I have nothing but respect for my fellow food writers, and in particular the wonderful kids at the Times Picayune (TP). Though I have been writing about food semi-professionally for a while now, I do not claim to understand the business of journalism. So I do not judge the TP for republishing a story that first appeared in the Washington Post (WP) Real Estate section titled, “Seven appliances that show where home cooking is heading.”
I fear that headline is misleading, as the appliances discussed in the article are not where home cooking is heading, unless we are all heading in a very bad direction. For example, the first appliance, Hello Egg, appears to be some sort of robot that, well, let’s let the article describe it:
This cleverly designed voice-operated device aims to take the hassle out of home cooking, especially when you have a busy schedule. Simply place Hello Egg on your kitchen counter and start talking to it. Its playful animated eye mimics facial expressions by blinking. The virtual assistant will help plan weekly meals according to dietary preferences, organize shopping lists, order grocery delivery, provide recipe videos and back you up with a 24/7 cooking experts team.
Hello Egg, according to the WP, starts at $120, with a premium version going for $350. I honestly can’t tell you whether that’s a one-time cost or some sort of monthly subscription, though I’ll admit I’ve only spent around 10 minutes on the product’s website. It seems to do a lot more than what’s described above, and maybe it’s just right for you, but that seems a bit steep.
Here is my advice if you are thinking of buying a small robot to help you cook and/or buy groceries: sit down with your family one evening after dinner and ask them what they want to eat. Write down what they tell you. Cross off things that you don’t want to cook, are not within your budget, or are not edible. For the rest, write down a grocery list, go to the grocery and buy the things on the list, then cook them.
Next up, the GeniCan. Again, here’s an excerpt:
Of all the mundane things to do in the kitchen, keeping a grocery shopping list is probably one of them. But in the world of smart technology, that’s the inspiration for GeniCan, a device that almost makes throwing away trash fun.
You see, the GeniCan scans things as you throw them away, so that you know to order more of the things you’ve thrown away! If that’s not your idea of fun, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Sure, you could just pay attention to what you use, and need, and buy things when you need them, but where’s the fun in that? And to think you can get a scanner attached to your trash can for only $149! WHAT A WORLD WE LIVE IN. Seriously, this started out as a lark, and it has taken a very dark turn. I don’t know that I want to live in a world where people can only figure out what they need to buy because their f’ing trash can tells them they just threw away the last of the truffled honey butter macadamia nuts. Damnit.
The next “appliance” that shows where home cooking is heading is the PantryChic. As I am writing this piece, it occurs to me that I have made some very serious mistakes in my life, because I am writing this piece instead of inventing products whereby I could charge people $299.95 for three containers that will dispense ingredients in “precisely measured portions” without the need for measuring cups, spoons or scales. That’s three whole containers, in three different sizes, included in your $299.95 order, which by my math comes out to roughly “you have more money than you have sense if you buy this” per container. Please note that’s an estimate, and that I am not very good at math.
SproutsIO is a grow system that reminds me of advertisements I read in the back of Rolling Stone magazine when I was in college for a system used to grow… plants indoors. Unlike the Phototron, SproutsIO seems to be serious about growing food, rather than federally-prohibited plants, but the promises are about as grandiose as the ones I recall from the back-page ads. Perhaps both products are as good as they claim, and I don’t remember what the Phototron cost, but I know it wasn’t equipped with “WiFi connectivity, sensors for monitoring plant and ambient conditions, a camera, LED lighting and an electronic mister.” Because screw all you peasants with the analog mister. The product also comes with software and six months’ worth of seed refills.
Six months’ worth of seed refills? Meaning you better re-up your seed subscription tout suite, fella, less you want to be short the salad’s worth of hydroponic arugula you just paid $799 for the privilege of watching grow on your cell phone like your arugula was a child you also didn’t want to actually interact with in person.
As I’m writing this, I keep thinking surely one of these products won’t fill me with angst over the state of humanity. Nope. Though I will say it won’t get much worse than the SproutIO.
This next one sounded great at first. Don’t believe me? Check out Alchema.
Make your own craft cider at home with this cool countertop brewing machine that turns fresh fruit into alcohol and creates hard cider, mead or wine. Simply choose a recipe on the app, add fruit, sugar, water and a yeast packet.
I love that idea. I have been researching how to make cider and wine at home for a while now, and it’s always seemed like a daunting task that, additionally, I fear will poison me if I mess something up. So the idea that I could buy a device that would simplify the process for me was attractive. Until I saw that it cost $499.99. Suddenly, the prospect of brewing cider in a bucket in my back yard seemed more appealing. Additionally, I figured it must not be all that hard, if all you have to do is drop some stuff in an “appliance” and wait a couple of weeks.
Granted, my bucket in the back yard will not update me hourly on the fermentation process, nor does my bucket allow me to choose from dozens of recipes to pick the one that’s got just the right balance of sweetness, acid and arrogance, but my bucket will not judge me. I fear the Alchema, would.
I swear this seemed like a good idea when I started writing it. Now I’m just freaking worn down by the idiocy of it all. How about this, then? It’s called Hestan Cue, which is not a character on "Downton Abbey," but a “connected cookware system” that uses Bluetooth technology to cook your damn food for you:
Using Bluetooth technology and embedded sensors, the smart saute pan, induction burner and recipe app work in unison to assist you in every phase of the cooking process, all with the satisfaction of knowing the products will never burn your food.
Listen, Buttercup, I encourage people to cook, and to cook at their own speed. But if you can’t stomach the thought you might burn something, and you need Bluetooth technology with embedded sensors to avoid screwing up your boneless, skinless chicken breast? ORDER TAKEOUT. This particular travesty costs $649.95, but if you are a slightly less an idiot than those people who pay retail, you can get an early bird special for $549.95.
Last, but honestly not least – I’d have to give that award to the trash can scanner – is for people who want a Keurig for cocktails. I know Keurigs are popular. I bought my wife one at her request a couple of years ago. Know where it is now? NEITHER DOES SHE. So I suppose you can pay $499 for a machine called without irony the Somabar, that approximates the ease-of-use of the Keurig, but with alcohol.
Now that may sound stupid, and it is, but bear in mind that your $499 buys you not only the appliance, but also six refill pods, which hold liquor and mixers, are removable and dishwasher-safe. Six? That’s hardly a party. Like the rest of the things on this list, there is a website with beautiful, happy people enjoying the product or having a very good time while standing adjacent to it.
I started out this evening thinking, “I’ll just have a laugh about how silly these things are.” Now I’m depressed. Who needs a freaking trash can scanner to know when you need to buy more milk? Who? How is that useful? Because while I’m sure I’m selling the technology short, the last thing I want to do is pretend to be in the self-service aisle at Home Depot and try to get the bar code to line up with the laser-scanner when I’m throwing away the last box of Kellog’s Rice Krispy Treats cereal I will ever eat even though it’s the best thing ever.
I started out thinking maybe I would even come up with some products that would, in their futility, subtly mock the products in the article. Turns out there is no way to subtly mock a trash can scanner, automated measuring cups, or an $800 grow lamp. Or if there is, I’m not the man to do it.
I would not use any of the products in that article, with the possible exception of the thing that makes cider, and then only if it was a gift. But I don’t know anyone foolish enough to spend $500 on something like that, and I’m glad.
If there was any doubt, by the way, I do not believe that these products show where home cooking is heading. I don’t think these products are any more indicative of where home cooking is heading than similarly inane articles predicting flying cars and so forth written in the 1920s.
I’m also aware that I’m not exactly some sort of harsh truth-teller, laying waste with my sharp-tongued wit to whichever sacred cow crosses my path at any given moment. But I have never hidden the fact that I’m not a critic, and that for the most part I write about what I like. Sometimes I damn with faint praise, but that’s my remit, kids. That’s what I do. I do not, however, try to sell you on a scanner for your garbage can.
I have my limits, it appears. If anyone out there has actually tried one of the products described above, please let me know. I will not make fun of you; at least not to your face. If you are aware of any similar products in the food/cooking area, I’d love to hear about them.