GL: Is there any culture or group whose members are currently eating in a futuristic or sustainable way?
MS: Yes. Nonhumans are generally quite good at it. We could learn a lot from them. Waste is an alien concept to most other animals.
GL: Have you modified your own eating habits since you began researching the book, perhaps to become “better, stronger, faster”? How would you describe your diet?
MS: My girlfriend is vegetarian, which means for most days of the week, I am, too—so I get my fair share of fresh fruit and vegetables. I did have my genome profiled, which suggested I had an above-average risk for a couple of cancers—both of which, there is evidence to suggest, might be made less probable by eating fish. As a result, I’ve suddenly discovered sushi.
GL: Conversely, what have you refused to change about your diet despite knowing that, as you say in the first chapter of An Optimist’s Tour of the Future, you could live longer if you improved your diet and drank less?
MS: I still drink more than I should. The problem with alcohol is that it affects your rational faculties, so whilst beer three seems like a foolish idea as you drink beer one, beer two convinces you to ignore the warning, the tricksy blighter. I try to make up for it by working out regularly.
GL: What can DNA screening, as discussed in the book, tell people about how they can or should eat?
MS: Our health is an interplay of genetic and lifestyle factors. Depending on your genetic makeup, it may make sense to avoid or consume more of certain foods. We’re still at the beginning of our journey in understanding that interplay, and projects like the Personal Genome Project, which I visit in Chapter 2, will help us to understand this over the coming years. The good news is that at some point in the future, your doctor may be able to avoid giving you drugs and simply say, “I’ve looked at your genome, and this tells me it’s the bananas that are making you ill—give them a rest.”
GL: What are you most pessimistic about when it comes to the future? And what are you most optimistic about?
MS: I’m not an optimist or pessimist. I’m a “possibilist.” I’m saying we have choices, and there is plenty of good to be done if we make the right ones. Saying that is pretty controversial these days—which I think is a dangerous attitude. How can we make a better future if we’ve stopped imagining it’s possible?
The thing that depresses me the most is cynicism. If you’re cynical or have lost faith in our ability to make things better, then you are part of the problem. Cynicism is like smoking. It may look cool, but it’s really bad for you—and worse still, it’s really bad for everyone around you.
If you push me, I’d say the thing I’m most pessimistic about is that Andrew Lloyd Webber will probably write another musical, and the thing I’m most optimistic about is the ability of human beings to do the right thing. You don’t need anyone’s permission to be brilliant.