Evan Huggins
industrial design & technology

Thesis Blog: The Food Chain

MAKE: Personal Rice Cooker

This rice cooker would utilize the flat pack food storage containers I developed last fall to make whole grain lunch prep simple and mess free for a couple or individual. 

MAKEEvan HugginsComment
MAKE: Spice Mixer

This artifact is meant to represent a larger concept: the idea of custom spice and sauce mixtures that are automatically packed into singles serving packets (similar to BBQ sauce at a fast food restaurant). This could be particularly useful for salad dressing. The mixer could be an in-home appliance, but it probably makes more sense as larger machine at the supermarket. The scale would make it possible to include a huge number of spices, oils, and other sauces. Cost savings and convenience (maybe i only want a couple ounces of soy sauce) would drive sales. 

MAKEEvan HugginsComment
WRITE: Death, Sex, and Food. America, I Love You

The following is a mashup of three passages. One from Bruce Sterling's Shaping Things, one from Raj Patel's Stuffed and Starved, the Hidden Battle for the World Food System, and a previous passage of my own writing. No sentence was kept fully intact and I inserted additional word/thoughts/diatribes. 

It is the automobile’s silent compatriot. In it, shoppers resembled nothing so much as rats in a maze. So why should I, the buyer, be followed around the Internet on banner adds and in paid search results? I pay a price for that in personal brainpower. 

This is not a consensual hallucination. It is virtual harassment and seems, to me, to constitute the domination of intelligent machines over my mind. (Teyssot, 230) Command over the body certainly follows and is already evident in big data’s marriage to healthcare, GPS navigation, and Japanese sexbots. The body is a battleground where appetites of sex and hunger spar with death fueled by lust and greed. (Milton, 201) If people could download doughnuts as easily as they can search for porn, the population would be much fatter.  

In the iconography of the information age there’s no one to talk to, and the store is designed first and foremost to drag me into the digital mire. The internal geography of what was, ultimately, the first consumption factory with its cages for young children’s squirming legs and inebriated teenagers drag racing the produce section is all melted down in the informational stew. 

No matter how well seasoned, this stew is still just information. Is there some point at which enough information amasses that it becomes knowledge? No. Not automatically at least. But what, exactly, is knowledge? For the purpose of this inquiry, I will call knowledge the intelligent compilation of information into a set of principles or guidelines that could be utilized by someone unfamiliar with the original information to pursue a defined goal. The nature of this goal is where the concept of wisdom enters the arena. For whom and for what purpose is the goal being pursued? If, “It is not clear who makes and who is made in the relation between human and machine” as Donna Haraway posits in her “Cyborg Manifesto,” then who or what is directing the online grocery shopper to make choices that will lead to health for his/her human body? (Teyssot, 230)

What's the difference whether the treasure is money, or property, or even culture, or even just plain knowledge? It all seemed like exactly the same thing to me, if you take off the wrapping—and it still does! Sometimes I think that knowledge—when it's knowledge for knowledge's sake, anyway—is the worst of all. The least excusable, certainly. 

                    -Franny Glass (Salinger, 179)

As the act of grocery shopping moves steadily from supermarket to smartphone, the physical acts that make up a trip to the store will be lost. Then I’ll have to think less, or more hastily, or more sketchily, about the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.


Work Cited

Milton, John, and Masson, David. Paradise Lost. Folcroft, PA: Folcroft Library Editions, 1972. Print.

Patel, Raj. Stuffed and Starved, the Hidden Battle for the World Food System. Brooklyn: Melville House P, 2008. Print.

Salinger, J. D. Franny and Zooey. Boston: Little, Brown, 1961. Print.

Sterling, Bruce. Shaping Things. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2012

Teyssot, Georges. A Topology of Everyday Constellations. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013. Print.

Evan HugginsWRITEComment
WRITE: The Shopping Cart Archetype

Overconsumption of high-fat and sugar-laden foods is a problem for people in the United States because it contributes to obesity, diabetes, and heart decease. The ubiquitous shopping cart contributes to this problem by encouraging grocery store customers to purchase more than they need. In much the same way that Clarence Saunders’ chain of Piggly Wiggly stores, which first opened in 1916, became an archetype for the supermarket, the first shopping cart, invented by Sylvan Goldman in 1937, created an archetypical category so ubiquitous that it permeates a majority of the retail environment in 2016.  

An archetype according to Deyan Sudjic must have “a form that is distinctive enough to successfully create a new category of object.” This form is usually born out of a combination of necessity and ingenuity. In the case of the shopping cart, the advent of the supermarket combined with the spread of commercial refrigeration and synthetic preservatives allowed shoppers to store food for much longer without the worry of spoilage. With these technological advances, a psychological barrier to buying larger quantities of food was overcome, but a very physical one remained: the amount one could comfortably carry around the store in a wire mesh basket.  Goldman, an Oklahoma supermarket tycoon, could see his customers heading to the register not because they were done shopping, but because they’d filled the basket or it had become uncomfortably heavy. He was struck with a moment of ingenuity late one night when he realized a folding chair with wheels and two basket holders could be made into a collapsible cart. Thus was born the “Folding Basket Carrier,” and with it the shopping cart archetype. With the exception of the automobile,
it is difficult to find a single object that more profoundly shaped consumer habits in the 20th century. 

Despite its importance in driving consumer spending and its culture prevalence as a universal signifier of commerce in both an industrial and post industrial sense, the shopping cart has receive little attention from designers. Unlike lamps and chairs, designers are not ruthlessly competing to create the next iconic shopping cart.  In fact, the design has remained relatively unchanged in an aesthetic sense since Orla Watson’s incorporation of a folding back to create the “Telescoping Cart” in 1946. 

The cart is utility manifest. It is modernity without pretention. It is the automobile’s silent compatriot allowing for the deleterious distribution of goods to consumers at a previously unimaginable pace. And, it is other things: the cage for young childrens’ squirming legs, the mother’s reliever of jars broken in aisles, the vagrants roaming bottle collector, the car denting parking lot culprit, the inebriated teenagers produce section drag racer. 
Although it permeates the American psyche, if a random cross section of the public were surveyed about their emotional relationship to the cart, it is highly unlikely that even one person would elicit a strong affective response. However, when researchers Mihai Niculescu and Collin R. Payne from New Mexico State University added mirrors to the shopping carts in an El Paso supermarket they made an interesting discovery. People who could see an image of themselves while shopping would buy 10% more fruits and vegetables. While the cart itself seems banal, it is the vehicle for food and thereby for the relationship between body image, health and consumption. This is surely one of the most deeply affective relationships that exist in modern American society. 

Like many ubiquitous objects of the 20th century, the shopping cart has been seamlessly integrated into the iconography of the information age. Carts on Amazon.com are infinitely large and checkout line displays follow customers around the Internet on banner adds and in paid search results. The temptation of an impulse buy is now at everyone’s fingertips even as they sit to read the morning paper. As the act of grocery shopping moves steadily from supermarket to smartphone the physical acts that make up a trip to the store will be lost. With them, so many affordances will slip away and even the minimal positive feedback loops that exist in the current supermarket model, such as seeing that one’s cart is glaringly sparse on vegetables, will be gone. If signifiers intended to nudge shoppers toward healthier choices are not built into the online grocery shopping experience, the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease will surely grow worse.    




Works Cited

Crockett, Zachary. “How a Basket on Wheels Revolutionized Grocery Shopping,” Priceeconomic.com, 2016.

Moss, Michael “Nudged to the Produce Aisle by a Look in the Mirror,” The New York Times, 2013.

Norman, Don. The Design of Everyday Things. Philadelphia: Perseus Books, 2013.

Patel, Raj. Stuffed and Starved, the Hidden Battle for the World Food System. Brooklyn: Melville House Publishing, 2008.

Sudjic, Deyan. “Design and its Archetypes” The Language of Things: Understanding The World of Desirable Object. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.



WRITEEvan HugginsComment
WRITE: A History of Wanting

As an initial mode of inquiry into our cultural attitudes toward food, I explored my feelings and assumptions about Blue Apron dinners with a pastiche of Barthe’s essay “The New Citroën.” This little nugget of self-righteous banter reaches its crescendo in the passage transposed below.

But, oh! The sweetness of diminished cognitive load does hum in our collective ear. To never enter the grocery store again. What joy! And then also why not forgo cooking completely. Perhaps carrots could be plucked from the ground by drones, sliced mid-flight, and dropped directly into app-controlled frying pans. The post-war dream of TV dinner finally realized in the local food era as the Jetsons’ Rosie wheels in to wash, rinse and sanitize the remaining dirty dishes.

This passage rings with a variety of assumptions from overt to subcutaneous. The ironic tone presupposes that the reader would not prefer this fully automated future, while simultaneously admitting that the writer (ME!) sort of / kind of admires that future.  Sentence two assumes the reader is busy, that the reader suffers from choice fatigue, that she FEELS OVERWHELMED. Sentence three asserts, without mentioning why, that the reader dislikes grocery shopping, whether the edifice itself or the act of shopping is unclear. Sentences four and five suppose the reader is living in 2016 and, at a minimum, understands the basic functioning of drones and apps both literally and societally. The final sentence assumes the reader is cognizant of American popular culture in the not so distant past.

After this quick dissection of the obvious assumptions, two short and explicative sentences remain. While seemingly innocuous, “But, oh!” and “What joy!” pick at a deeper assumption about advertising and control in American consumer culture. They attempt to utilize the same language that TV and radio advertisements have recycled for decades—a simple exclamation intended to appeal to the visceral.

The visceral speaks to the consumer/reader’s “lizard brain” inspiring a subconscious desire to satisfy base cravings. Behavioral level needs (food) and visceral level desires (Pop Tarts®) are corralled by the immaterial advertisement and linked to a physical place, the supermarket.

Few modern people realize that supermarkets are patented inventions. The process of self-service, or picking one’s own items from the shelf, is little more than 100 years old. Prior to this, goods were kept behind closed gates. Clerks took their clients’ lists and retrieved all desired food items from the back. Clerks didn’t impulse buy for you.

In early supermarkets, shoppers were required to follow a zig-zag maze from entry to cash register. Along the way, they would pass every single item for sale in the store. “In plan view,” says Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved, the Hidden Battle for the World Food System, “the internal geography of the store balanced stock control with the communicative architecture of what was, ultimately, the first consumption factory.”

Over the years, store designs have relaxed giving shoppers the “freedom” to dart in and out of aisles or simply circle the stores perimeter if desired. This only occurred after consumers “internalized the cost saving measures of the self-service.” So now, when Joe Shopper is on his way home from work and his car radio exclaims that Anderson Erickson Milk and Pop Tarts® on sale at Safeway, a series mediators is engages beginning with the visceral feeling of elation. The relationship between the advertisement and the feeling is necessarily subconscious. Next, a conscious thought occurs, Gee, I really need some milk and eggs. Then subconsciously, where do I get milk and eggs? The supermarket. Safeway. 

Joe turns his car toward the supermarket. He enters through double automatic doors, an airlock keeping ALL THIS FRESHNESS safe from the outside world. Joe knows the milk and eggs are in the far back corner. He doesn’t need to have been to this store or even to a Safeway brand store to know this. It is part of the collective consciousness, of the mise en scene of our time and place. To get to the milk, Joe successfully navigates piles of apples and onions, but when he stumbles upon the Soda–Mazing Crush Orange Pop-Tarts® it is just too much for him and two boxes end up in his basket. Joe hangs a right into the snack aisle and ends up with a full basket. On his way to the register he notices an interesting headline in People and quietly grabs a King Size Snickers®. It isn’t until he is back in the car that Joe realizes he’s forgotten the milk and eggs.

The advertisement sets off a chain of mediators that ALWAYS ends at a row of registers. Despite a more relaxed floor plan, the “factory for consumption” is alive and well. This is because “consumerism today has constructed us, built consuming people at the same time as building consumer goods.”

Affordance in design—the relationship between a physical object and a person—is both resultant of the world in which it resides and simultaneously creates that world. In the supermarket context affordance is defined as all physical arrangements that exist between a shopper and merchandise. This affordance must be based in an ordering of things, in, as Foucault says, “categories that make it possible for us to name, speak, and think.” An entire pseudo academic field known as ‘atmoshperics’ has emerged to study the exact anatomy of the retail environment. Atmoshpericists would, for instance, study the relationship of a musical tempo to shopping patterns. What the modern shopper could not possible comprehend is how thoroughly the affordances of their experience within the supermarket have been sculpted to maximize profit.

Aimee Lee Ball’s piece in New York Time Style Magazine entitled, “The Anti Packaging Movement,” studies manifestations of zero waste grocery stores across Europe. On the surface of things she shows how the zero waste experience differs  only slightly from ‘regular’ grocery shopping, but she sidesteps the history of the supermarket and the internalization of self-shopping categories that make it possible for the modern shopper to name, speak, and think. There is “nothing hippieish” about these stores, Ms. Ball assures her reader, urging them that the aesthetics of zero waste shopping will trump the supermarket experience. “The bins of caramels and quinoa and arrangements of olives and honey are at eye level, essentially advertising themselves, their actual shapes and colors replacing photos on packages.” This beliefs that a foods “actual shapes and colors” will automatically signify its intended use is based in pre-supermarket episteme—an ordering of the world that has been battered so ruthlessly by the coalesced forces of advertisement, food science, and atmospherics, that is scarcely exists in 2016, particularly in lower socioeconomic sectors.

When Foucault wrote The Order of Things, these forces were relatively new. Could the internalization of ‘self shopping’ that ultimately upended and redefined the entire world of retail sales have pushed us into a new epistemetic era? Might the ordering of our consumptive habits be so completely different that food, sitting in a bin, free of words and photographs, no longer signify itself?


Works Cited

Ball, Aimee Lee. “The Anti-Packaging Movement,” The New York Times Style Magazine, 2016.

Foucault, Michel. “Preface” The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Trans: Les Mots et les Choses. New York: Random House, 1970.

Norman, Don. The Design of Everyday Things. Philadelphia: Perseus Books, 2013.

Patel, Raj. Stuffed and Starved, the Hidden Battle for the World Food System. Brooklyn: Melville House Publishing, 2008.

WRITEEvan HugginsComment
WRITE: Episteme, Affordance and the Lumberjack

Episteme, according to Foucault, is the boundary of acceptable knowledge in its given time and place. This applies to all modalities of inquiry that are not based solely on empirical data. For the sake of clarity, let us compare episteme to a circumstance in which rules and objectives are very defined:

If the pursuit of a certain set of knowledge were equated to players in a game of football, then the boundaries of the field and rules of the game would constitute the “episteme” of the game. However, it would not end with these obvious constraints. The barometric pressure, humidity, and temperature would all contribute to the epistemetic boundaries of play, as would unspoken rules of conduct and honor. The location of play, known as “home field advantage” and each team’s history and culture would further complicate the epistemetic boarders.

The analogy of a game is apt in this circumstance because the pursuit of knowledge is in itself a sort of exalted game—one that gains credibility by deliberately subverting its own rules. The aggregated sum of these rules (both subverted and overt) then coalesces to form the episteme of a given epoch. “When we establish a considered classification,” Foucault says, “when we say that a cat and a dog resemble each other less than two greyhounds do, even if both are tame or embalmed, even if both are frenzied, even if both have just broken the water pitcher, what is the ground on which we are able to establish the validity of this classification with complete certainty?” That ground, fertile with the seeds of a multitude of shared presuppositions, is the episteme of a given era and invariably lays the foundation for the affordance of objects designed and built in that era.

According to Norman, affordance refers to the “relationship between a physical object and a person.” Because it is neither the skills/traits of a person nor the properties of an object, but rather the relationship between the two, affordance is invariably in flux. An object-person set may have certain characteristics that the same object may not have with another person or with the same person on a different day.

For instance, in the U.S. a standard sheet of plywood measures 4’ x 8’. It has an affordance of being easily handled by men of average build. But, for a shorter man or average height woman, the 4’ width makes it very difficult to maneuver. This is no accident; lumber standardizations were deliberately designed with a specific affordance in mind—the optimized relationship between the prefabricated sheeting material (constrained only by mechanical properties of the mill) and the construction worker (presupposed to be a man of average or greater size).

While the affordances of dimensional lumber standards developed out of the realities of the milling and construction industries in1924, they also predetermined a plentitude of future anti-affordances, both mechanical and social. The predominance of men as the only workers in the field, long supported by social, political, and familial systems was thus reinforced physically. Design of all future machinery would adhere to new set of affordances that relied on a much more tightly constrained set of objects (dimensional lumber) and thereby implicitly devalued the subject (carpenter), who’s skillset of fitting joinery was no longer as important.

In this way, affordances in design are both resultant of the world in which they reside and simultaneously create that world. In much the same way, knowledge both creates and is held captive by the episteme of a given era. In this context, knowledge is defined as a body of learning that is perceived as absolute truth. Affordance is defined as possible physical arrangements that conceivably exist between a person and an object. However, inherent in both of these definitions is the presupposition that one’s understanding of the absolute and the possible is correct. This certainty must be based in an ordering of things, in, as Foucault says, “categories that make it possible for us to name, speak, and think.” In short, both knowledge and affordance must be based in episteme.


Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. “Preface” The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences.Trans: Les Mots et les Choses. New York: Random House, 1970.

Norman, Don. The Design of Everyday Things. Philadelphia: Perseus Books, 2013.

Smith, W. and Wood, W. “History of Yard Lumber Size Standards” Madison, Wisconsin: Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 196

Evan HugginsComment