Killing Cooking: The Rise of Unnecessary Food Tech

 

Can't find Time to Cook? 

If you, (comma) like us, find yourself in the endless scroll of Buzzfeed-style listicles, you’ve probably noticed that someone is always trying to “hack” health and productivity. We’ve known that Americans are often overworked and, resultantly, make poor lifestyle choices when it comes to food. When it comes to finding the time to shop for or prepare a nutritionally balanced meal, most of us come up short.

The hive-mind of the internet has given us some pathways forward, of course. Weekly meal-prepping strategies, slow-cooker recipes, and meal-delivery services have all attempted to solve our dietary woes and time limitations at varying levels of financial involvement. The latest trend in tech-assisted food preparation comes in the form of a smart “oven” which can be programmed to perfectly cook pre-prepared dishes using a range of heating methods.

 

Reheating Revelations

The two main contenders in this new category are called Suvie and Tovala. Each machine retails (or will retail) for around $500 and occupies the counter space equivalent to a large microwave. Owners are encouraged to purchase pre-prepared meals which the machine can cook with a simple scan, though there are some capabilities which allow one to cook their own ingredients.

According to initial reviews, the machines work as expected, producing well-balanced and flavorful bites in around 30 minutes (give or take, depending on the recipe) through a process of baking, steaming, and magic. Reviewers said that the result was far less soggy than a microwaved meal, and the convenience of starting the cooking process via smartphone app was a good way to save time.

But, here at the Studio, something doesn’t seem right about all this. Why are we putting our resources towards this kind of technology when we could simply learn a skill like cooking which, in turn, can help build a sense of self-worth? Furthermore, why are we so focused on a technology with such blatant limitations?

The Traditional Advantage

A professional chef comes equipped with a lot of desirable knowledge which can help make meal preparation faster. Keeping a clean prep station (mise en place) and a decent knowledge of different foods/techniques are huge timesavers. Equipment like Suvie and Tuvala let us bypass their technical limitations, but they don’t give us the tools to actually cook better.

Granted, one may improve your knowledge of completed dishes with a smart “oven” by using it, but that does little to help your skills with a frying pan. And, frankly, skill provides a sense of purpose and self-worth. In a world full of people chasing ‘experiences’ that hope to fulfill some sense of ‘self’, we might be a lot better off learning and practicing some basic skills instead.

The Proof is in the Portions

The boon to these products might be eked out in the healthy, portion-controlled, pre-prepared meals, which admittedly provide a much healthier alternative to many microwave options. But there are trade offs here too. Like most frozen things, meals from Suvie and Tuvala can be cooked in a microwave oven. Will they taste as good as if they were cooked in the $500 piece of equipment they were made for? Probably not. The difference is you, like over 98% of American households, probably have a microwave already and it probably did not cost you $500.

A History of Useless

This wave of smart “oven” technology is just the latest in strange food fads. Remember the Juicero? Top Silicon Valley investors—smart people among them—invested over $120 million in that company. The Juicero product wasn’t all that different from the Suvie or Tuvala. A basic subscription would provide the consumer with plastic bags containing fresh fruit juices and a $400 wifi-enabled, juice ‘press’ squeezed the juice from the bag into a cup...all with a simple smartphone app! Healthy + Convenient = Good idea right? When people realized that the juice was just as well squeezed out of the bag by hand (and free of charge), the mirage of usefulness evaporated and the company went belly-up.

Though new smart “oven” products do more than apply pressure to a juice-filled bag, they still feel like overpriced microwaves with more limitations than actual applications. And though they pose a time-saving benefit to some, the biggest benefits will probably be seen by the companies themselves, once they lock enough customers into their subscription service. Great business model, bad life experience.

Delicious, but not Diverse

Heat-and-eat meals also serve to limit our options since they must be made to appeal to a wide audience. You’re far more likely to find a lemon chicken breast meal than a spicy curry dish, for example. This limitation isn’t malicious, but does necessitate a homogeneous range of ingredients and flavors that deemphasize the diverse cultural traditions that have made America a culinary powerhouse. Why narrow our horizons in favor of convenience? Couldn’t we broaden them instead with basic skills and a rewarding progression up self-directed ladders of complexity? Putting a few containers of food in a machine is easier, but is it as fulfilling as eating the fruits (or vegetables) of your labor?

Practice: The Real Timesaver

So, rather spending a boatload of money on this new tech, here’s our "hack" for healthier, faster cooking: learn some basics, find a recipe, and cook it. Practice your cooking. Dedicate time to making meals that taste good and provide the range of nutrition to you need to thrive. Allow yourself to fail and congratulate yourself when you succeed. We’re not saying you need to master the art and science of cooking.

Your knowledge of preparing a variety of meals will afford you more freedom in what you cook and enrich you with skills that fulfill your body, mind, heart and soul.