It started with a milkshake.
The grainy beige mixture tasted a bit like cake batter and promised to provide all the nutrients found in three square meals a day.
With its claim to replace the need for food, it was a faddy dieter’s dream – a package neatly tied up with a bow and delivered to the door of every showbiz PR agent.
Magazine editors tried it first, alongside health journalists, gym bunnies and weight lifters, who alternated it with their protein drinks. Then film stars and D-list celebrities with exercise videos to promote jumped on the bandwagon. Soon it was on the supermarket shelves and men and women who claimed their lives were too hectic to make dinner were substituting meat and potatoes with a viscous glass of gloop.
At first, there didn’t seem to be a problem. It was the new generation in eating, or lack thereof. Chewing became passé.
A common complaint which began to emerge however, was boredom. Without eating, the need to socialise faded fast. Families stopped sitting around the table, cutting out the one time of the day they might have talked to each other for more than a few minutes before they went their separate ways. Friends stopped calling each other.
Dating became a minefield of anxiety as potential boyfriends and girlfriends floundered without the crutch of a dinner to prop up the stilted conversation. Relationships punctuated with the fun of eating together wilted without the structure of breakfast in bed or slobby Sundays spent eating pizza.
Despite this, the sales of the milkshake rocketed, due to the almost fanatical endorsements of celebrities and savvy advertising, as busy mums, politicians and personal trainers appeared on billboards with a paid-for smile, glass of brown gunge in-hand.
Instead of discontinuing it amid doctors’ fears for the physical and mental safety of the public, the manufacturers launched the milkshake in pill form – marketing it to commuters with four kids who couldn’t take the time to whisk together water and powder. It was an even bigger success than its liquid sister.
Popping pills made it easier for workaholics to breeze through lunch and dinner breaks, barely leaving their desks between 8am and 10pm. Workloads increased because there were literally more hours in the day once mealtimes became redundant.
While some industries boomed at the expense of their employees hurtling down the road to burnout, others became obsolete.
Some people diversified of course – chefs, for example, became nutritional advisors to the very firms who put them out of business. Private dentists experienced a hike in patients as they saw teeth begin to crumble through lack of use.
But high streets gaped with the black holes left by once popular restaurants, now boarded up and forgotten by those who ate in tablet form. Independent bakers closed their kilns because no-one needed bread anymore. Culinary co-operatives went their separate ways. Brands long-trenched in tradition, the Coca Colas and the Birds Eyes and the Heinzes of this world, simply disappeared from the shelves.
Supermarkets became superfluous. Tesco, Sainsbury’s and the other big names were picked off one by one, leaving their echoing cow sheds empty on industrial estates up and down the country. With no-one to supply, farmers all but perished once they’d slaughtered their initially over-populated pens of pigs, while chicks, for a short time, became semi-domesticated pets until they grew into unmanageable adult hens.
Soon, food ceased to exist altogether. There was no choice but to swallow a tablet. Lovers lost their sex drives and birth rates dropped; the few babies that were born were the victims of a disturbing evolutionary twist, delivered into the world with missing tongues and deformed jaws.
Columnists lamented, ‘If only we’d known.’ Others asked, ‘Is it too late?’ The simple answer was yes. What was done could not be undone, the damage too great to reverse.
The fabric of society, the one weaved from an intricate thread of food, society and economy, had disintegrated. For all the research and science and technology that had gone into creating a life-changing pill, no-one had calculated the devastating fall out of a future without food.