In 1729, Jonathan Swift proposed eating babies as the solution to famine in Ireland. Recently, a Japanese scientist has proposed an arguably even more unpalatable solution.
This morning, BBC Television news reported yet another famine in the Horn of Africa.
Recently, a Japanese scientist developed a new process which has the potential not only to alleviate such famines forever but to manufacture nourishing food for all of us incredibly cheaply. There is though, one enormous obstacle to the implementation of what Swift might have called a modest proposal: most people will find it psychologically impossible to swallow.
Professor Mitsyuki Ikeda is said to have found a way to convert human sewage into food, the charmingly named turdburger. At least that was the story that flooded the Internet and selected TV and newspaper outlets recently, but a few skeptical individuals, including those who actually have some knowledge of human biology, have exposed the story as a sophisticated if stomach-churning hoax. This should come as no surprise to anyone who is the slightest bit au fait with Oriental wit; Koreans and Japanese especially have been known to exhibit a truly bizarre sense of humour.
Having said that, any substance that is heated sufficiently will break down into its constituent elements – that is what happens in the Sun – so if scientists can find a way of bringing about Solar temperatures first in the laboratory and then on an industrial scale, we can dispose of not simply sewage but all toxic waste by plasmafying it and discharging it into the atmosphere. This would be a task for nuclear physicists rather than for turdologists, but in view of the Japanese nuclear experience – historical and contemporary – we will almost certainly have to look elsewhere for the development of that technology.