Evan Huggins
industrial design & technology

Thesis Blog: The Food Chain

WRITE: Health Food Today

The following is a pastiche based on Roland Barthes' essay "The New Citroën" 

I think that healthy food today is exactly equivalent to white tie evening wear in 19th century England: I mean the defining currency of a certain rarified class for whom food not only provides sustenance, but also acts as cultural currency. Using codified language the modern menu creates a bastion of exclusivity that, with rutabagas and dandelion greens, presses against the very boundaries of scripture.

One foolproof indicator that this phenomenon is acquiring an exclusive mystique is it’s appropriation by corporations that seek to repackage and sell it to the masses. Take, for instance, the blue apron dinner.  Here we have all the pretentions of the burgeoning “foodie” class neatly packed into boxes that arrive weekly on one’s doorstep. Like a Matryoshka doll, the layers of plastic and cardboard peel away to reveal minuscule quantities of peppercorn and olive oil.

The Modern Tech Company presupposes that one is prone to lack even the most elemental ingredients of a classic pantry. Is this true? Most likely, yes. This is why throngs of consumers have brazenly embraced a modality of cooking so thoroughly reciped that straying from the course is equated to desertion. Words, with their pesky insistence on exact quantities and precise heat levels have long dominated the home chefs psyche. With the addition of prepackaged ingredients the recipe’s suggestions become prescriptions. The preparation of food, the foreplay to eating, the stoking of appetite, cascades incrementally down the spectrum from art to science.    

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 swoops in to wash, rinse and sanitize the remaining dirty dish.

We have then entered a possible future made tangible by the new social contract, the app, and the modern servant, the machine. We are dealing here with the democratization of knowledge and The Modern Tech Company will not let you forget this. Take, for instance, the preparation of “Late-Summer Fregola Sarda.” (https://www.blueapron.com/recipes/late-summer-fregola-sarda-pasta-with-romano-beans-ricotta-crispy-capers)


The recipe page is built to be harmonious and simple, to ease the spirit, to deescalate the eternal pressing feeling that THERE IS NOT ENOUGH TIME. Thus, the first and most important statistic is listed in all caps. COOK TIME: 25-35 mins. Next, the intended situation. MAKES: 2 servings. And finally, the Holy Grail. NUTRITION: 705 calories. In three quick glances one ascertains the outer boundaries of his commitment.

Having established a working relationship, the page dives into the (hypothetical) bread and butter of the arrangement. It satisfies one’s longing to eat local by assuring him that the dish is “brimming with the seasonal flavors of Romano beans.” Then, in sly parenthesis, it panders to the gastronomically uninformed, “(a robust flat bean popular in Italy)”.  This sentiment is echoed further down the page when one is reminded to, “Never underestimate the importance of mise en place, French for "set in place."

This staccato dance from high falutin to overtly explanatory is the magnum opus of“the democratization of knowledge.” Not only will one know how to do a thing, he will know the correct French phrases to subsequently make others feel sufficiently excluded. The absurdity of this situation is drawn into focus by the fact that between statements one and two lies a video entitle, “How To: Safely Cut Round Vegetables.” Fear not, for every man may now sleep soundly in his superiority, assuaged by the knowledge that he can not only mise en place the shit out of a Romano bean, he can safely cut it too.


Work Cited:

Bather, Roland. Mythologies. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1957

http://www.lamag.com, Sherer, Josh. LA Magazine. “The 10 Most Annoying Words and Phrases on Menus, Ranked,” 2016.

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


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