Star Trek: Discovery has revealed where replicated food in the 32nd century comes from, and it's disgusting to some fans. SPOILERS for the Star Trek: Discovery episode "There Is a Tide…" follow. Much of the episode focuses on a diplomatic meeting between Admiral Vance, the head of Starfleet representing the United Federation of Planets, and Minister Osyraa, representing the Emerald Chain. Like any good host, Vance offers Osyraa food to snack on during their negotiations. Knowing that the Federation replicates its food, Osyraa comments that the apple doesn't taste right compared to the real thing. Vance remarks that he's never eaten a naturally grown apple. He also explains that, like all of their food, what they're currently eating is replicated from "sh*t."
Replicators can create anything by rearranging atoms, but it can't make new matter. That's against the laws of physics. During more prosperous eras, there were matter mixtures developed and used specifically for food replicators.
The 32nd century isn't such a prosperous time. After the damage done by the Burn, the Federation's resources are limited. Replicator matter is an indulgence it can't afford, and thus it repurposes waste as food. As Vance says, "That's the base material that we use in our replicators. We deconstruct it to the atomic level and then reform the atoms. It's pretty good for sh*t, and we don't have to commit atrocities for it." The last bit is drawing a clear distinction between the Federation and the Emerald Chain.
Osyraa comes close to convincing Vance to agree to an alliance between their governments. The sticking point turns out to be Osyraa standing trial for her crimes, which she will not do. Given what Janet Kidder, who plays Osyraa, told ComicBook.com about the character, this makes sense.
Kidder says Osyraa wants "The best for her people" and wants is motivated by the desire "to create a powerful and a strong empire for the race that was typically enslaved. I think that her motivation is not born out of evilness, but it is born out of wanting to be at the helm of something that is real and is different. It's changing, evolving, and changing in this world of sci-fi. She wants to create something that's going to remain. That's going to make her people safe and that she sits at the table with all the important people in this world. So yeah. I think it's about just striving to support her people. And I'm not saying that she makes the best choices in doing that. She's a tough cookie, but she definitely feels that she's doing it for the best for her people."
Star Trek: Discovery's third season finale debuts Thursday, January 7th, on CBS All Access.