake wrote: View Post
I'm sure punching the buttons isn't the same as having Sisko make you some steaming jambalaya right in front of you, but I seriously doubt it is at all like army rations.
I agree fully that pushing buttons would not nearly be the same as having Sisko making you some steaming jambalaya right in front of you.
The taste simply isn't the same because the conditions are not the same. There are processes taking place leading up to the meal (I speak as if you are witnessing the cooking). You are getting a taste of the meal - so to speak - before the meal is even prepared. The smell of the fresh food before it even gets subjected to a knife. The process of cooking, where each ingredient added to the cooking process changes the complexity. You are smelling everything as it is happening. Your senses are heightened before you even take your first bite. The anticipation that is building until you get to have that first spoonful (or forkful) is making that meal and all the food components taste better whether you believe it or not. It isn't just the final product that you are shoveling into your face.
And you don't actually have to be watching the process. Just being in proximity of the smells (read that to mean the kitchen) gets the appetite worked up more. In the end, it just tastes better.

As for Army rations, I think you would be surprised. The changes that have occurred have been nothing short of astronomical. While fresh prepared food is always preferable when out in the field, the ration packs now are vastly different from the food found in the cans of C rations. In fact, (at least in the Canadian Army) there are Kosher, Halal, and vegetarian meals available for the field as well as the 'regular' meals. Times have changed.
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Old March 13 2013, 03:30 PM   #13
Robert D. Robot
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Re: 'That replicated rubbish'

Metryq wrote: View Post
I thought I heard an explanation somewhere that the replicators were low-grade transporters....
Transporter!?
".... Waiter! Help me! There's a fly in my soup!"

Maybe it has to do with the idea that food is always an easy thing to complain about when you need something to grumble about.

My major advisor got his doctorate at Oxford in England. He said that the meals in his dining hall were very good and prepared by chefs, but everyone still complained about the food!
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Old March 13 2013, 03:45 PM   #14
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Re: 'That replicated rubbish'

yousirname wrote: View Post
But I don't understand how that could be the case. The transporter moves a conscious human being from one place to the other and there's no sense that people who've been transported "aren't quite right" or whatever.
Does the replicator work EXACTLY like the transporter, though? As stated above, some theorize the replicators are only a crude or simplified form of transporter - safe enough for food, but not safe for conscious beings. If that's the case, then, perhaps, there are some differences on the molecular level, too.

Further, a transporter operates by dematerializing a target subject, moving that subject (in energy form) into the transporter buffer, beaming the energy to another location and finally rematerializing that subject (or substance thereof. There are disagreements as to how exactly the transporter works). Now, normally a subject cannot be held in a pattern buffer for an extended period of time before the pattern starts to decay. When Scotty rigged the computer of the Jenolen to maintain their patterns in the transporter buffer, this was considered innovative and risky even by 24th century standards.

My point is a replicated meal is not the same thing as putting a gourmet meal on the transporter, dematerializing it and storing that dematerialized pattern in the buffer indefinitely until needed by the replicator. Even if it was, the whole concept of keeping a pattern active in a buffer without degrading was unheard of by 24th century people. Therefore, the replicator must work on some other principle than the transporter.

Perhaps replicators are more like 3D printer technology today. They take basic molecular, cellular and protein sequences and recreate them in whatever form the programmer needs. To a common person, the replicated food may taste just as well as the real thing. To a foodie or someone with a discerning palate, on the other hand, they can taste the difference.

It's all in the processing. Why do generic cookies taste different than genuine Oreos? Why do Nabisco chocolate chip cookies taste different than your grandma's? Why does anything processed taste different than home made?

Or, as stated, it's all psychological. Could Picard really tell the difference between real and replicated in a blind taste test?
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Old March 13 2013, 04:37 PM   #15
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Re: 'That replicated rubbish'

My personal handwavy understanding of the difference between a replicated steak and one from a cow is like the difference between a JPG and a BMP. The JPG is formed by lossy compression. It takes fewer bits to store a BMP as a JPG, but in so doing, some information is destroyed. Of course, lossless compression exists, such as when used to make ZIP files, but the level of compression isn't as high as under lossy compression for random data.

When you look at a JPG that's done right, say of a scene in nature, it looks really good. But there are test images that look really bad no matter what you do. Plus, no matter what, it's not perfect. Even a BMP isn't perfect, because it has a finite resolution, but this is just an analogy.
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