One of the great challenges facing the modern world, and one of the great limiters of culture is the ability of mankind to feed himself, and the ability of the agriculturalists to provide enough surplus food to support the part of the community that is not engaged in agriculture. Great strides were made in chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and the petrol era saw the emergence of genetically modified organisms in the food chain. This would suffice up until the Resource Wars when expensive chemical fertilizers and heavy farming equipment fell to the wayside, along with a plummeting global population.
These food production technologies would continue to thrive as the world still needed abundant food sources. A smaller population meant that is was more imperative that food production be a efficient as possible. This quickly meshed together with the eco-based world view predominant in the Cosmic Era, and that the environment is more important than the convenience and comfort of man. This ushered in a new era of food production and preservation technologies, most of which would be horrific to the modern citizen.
Mycoproteins are meat substitutes that are made from fungal cultures. Given a dark, warm environment and a suitable substrate, fungus can grow at an impressive rate, and once heat denatured to render down it gout causing RNA surplus, it is easily shredded, molded, extruded, and otherwise made into strips, nuggets, patties, and other shapes. These go on to become 'chicken' nuggets and 'chicken' sandwiches, as well as a sundry list of other pork/chicken substitutes. While in and of itself, this isn't horrific or disgusting, mushrooms are generally enjoyed around the world, it is a base level deception. While this technology already exists, predominantly catering to vegetarians, in the Cosmic Era, is the the norm. Real chicken and pork are rare and expensive luxuries.
Some types of protein can't as easily be synthesized by fungus and processing. This is where carcinoproteins step in. There is no live animal involved in the creation of beef and certain fish stocks (tuna, salmon, swordfish, mackerel). Cell cultures are taken from gene stocks are are induced into a cancerous state. The stock grows in the same fashion as a human in a cloning tank, until the tank is left packed full of essentially a giant tumor. This cancer meat is decanted and processed down into the desired shapes and forms, where is it either distributed to further processing (insta-fix for example) or to packaging where it is shipped to the grocery hubs or food service companies.
3. Genetically Edited Food
With the keys to genetic augmentation and alteration unlocked, it was only a matter of time before science and industry started inventing their own fruits and vegetables. New flavors, shapes, and colors exploded onto the market, especially from fast growing, heavy fruiting plants. The most well known GE foods are those that flow from the houses of genetic designers, such as Versace's strawberries. Last year's berries were raved over for their gloss black skin, golden seeds, and rich flavor that mixed red wine, chocolate, and savory beef in each bite. This has created a high end luxury market of designer foods that are tailored to conspicuous consumption. Less publicly seen aspects of GE foods include plants that grow at extraordinary rates and have almost cancerous levels of fruit production.
4. Manufactured Food
The biggest problem with plants and animals is that they take time to reach maturity, and then plants have cyclical patterns that aren't convenient for logistic chains, especially those that don't like to carry inventory and prefer to operate on a just in time product flow. The answer was simple, manufacture the food instead of growing it. Many fruits and vegetables are produced by machines, with the flagship item being the apple. Molds are sprayed with a cellulose resin, which sets and turns into the 'skin' of the apple. The interior is filled with a fiber rich slurry that is then heat set. The end result is something that looks like an apple, feels like an apple, tastes like apple flavored candy, but ultimately is not actually a piece of fruit.
An offshoot of this is printed food. Operating much like carcinoproteins, printed food is extruded from a polyforge and is typically small, fast, and easy to produce things, like rice, noodles, and other starchy goods. The plant starches used are typically sourced from genetically edited plants that grow rapidly, with beets, radishes, and modified taro being common sources.
5. Recycled Food
Very few things in the Cosmic Era are not recycled. Uneaten and discarded food are given the same treatment as everything else. What can be reclaimed often is, where it is sent to be sanitized and processed into something technically edible again. A good indicator that a food item was recycled is shredding, breading, heavy spicing, or being concealed inside of something else. This is where hot dogs, hot pockets, tacos, and sloppy joes come from in the CE. The rest that is still edible will be sent to a different processing center where it is rendered down into a paste form, supplemented with starches and seasonings, and turned into a fresh batch of 'patties'.
Eat recycled food, it's good for the environment, and okay for you.
6. Virtual Food
With access to the CogNet people are able to enjoy virtual meals, allowing them to gorge themselves on savory and luxurious meals that they cannot afford in real life, ranging from the elite but pedestrian surf and turf with a bottle of Dom Perignon, to the exotic roast dragon served with Romulan ale. This virtual food stimulates the brain and the taste buds through biofeedback systems but contains no actual bulk, substance, or nutritional value. Most people who indulge in virtual food have ready supplies of insta-fix meals, food supplements such as protein shakes and nutritional pastes. Eat your Taste-Tee Wheat before going to the virtual restaurant, you won't be hungry afterwards. A variation on this is that there are restaurants that have enhanced dining options, functionally allowing them to virtually augment the food the customers are eating by giving them access to their personal devices, including biofeedback systems.
Things such as virtual eating, along with simulacras of sex and even fake amusement parks, couples can live virtual lives together without ever actually meeting.
The staple of the average resident of the Cosmic Era is the insta-fix meal. These meals come in boxes, resplendent with slick art and advertising, even codes that interact with their personal electronics, and don't even have to be refrigerated. A typical Insta-Fix meal has to be either heated, or have water added and then heated. Some circumvent this by having chemical agents that heat when exposed to water, both heating and rehydrating the meal at the same time. Cheap and convenient, Insta-fix meals contain high levels of recycled and manufactured food stock. Just like frozen dinners now, Insta-Fix meals range from the bottom of the barrel to relatively expensive, and can be found in everything from single serving to family packs.
A variation on the insta-fix is the meal box, with pre-prepared meals delivered on a weekly basis. This is functionally the same as insta-fix, but a bit more involved. Preparation wise, it is functionally the same as baking a cake mix, stir ingredients together and microwave. These are the two predominant modes of home cooking in the Cosmic Era. Cooking is a lost art.