As in the title of the question: Is it possible to make food without plants, animals, bacteria?

I'm asking because I consider plants as living things as well and I do not want to eat living things.

Similar question has also been asked on Quora here but I thought it's worthwhile asking it here as well. Also, something might have changed since then.

  • 2
    Thanks for the question! Asking for movement name suggestions is off topic for Stack Exchange. You can improve your question by removing that portion.
    – nloewen
    Mar 20, 2017 at 0:50
  • Just noting - your body is exploiting bacteria and will die if you try to remove the bacteria. No, this can't be replaced by "science" unless you build yourself a robot body and brain. Also, unless you kill every living being on Earth, you will always be trampling and killing said living beings no matter what you do.
    – Nobody
    Mar 21, 2017 at 20:53

2 Answers 2


Plants, and some protoctists (algae, for example) use the sun's energy to fix carbon from the air (photosynthesis). Because the resulting compounds can release energy when they react with oxygen (or are otherwise broken down), animals can use these compounds inside their bodies to release energy for their own purposes.

Thus, the ultimate foundations of all food chains are plants, which is why they are sometimes called "producers" - they produce biomass using simple raw materials and the sun's energy.

You could eat algae or fungi (which includes yeast) which are neither plant, animal nor bacteria, but those are living things too...

Animals, fungi and bacteria all depend on plant (or protoctist) biomass for their energy needs, either by taking nourishment from plants directly, being parasitic on organisms that take nourishment from plants, or decomposing dead organisms that were nourished on plants.

Thus, it's not possible to get calories and other necessary nutrients without eating plants or eaters of plants, without eating living things. Photosynthesis is the only viable way to create material that can yield those nutrients.

Bacteria live inside us and on every living and non-living surface (unless sterilzed - by killing them) and in the air. We cannot avoid killing them, eating them or otherwise interacting with them.

So the answer to your question is no.

Some fruitarians try to eat in a way that minimises harm to plants, for example by only eating fruit that has fallen from the tree and so on, but such a limited diet would not be possible in the long term because of nutrient deficiencies (not to mention the impracticality of obtaining a constant supply of such foods).

  • I know that you cannot completely avoid killing bacteria but you can try to minimize it. Also, is it not possible to replicate photosynthesis in the lab and take things from there? Mar 19, 2017 at 12:20
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    @PetarVasilev presumably you could artificially create sugars etc in a lab, but that would require a lot of energy input - it would be astronomically expensive on a dietary requirement scale and where would the energy come from?
    – Zanna
    Mar 19, 2017 at 13:01
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    I guess it would be expensive but maybe the cost could be reduced in the future. There is some research going on on the subject: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Mar 19, 2017 at 13:05
  • @PetarVasilev Maybe with nuclear fusion or something. But I think your approach here risks harm to living things in other ways... surely it would not be possible for everyone to eat synthesised nutrients, and what about the strain on the environment from the energy input required, which would impact living organisms too?
    – Zanna
    Mar 19, 2017 at 13:11
  • Nuclear fusion sounds good. About the other stuff we have no idea how those technologies might work so it's even more speculative to talk about whether they would harm the living organisms or not. On another note, regarding the energy input - apparently photosynthesis is efficient enough maybe there is a similar process that is roughly the same efficiency but doesn't involve living organisms, in theory this sounds probable to me but let's leave it to science. Mar 19, 2017 at 13:21

I will try to answer from feasibility perspective.

Short answer: currently, there are no ways to obtain food from "scratch" (no plants or animals involved).

Longer answer:

This Quora answer dives a little into the details, so that we understand why it is so hard to synthesize food:

If we were to make foods chemically, you would have to obtain the chemicals from somewhere. Currently, most chemicals are derived from crude oil. Given current chemistry technology, it would be insanely expensive to synthesize food from oil.

If you had a molecular machine that could pull carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen from the air and assemble it into fats, proteins, etc, it would probably be economical. Of course, no such machine exists.

This problem is also approached by this very old article about synthetic and artificial food products:

Synthetic food products are derived from chemically synthesized food substances. In principle, modern synthetic organic chemistry permits the synthesis of any food substance from chemical elements. However, the complexity of synthesizing high-molecular-weight compounds, which include food bio-polymers, especially proteins and polysaccharides (starch and cellulose), makes the production of synthetic food products economically unfeasible at present. For this reason, chiefly low-molecular-weight compounds, such as vitamins and amino acids, are synthesized. Synthetic amino acids and combinations of them are added to natural food products to increase their protein content and are also used in dietotherapy, for example, in the intravenous feeding of patients when normal eating is difficult or impossible.

So, while theoretically we can produce any substance from the food starting from minerals, it is far from being economically viable.

  • So food synthesis is possible and has been done in a lab?
    – nloewen
    Mar 20, 2017 at 13:34
  • Generally speaking, no. But simpler part of it, like vitamins and other compounds, yes.
    – Alexei
    Mar 20, 2017 at 13:35

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