Being asked to envision the Triangle’s food scene in 2040 is an open invitation to turn in a half-assed piece of futuristic satire. Something about driving our Cybertrucks to Michael Lee’s twenty-fourth “M” restaurant to eat “pan-manifested hypnotrout” from orbital Venusian AquaPlatforms. Or how we’ll be raising GMO beetle larvae for protein and brutalizing one another Thunderdome-style for the amusement of the entrenched 1 percent, who will reward the strongest with another week’s ration of Government-Issued Algae Loaf.

But the former looks hilariously unlikely, and the latter isn’t something I want to consider for my children, even in jest. 

So I’d like to be as sincere as possible in my prognostications of what a local food scene will look like two decades hence.

Ultimately, the best I can hope for is that there will actually be a food scene in 2040, because in case you haven’t noticed—and, holy shit, so many people haven’t—we are experiencing systemic disruption on about seventeen different levels, the most obvious being epochal climate change that will dramatically alter growing regions and foodways. 

We’re going to feel it. So what’s it going to feel like? 

What does this mean for the currently robust community of chefs, restaurants, growers, markets, artisans, thinkers, and, of course, diners who encompass our much-hyped scene? I have a few ideas. 

First of all, meat will be illegal. 

Or at least, the wholesale factory farming of masses of farting livestock will become an impossible proposition, probably once global grain production collapses to the point where we need all of the available food for, you know, us. 

If anyone is allowed to produce meat from actual animals, it’s going to be small, sustainable farms that manage to band together into French-style Appellation D’Origine Contrôleé for the preservation of heritage breeds and the pleasures of the very rich. 

Which is to say, you might be able to get a burger, but it’s going to cost $100, which is frankly what it should cost now. I love meat, but Greta Thunberg is probably correct that it’s an untenable habit.

Likewise, fish are fucked. 

The oceans are rapidly becoming a deoxygenated plastic nightmare, and while there still might be sufficient billions of fish at the moment to supply enough horse mackerel and flounder and hamachi and sea bream to fill the planet’s sushi rolls, fish have proven that if they are good at one thing, it’s dying instantly in masses. 

If the waves upon waves of dead sardines currently washing up on Pacific beaches are any indication, this has begun in earnest.

So we innovate. 

In the absence of fat and blood and delicious muscle, chefs will shift their focus to things we can grow, preserve, ferment, and cultivate. That tomahawk chop will be permanently replaced by mushrooms grown under a restaurant’s dripping eaves. Rooftop gardens, parking lot gardens, alleyway gardens, gardens by the side of the highway: Cooks will brag about the tomatoes growing in their gutters. We’re going to pickle everything. We’re going to ferment things that seem unfermentable and let the dizzying flavor rainbow wash over us.

And we’re going to eat bugs. 

Hell, the fanciest and most expensive restaurants in the world already serve meticulous creations under a sprinkling of ants. In the absence of quadrupedal or avian protein, expect to snack on Cool Ranch grasshoppers, deep-fried dung beetles (mmmmm), smoked silkworm pupae, Asian forest scorpions with their invigorating lip-numbing toxins, a crunchy smorgasbord of bigger, nastier, chitinous treats, until the inherent grossness of the act has drained away, and they’re just another source of precious tastiness.

This will end up being a good thing (except for the dead fish), a reduction in both greenhouse gases and cholesterol. 

But it’s going to require a fundamental shift in the way most Americans eat—and the way chefs approach their sexiest and most luxurious dishes. 

And technology will most likely progress to the point where lab-grown meat and plant-based alternatives are not only available but actually good. Personally, I will invest every dollar in the first company that can successfully 3D-print a ribeye.

But there’s one thing that really gives me hope for the future of our food scene—and for scenes everywhere—and that is the heady and relentless blending of cultures through the medium of cuisine. 

The Asian food diaspora has already conquered mainstream America, and in the coming decades, I look forward to culinary waves from West Africa, the Middle East, the Philippines, South America, and Eastern Europe, as immigration continues to melt us all together. It will happen, despite the best efforts of the terrified idiots currently in charge.

Whenever I worry about the future, I think about one particular scene in Blade Runner, in which Harrison Ford’s character, Rick Deckard, weary from chasing rogue androids, hunkers down at a fluorescent-lit stall for a restorative bowl of udon in broth. The streets of 2019 Los Angeles (ha!) are a hostile place, awash with acid rain and suffused with the threat of sudden violence. But the steam rising from that bowl is a palpable comfort, and Deckard digs in with gusto. 

The future is a scary place, but man, those noodles look good.

Nick Williams is the INDY’s contributing food editor. Comment on this story at Click here to read the rest of our 2040 predictions. 

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.