Reviewed by: Susan Raizer
Title: Dinner on Mars: The Technologies That Will Feed the Red Planet and Transform Agriculture on Earth
Author: Lenore Newman and Evan D. G. Fraser
Pages: 232 pages
Publisher: ECW Press
Date: October 2022
Retail Price: $19.95/$9.99
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Dinner on Mars began as a thought exercise by the authors as they were quarantined by the pandemic in 2020. Speaking via Zoom, they decided to envision how a colony on Mars would be able to sustain its residents so far from the agricultural largess of our home planet. What evolved was not only a plan of action for food growth and sustainability on Mars but scientific suggestions for improvements to food production on Earth.
The authors are well-known in the field of agricultural growth. Dr. Lenore Newman is a writer and urban geographer as well as being the Canada Research Chair in Food Security and Environment. She is an Associate Professor of Geography and the Environment at the University of the Fraser Valley. She concentrates her studies on food insecurities coupled with farm preservation both in rural and urban areas. She is the author of Cod Tongues: A Canadian Culinary Journey as well as Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food. Her co-author, Dr. Evan Fraser, is the Director of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph (Guelph, Ontario, Canada). He studies ways to create a sustainable food system that would thrive in the face of climate change and its impact on economics and how to adapt to these stressors. He has written Uncertain Harvest: The Future of Food on a Warming Planet and Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations.
The story of food is the story of human evolution from the earliest hunter-gatherers to today’s growing artificial intelligence agricultural production methods. The book takes the reader on a journey through the history of food production on Earth with a focus on the current experimentation that is being done to create lab-grown food sources. They also emphasize that by creating their hypothetical menu for the Martian colonists, these new processes can be used to create a more efficient food production system that will also help to reduce carbon emissions and reverse the effects of climate change that come from food production.
The book is written in the third person as each of the two authors opine aloud how they foresee food production on Mars and changes to it on Earth. The book begins with a discussion of the loss of an expedition to find the Northwest Passage mounted by Sir John Franklin in the 19th century. The expedition failed due to starvation as most of the food that was brought spoiled early in the trip. The authors believed that had the explorers had a better understanding of how to ‘live off the land’, they might have accomplished their goal. From this reference, the authors then decided to create a colony on Mars which they named Base Town. The Martian colonists would have to be fed, and bringing food from Earth on a consistent basis was not viable.
Very basic challenges would have to be mitigated. For example, there is almost no liquid water on Mars, too much solar radiation yet not enough solar energy to help plants grow in domed enclosures, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the ground cover on Mars is not conducive for growing crops.
The book cites studies done on Earth in all aspects of food production from harvesting bacteria to creating food substitutes like the Impossible Burgers, that are created rather than grown. The Martian farmers would start with basic cells brought from Earth that would be grown in incubators in large greenhouses. Once the basic cells were created, they would be incorporated into more sophisticated organisms until the growers would have food that tastes like their Earth equivalents but not look like them.
The authors suggested that the scientists practice regenerative agriculture beginning with cyanobacteria and perchlorates, then advancing through nanotechnology to cellular agriculture to produce cheese-like products. Actual meat products, which have been the cause for greenhouse emissions, would not be grown on Mars. Rather, the technology would be able to create meat substitutes that would be more sustainable. This is occurring on Earth at present as more plant-based products are being created at prices that are affordable in North America, Europe, Japan and China. Farming on Mars would have to be done in much smaller areas than on Earth as each cell used for human consumption would have to be nurtured and grown in a controlled environment. Of course, the settlers on Mars will have to relearn their eating habits in order to thrive on Mars. The breakthroughs learned on Mars could be used on Earth as we learn to provide food alternatives to Earth’s growing population.
This reviewer recommends Dinner on Mars to National Space Society members for several reasons. First, the book explores how climate change is impacting food production on Earth and the challenges of feeding the explorers on Mars. Secondly, by creating a hypothetical agricultural industry on Mars, using all the current scientific and experimental methods now being worked on, not only will the explorers on Mars have sustenance but improvements can be made to help with food deficiencies on Earth.
© 2023 Susan Raizer