The kitchen-bot revolution 2—And a robo-chef in every kitchen

(This is the second of two posts on “Mombot.” In my first post, I talked about the gender dynamics of kitchen-bots and found that there was surprisingly little to say about it, compared to other models of service robots that have been developed.)

The New York Times headline that first grabbed my attention—Just Like Mombot Used to Make— got me thinking about how a kitchen-bot (aka. your own personal robo-chef) could fit into our food landscape. In a culture awash in messaging about sustainability, home-cooking and healthy eating, the Snackbot and its compatriots seem a bit of an anachronism. For the usual suspects—think Michael Pollan or Jamie Oliver—kitchen-bots are probably akin to the anti-Christ. Or just imagine Nigella Lawson sensually mixing up a batch of chocolate cake, and then think of a robot mixing pancake batter. Exactly.

 

Despite all the buzz about food and cooking, the general consensus is that we’re consuming more food talk via blogs, magazines and television, than actually cooking. For the first time in human history, we’ve managed to make cooking into a hobby, something you can choose to do or not. Certainly not something that’s necessary for your survival. And as we move further from the scramble for survival that has in many ways defined humanity (or at least, shaped our daily activities), the cries for sustainability, for farm-to-table, for family dinners and for hyper-vigilant food regulation grow ever more urgent. For the most part, I’m on board. But I often think about how that oh-so-progressive food culture isn’t quite as progressive on the gender front.

The New York Times isn’t exactly a bastion of gender awareness, and in this case, the headline says it all—when it comes to the daily feeding of family, overwhelmingly women are still the ones stirring the pot. And dear “Mombot” just might want a break from all that edible perfection we now demand. So why not a kitchen-bot?

When we talk about shopping at farmers’ markets and home-cooking and sustainability, and the importance of passing on those values to our children, we so rarely talk about who’s doing the cooking. While men are far more involved in these processes than they once were, on the whole, it still falls to women. That’s the part we seem to forget about the shift to TV dinners, pre-packaged food and so on. Because a lot of women were content to spend less time in the kitchen and more time doing other things. Just ask Betty Draper.

If it sounds like I’m blaming feminism for our food issues, I’m not. I think it’s great that my life doesn’t stop at the front door of my home. But while we’re decrying packaged food, the lack of home-cooking and our general cultural disconnect from food, we might want to remember why this wasn’t such a nightmare once upon a time. And that when we’re demanding a new and improved sustainable food culture with perfect home-cooked meals, we’re usually also asking that women step back into the kitchen and make food their priority.

What makes mother’s or grandmother’s (or father’s) cooking so special? The love, care and attention put into the creation. Cooking is an art form. Do we want robot artists? I cannot see any good coming out of this invention but I wouldn’t be surprised if robots are staffing most fast food restaurants in ten years. Maybe that’s not a bad idea but knowing Americans, they will take the invention to the extreme.
(Reader comment on “Just Like Mombot Used to Make” [Updated: Link no longer available on NYT website])

Cover for The I Hate to Cook Book by Peggy BrackenWe tend to romanticize home-cooking and the importance of that loving touch to our meals. People whose mothers or grandmothers were terrible cooks, don’t usually write cliched prose about watching their grand/mother lovingly prepare her famous, and almost always ethnic, family favourite or holiday specialty. If your mother was a disciple of Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook book (Quote: “Your cooking is a personal thing, like your sex life, and it shouldn’t be the subject of general conversation”), you’re probably not writing odes to her culinary prowess.

Yes, cooking is an art form, but sometimes, it’s just eating—another chore that needs to get done, without all the baggage. If you love food and cooking, that’s fine. But if you’d rather cure cancer, raise money for charity, write a novel or get your PhD, home-cooked, love-filled, sustainable dinners might be a problem. Maybe the kitchen-bot has a place in the kitchen of the future after all.

© 2017 Lea Zeltserman