Future of housework, part 3 – the kitchen I

As the statistics from part 1 showed, cooking is the most time-consuming part of housework. While cookery can undoubtedly be enjoyable, but for a lot of people, a lot of the time, it’s a routine chore that they would prefer to avoid, or at least minimize the time spent on the boring parts.

Outsourcing the work

And avoid it we have, to some extent. While there might be something to the claims that domestic kitchen technology has stagnated, we’ve collectively found an alternative – get somebody else with a spiffy commercial kitchen to do the work for us. The American Restaurant Association stated in 2000 that, on average, American adults ate out about 4.4 times per week, up from about 3.8 times per week in 1981. However, this perhaps exaggerates the extent to which home cooking has declined, as the most popular meal eaten out is lunch, usually a less elaborate meal than dinner in the USA and Australia. Meat and Livestock Australia reports that 9 out of 10 dinners are cooked at home, and 7 of 10 are prepared from individual ingredients at home.

The second way we’ve reduced our cooking efforts is through the use of more elaborately transformed ingredients. While frozen meals and canned soup have been around forever, even fresh foods are transformed in one way or another – trimmed of fat, marinaded in a variety of ways, fresh vegetables peeled and packed to put in the microwave. Even something as basic as lettuce now comes pulled to bits, pre-washed and mixed together to save a minute or two.

Recent gadgets – diminishing returns?
It’s not entirely true that there haven’t been any labour-saving devices in the kitchen since the 1950s. The double-sided electric “George Foreman” grillers are heavily promoted for the lack of additional fat they add to food. However, they grill meat far more quickly than a single-sided griller, and obviate the need to monitor and flip the meat over. More recently, the invention of the Nespresso coffee maker has meant that coffee (by most reports, pretty good to excellent coffee) can be made with virtually no effort.

All that said, it does seem that we are approaching diminishing returns on what additional “dumb” kitchen gadgets can do for us. One last remaining frontier is cooking appliances that will stir food for us during the cooking process; the Jamie Oliver Homecooker is horrendously expensive for an electric saucepan with a built-in stirrer, but the concept seems pretty sound to me.

The roadblock

In considering my own cooking, it seems that a lot of time is actually spent moving things from place to place – fetching ingredients from the fridge, implements from cupboards, the results to cooking devices of one kind or another. Crockery makes its journey from the cupboard to the kitchen bench or table, to the sink and/or dishwasher, and then back to the cupboard. “Dumb” kitchen gadgets can’t help with this, either; in fact, for smaller jobs it’s often easier to do so with a simpler manual tool simply because of all the peripheral moving things about required.

As such, I reckon big improvements in domestic kitchen productivity are going to come from innovations that can substitute for humans moving things around, and we’ll look at that in the next part of this series.

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6 Responses to Future of housework, part 3 – the kitchen I

  1. Iain Hall says:

    most kitchen gadgets create more work than they save in my experience as many are hard to clean. That said do we really want to de-skill the public in the most basic of life tasks? being able to prepare food from the most basic ingredients is a vanishing ability and something that we will regret a great deal once it is gone.

  2. BilB says:

    You are quite right, Iain, that is very much the thought that I had watching the Phillips/Jamie Oliver gizmo which I watched being used on Sky. And Robert is spot on with the fridge shuttle comment. The design world has let the ball drop sadly in design logic in the food area. I once did some preliminary design work on a combination freezer and microwave/thermowave oven combination which utilised a number of prepared and frozen food elements (vegetables in various forms and meat) which was auto assembled on a plate after reheat and cooking. It was too early for that sort of concept. One thing that comes to mind for the fridge is combination trays (dolleys) which have sets of ingredients which you bring out and return in a single move. I have a set meal formula which I can throw together in 15 minutes which includes meat frozen vegetables and mashed potatoe (I use a lot more Deb Instant mashed potatoe these days at the factory). I buy a lot of the Woolworths Crispy Salad (basically cold slaw ingredients) which makes a good feed in various ways in just 5 minutes with a range of other ingredients added including microwaved and sliced bacon, brown sugar, cayene pepper, Salad Creme, etc. It even makes a good baked spanish egg dish if you fish out the celery and add lots more onion, tamato, bacon sometimes, cayene pepper and of course the egg. And all done in the microwave. I do a lot of things that the jaffle machine was nver intended for at the factory (since my stove and oven blew up its energy regulator) including “poached” egg on toast, french toast and even pancakes.

    Yes I missed the coffee machines in my earlier list.

    The bean to cup coffee makers are a real working time saving devices. 100% successful.

    I am going to have a rethink of the whole food prep and cooking process, in the light of the comments, and see if there are short cuts and integration to be found. Perhaps now that I think about it one integrated cutting and cooking assembly that you unclip off the power drive and control base and drop in the dishwasher complete.

    In the background I have a concept for what I call the Auto Stewerd which is conceived for cars trucks an light aircraft. This combo supplies drinks hot and cold and reheats airline style food trays, and fits behind the efis in an aircraft and the dash in a truck.

    It is important to not mistake “hasn’t been done” for “can’t be done”.

  3. matjnewton says:

    Robert I am seriously enjoying this series and can’t wait for the next instalment

    You’re right in that Woolworths/Safeway have really ramped up their pre-preparation of ingredients, such as the bags of stir fry vegetables or salads. Recently I notice that Woolies has also been selling a whole bunch more pre-prepared meals that you can just microwave/throw in the oven/heat in a saucepan/throw in a wok.

    Personally I think the changes will not come from within the kitchen but from outside of it.

    Driverless cars.

    1. Home delivered hot meals – I know I can bang on a little bit about them, but just have a think about what driverless cars could do to the food industry… When it becomes so easy to have a hot, fresh meal delivered to your house with just the click of a button..

    2. Home delivered prepared ingredients – order all the ingredients you need to cook, automatically prepared to have the exact quantities that you need.

    3. Increase in eating out. The pending collapse in physical retail will mean that increasingly, food and drink will be the needed excuse to get out of the house.

    4. P2P food sharing. Who KNOWS what is going to happen there! (Do a deal with your sibling that you alternate cooking and send the meals over in a deliverbot using your VodaMove subscription. Why not?)

    5. Increase in artisan-style food. Driverless cars will once again favour small producers.

    Just a few thoughts.

    • Sorry for the tardy replies, I am away at the moment. I do think driverless cars will have a big impact here. I wonder whether the timeliness factor will make aerial delivery – the tacocopter – attractive.

  4. BilB says:

    Mat Newton,

    Your first point is a very good one. You are safely predicting the future with that thought. For every problem I can see three solutions. The future of electric autonomous vehicles in local delivery functions is a certain success. There is at least one electric vehicle being designed as an all inclusive chassis onto which can be fitted a range of special function superstructures.

    Your other points carry varying degrees of appeal.

  5. Pingback: Future of housework 4 – kitchen robots | A Bent Ghost

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