By: Tarah Spohn and Jeremy Jonet
onvenience and technology in the kitchen have always been closely tied to food trends in society. Technology and kitchen design have constantly changed in order to accommodate social changes, as well as changing perspectives on health, all while trying to maintain a certain standard of convenience that the population has demanded. In the past, convenience was about prepackaged foods and the appliances that would allow the consumer and homemaker to prepare them quickly and easily. These prepackaged foods were “modern wonders” that made life easier and could also be stored for months, even years, at a time. Today’s society still demands convenience, but has different ideals when it comes to the food it consumes. People want the freshest ingredients in their meals; the growing trend of local farmers markets currently provides a place for people to gather the freshest items for their evening meal preparation. As the shift from prepackaged foods to fresh ingredients continues to develop, how will technology and kitchen design change and adapt to society’s demands?
Technology in the kitchen, and the idea of making the food preparation and cooking process more convenient, has always stemmed from consumer demand; looking back as far as the early 1920s products have been designed to make life easier and decrease the amount of time spent in the kitchen. In the early years of this trend, while basic technology, by today’s standards, was still developing, convenience came in the form of packaged products and collections of recipes sold in cookbooks that attempted to streamline the cooking process. The idea of convenience cuisine was in its early stages in the 1920s and 1930s, but with the introduction of such brands as Betty Crocker, the homemaker was promised perfect results every time with less effort. As society moved into the 1950s, cake mixes were seen as a “miracle”, and having them “was like having the essence of the modern world in your own kitchen” (Shapiro 73).
The 1950s saw the introduction of kitchen appliances that were specifically made to exploit many of the convenience food items that were rapidly developing. Appliances were revolutionized and food trends began to rapidly change in order to “make life easier and food preparation time less consuming for the average homemaker” (Raburn, “Inventions for 1950’s Homemakers”). Poppy Cannon’s The Can-Opener Cookbook allowed women to make delicious and luxurious meals using convenient shortcuts in the form of canned foods. The technology that made this even easier was the mass-dissemination of the electronic can-opener.
The mass production of frozen pot pies and frozen TV dinners in the early 1950s developed hand-in-hand with the Magic Chef Gas Oven and Range (Raburn, “Inventions for the 1950’s Homemakers”), which sold consumers with the idea of being able to put food in, walk away, and come back to a perfectly cooked meal. Following this, refrigerators were redesigned with frost-free freezer and forced refrigeration units in order to make life better and more convenient. Thus began the idea of the kitchen being seen as the “gadget savvy command center for the home” (Contois, “Curating the History of American Convenience Cuisine”).
As with the kitchen and technology trends of yesteryear, convenience takes precedence over food choices and eating habits in the current social climate. As stated in the “Eating and Drinking” section of Euromonitor International’s 2011 Annual Study of global consumers, many social factors within the past 20 years, such as an increase in work hours, smaller family structures, and more working mothers have led consumers to turn to meal options that are quicker and easier to prepare such as ready meals, cooking aids, and takeout. This shows that the need for convenience in the kitchen is still a priority, now more than ever because of these social phenomena. Despite this streamlining of cooking time and time spent in the kitchen, Euromonitor International Survey revealed that as many as 55% of respondents worldwide still cook meals entirely from raw ingredients on a regular basis (i.e. at least once a week), while 38% do so using some pre-prepared ingredients.
“On average, how often do you:”
Source: Euromonitor International
There are several factors to support why going back to basics and cooking from scratch is making a resurgence; most notably among them is an increasing awareness of healthy eating and lifestyles. There has been a greater interest in what goes into meals and what and where your food comes from. Cooking at home removes this anonymity of your food (“Home cooking and Eating Habits…”).
Other factors include the recession and rising unemployment. Pre-prepared meals and takeout command a price premium that many are unable to afford due to the tighter economic times. Another factor that contributes to the trend of cooking at home is the revival of interest in hobby cooking that has grown hand-in-hand with the increase in the number of celebrity chefs and cooking programs on TV, driving the demand for an array of exotic ingredients. Dietary lifestyles have also played a role in cooking at home. Whether for health or ethical and environmental reasons, people are more likely to want to cook their own meals at home, giving them more control of what goes into their food (“Home cooking and Eating Habits…”).
“Why do you purchase ready meals versus preparing a meal from scratch?”
Source: Euromonitor International
Another phenomena that factors into our current eating culture is the expense for food in general. There has been a rise in price in most grocery items, leading many consumers to grow their own vegetables at home or seek out local farmers markets, which has been an increasingly easier task. Turning to the farmers market in recent years has been a more economical solution to both the local communities as well as the consumer. Students at Seattle University recently conducted a price comparison between the prices offered at the University District Farmers Market and the prices of produce items at chain grocery stores. The students found that the most vegetables sold at the Market had lower, if not comparable, prices to their grocery store counterparts (Catalani). Whether for economic reasons or concerns with fresh, locally sourced food items, farmers markets are a growing trend that many members of society are taking advantage of.
How will the ongoing demand for convenience and a shift toward healthy eating habits affect the kitchen of the future? As society consumes more fresh vegetables, but still demands quick meals that are easily accessible, how will the appliances and technology we use in the kitchen evolve? We’ve already seen the emerging trends of hydroponic gardening and grow walls make an appearance in the market. “Urban cultivators”, though expensive, are starting to make their way from commercial sectors into private homes. Hyundai has already developed the Kitchen Nano Garden as a concept for growing your own vegetable garden right in the convenience of your own home or apartment; the Kitchen Nano Garden brings the local farmers market or rooftop garden to you. The design incorporates “metal shelving, climate controlled panels, purposefully-directed lumens, and an attachment to a water source to make your indoor vegetable crop dreams a potential reality” (Temple, “The Nano Garden…”). The unit is a self-contained system that brings the sun and rain right into your own apartment in order to grow healthy and easily harvested vegetables. The Kitchen Nano Garden also alerts you if you are overwatering, over-sunning, or if your plants need new nutrients, and allows you to be in complete control of how quickly you want your vegetables to grow. In addition, it also helps to purify the air in your apartment.
Taking the idea of growing your own vegetables to the next step, and incorporating an integrated ecosystem, Philips has developed the Microbial Home system. This system is an integrated system that combines design and biological processes that consume less energy and produce less pollution. The central hub in the Microbial Home system is a repositionable kitchen island that includes “a chopping surface with vegetable waste grinder, a gas cooking range, [and] a glass tank that shows energy reserves and glass elements” (“Kitchen of the Future”). This marries technological advances, convenience, and energy conservation all in one unique and flexible system. The vegetable grinder that is integrated with the chopping surface puts vegetable waste to use and makes clean-up quick and easy, and the methane digester produces gas, which feeds the cooking range and gas mantle lights that are integrated into the island unit.
Coordinating with the Microbial Home is Philips larder. The larder consists of an evaporative cooler and vegetable storage system built into a dining table. This unit provides greater storage for the home-grown vegetables and also brings the idea of family dining and the dining experience back into our busy, fast-paced lives by reviving the “ritual of preparing food together around the dining table” (“Kitchen of the Future”).
The technology of in-home gardens and integrated systems that combine design and biological processes are upon us. The next step in the evolution of bringing healthy food trends to every homeowner’s kitchen is adapting these technological innovations into a more digestible scale that can be realized in the urban consumer’s environment. Taking this technology and adapting it to a smaller environment through the process of modularization and a more space-efficient approach to design will make units such as the Kitchen Nano Garden accessible. By making units in various sizes, this technology will become more adjustable and adaptable. By taking Hyundai’s nano garden approach and allowing customization in the size of unit and number of shelves, it is possible that these units could take the place of traditional base cabinets in the standard kitchen. Hanging storage could be utilized for pots and pans, freeing up base storage space in the traditional urban kitchen. Or, perhaps units can be manufactured that replace the traditional upper cabinets in today’s kitchen with the metal shelves, climate controlled panels, and directed lumens, thus utilizing the potential of unused space in the kitchen, which provides another great opportunity for the integration of these developing technologies.
While the larder is a great idea and could be a phenomenal addition to a larger space where a dining table is an option, apartments in the urban environment are not always equipped with separate dining spaces, nor can they accommodate large dining tables. By reinterpreting the larder into a unit that is part of the countertop, the space-taking table is no longer needed, and only a small amount of base storage is sacrificed. This idea puts the fresh vegetables in an easily accessible area and turns the counter into a multi-functional work space.
In the past, convenience was about prepackaged foods and the appliances that would allow the consumer and homemaker to prepare them quickly and easily. Today’s society is all about ease and convenience; people want foods that can be easily prepared and fit into their busy schedules, but also demands healthy food choices and fresh ingredients. The growing trend of local farmers markets currently provides a place for people to gather the freshest items for their evening meal preparation. The future will bring together the ideas of convenience and local produce. By expanding the developing technology of the Kitchen Nano Garden and exploring the idea of integrated ecosystems and evaporative cooler storage, kitchens of the future will be able to provide the fresh vegetables society demands in the convenience of your own kitchen.
Concept Sketch of “Kitchen of the Future”, Tarah Spohn
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