Your pill, sir

Food - Bee Wilson is glad Giorgio Locatelli changed his mind

When Giorgio Locatelli was a boy, he had a plan. Sweeping the floor in his family's restaurant, little Giorgio would boast to his uncle about how rich and famous he would one day be. He, Giorgio, would also open a restaurant. But his would be different - no antipasti, no pasta, no primi or secondi. It would sell nothing but pills. How easy it would be - "One, two, three". As Locatelli, now a famous London chef, tells the story, he mimes swallowing the futuristic food pills and laughs.

The eradication of food must be one of the most pervasive fantasies of the future. As our calendar stares into all those blank years ahead, it's tempting to take it seriously. Many of us already live virtually foodless lives. Berocca for breakfast, Soup Works for lunch, smoothie for tea, champagne for dinner - this is the rich office girl's daily fuel. Tea and pills for breakfast, Complan for lunch, soup for supper - this is the bed-bound diet of many elderly people. It doesn't seem a huge step from this to the three-course meals of chewing gum in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - an alluring notion, but we all know how horribly it ends.

Another fantasy of the future, adopted by philosophers and politicians throughout the ages, is that all food will become the same. Etienne Cabet, a utopian of the 19th century, envisaged a world - Icaria - in which a list would be drawn up of all foods, good and bad. Citizens of Icaria would only eat the good foods, the same for everyone. Homogenised lunches would be eaten by people in all walks of life in republican restaurants.

Even the same toasts would be announced all over the world. Cabet was influenced by Lycurgus, the ancient lawgiver of Sparta, whose regulations obliged all citizens to eat the same food - cereal, figs, cheese, wine and a little fish or meat. This was supposed to keep the bodies in the body politic fit and healthy. It's not impossible to imagine a modern government thinking this a good idea. No more soup runs, but fresh fruit and veg from Sainsbury's as part payment for your giro.

Not all utopians have cherished the idea of sameness, though. Socialists in News from Nowhere eat strawberries out of cabbage leaves, but only if they feel like it. Charles Fourier (1772-1837) imagined a future in which every taste would be delicately and precisely catered for. Children would learn how to cook and be encouraged to develop their passions for foodstuffs - a longing for bilberries, say, or an obsession with the best plum tart.

"Harmonian" cooks would adapt dishes to suit 810 different "passionate types". No one who hated leeks would ever have to eat them; no one who loved them would ever go without. The sea would turn into lemonade, and oranges would grow in Warsaw. As many different species of pear as possible would be nurtured and enjoyed. Fourier's is a dream of total gastronomic diversity.

When Locatelli grew up, he abandoned his fantasy about the pills. He now runs Zafferano in Knightsbridge, widely regarded as the best Italian restaurant in London. He recently invited me to look round his kitchen. Neat metal drawers contain carefully trimmed pieces of fish - swordfish, salmon and skate, all glistening and fresh. Lentils, lobster and lemons are each cosily stored in their proper place. The larder holds every bitter leaf you could dream of, the prettiest radicchio, the wildest rocket. Someone is making fine pasta by hand. Someone else is tending three different kinds of delicious smelling stock. A cake, with chocolate and quinces, has been made. It's a far more attractive vision of the future than any homogenised meal plan. Or any pill.