Elon Musk’s plan for a colony on Mars poses numerous questions for those of us without such lofty intergalactic ambitions. To name but a few: How? Why? Really? But for some food scientists, there is another question at play. How would we eat when we’re there? The topic is the discussion on the latest episode of BBC’s Instant Genius podcast (available now) which examines the future of food on this planet and others.

For any Martian meat-eater, things don’t look rosy. The food system there will be “extremely vegetarian”, according to Evan Fraser, director of the Arrell Food Institute and co-author of the book ‘Dinner on Mars’, with perhaps fish the only source of animal protein, where it could be kept in shared water systems in tanks alongside rice. The reasons are obvious really.“Cows don’t travel well in space and chickens don’t travel well in space,” Fraser points out. “The radiation is also punishing.”

Lab-grown meat could also be on the table as researchers and food companies continue their race to get the new-age products to market. As Fraser explains, for all the recent hype over meat grown from stem cells, the more likely option is now “precision fermentation”, an approach that uses micro-organisms to metabolise starch into protein.

While the technique is already used by the likes of Impossible Foods due to its technical simplicity and lower barriers to regulatory approval and public acceptance, Fraser argues we are entering a “golden age of food science” as product developers figure out how to turn these ingredients into something everyone wants. Still, both on Earth and Mars, there is clearly a way to go before the future arrives.