In Star Trek, You Eat Your Own Poop: Or, Replicators Explained

Of course, “Star Trek” technology requires limitations, otherwise a lot of dramatic tension would be broken. It’s been implied many times over various Trek series that replicators require a lot of energy to operate. Hence, a prankster can’t program a replicator to keep making food until the ship’s hallways fill with SpaghettiOs and the hull begins to buckle. This notion was reinforced by the events of “Star Trek: Voyager,” which saw its title ship stranded 70 years from home. To save energy, replicator access was rationed, a hydroponics bay was erected, and a galley was built. The ship needed a sustainable food source, and replicators weren’t it. This became an issue when Captain Janeway’s beloved coffee beans were nowhere to be found. 

It’s also repeated throughout Trek that replicated food … isn’t that good. Several characters note that they can taste when food is synthesized, leading to many amateur chefs trying their hand at cooking in their quarters. It seems some galley equipment is always on hand, just in case. Replicators, though, seem to leave little room for culinary alteration of its programs.

As previously noted in the pages of /Film, alcohol cannot be produced by a replicator. Ancillary technical manuals also explain that poisons can’t be replicated. Although whether or not benign ingredients for one species may be poisonous to another hasn’t yet been addressed in canon. Perhaps the replicators make foods that are acceptable to every digestive system on the ship. 

Replicators are also only capable of replicating smaller objects. No one on “Star Trek” has ever been seen replicating anything larger than a coffee table book. One cannot replicate, for instance, an entire starship.

Of course, if you can replicate a starship, you’d likely be so powerful that you wouldn’t need to.

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