Marginal Revolution | Tyler Cowen | The Kitchen TestMy response is "So what?"
Here is Paul Krugman, noting that innovations for the kitchen have slowed down. [...]
Alexander J. Field has a long and very good piece on the evolution of kitchen technology. He concludes:
Aside from the automatic dishwasher in the 1930s (which achieved significant penetration only beginning in the 1960s), the garbage disposer (introduced in the 1950s, but low penetration until the late 1960s) and the microwave oven in the 1970s, there have been no truly revolutionary kitchen appliances in the last eight decades.Field makes good fun of the electric can opener and the electric carving knife.
When you say "innovation" people naturally think of devices. But innovation in processes is just as important.*
Let's say there are no new devices for the kitchen. (Though I would hardly scoff at those listed.) There are numerous new techniques, or techniques not available to the average home cook of fifty years ago. Even if the hardware and processes have not changed enough for your tastes, there are numerous new inputs (i.e. ingredients) that were not available fifty years back.
Advances outside the kitchen have huge impact within it. Advances in air travel, greenhouse construction, and logistics in general make ingredients more available in space and time. Advances in television and internet make more recipes and techniques available.
General progress in production makes it possible for my wife and I to own many more older technologies than we would have fifty years ago, even though all of those things existed then. Lower construction and maintenance costs and associated changes make it possible to have larger kitchens than previously possible: more storage, more prep area but the same types of appliances is still a big improvement.
Finally, do not knock incremental innovation. Would you trade your refrigerator for the one your grandparents might have owned? (Don't forget you'd have to pay the electrical bill for their fridge, not yours.)
One other thing: do we want lots of qualitative change in kitchen appliances and devices? Is there demand for that? Is that the best use of finite innovation resources? I for one am happy with the things in my kitchen now, especially since I rent. I would like to see new audiovisual equipment, home networking, and IT in transportation. Kitchen advancement is not high on my list.
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* Keep this in mind when people talk about medical innovation. New scanners and new drugs are great, but what about innovations in process? Where are the new business models in medicine? That side of innovation is often discouraged or even effectively disallowed in many jurisdictions.
** Do not forget to include the immersion circulator on the list of new cooking devices. They, and the sous vide technique for them, did not enter restaurant kitchens until the 1970s. (The process is much older but was effectively lost and then "rediscovered" within the last fifty years.) They are not in widespread home use yet, but I predict they will be before too long. If people have slow cookers, dedicated bread machines and rice cookers, then a sous vide appliance is not that off the wall.
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PS Freakonomics Radio covered cooking innovation, contrasting Alice Waters, the chef of Chez Panisse and originator of the "slow food movement" (at least in America) with Nathan Myhrvold, scientist, economist, engineer, former Microsoft CTO and co-author of the 2400 page Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. There is a strong and growing number of people who actively resist advancements in the kitchen in a way that is rare in other disciplines. There is a cultural movement built around continuing or returning to cooking the way our grandparents did. Where is the same movement for cleaning, or building, or traveling the way they did?
PPS Edited to Add — Megan McArdle adds an important cooking innovation you don't find in the kitchen or in the supply chain: air conditioning. Residential climate control means no more worrying about firing up the oven in the summertime. She has several other good points, including the cost of ingredients falling so precipitously that "food prepared at home" has dropped from down below 10% of the average household budget from a whopping 30% in 1950. I try to watch my pennies at the grocery, but even being a poor grad student of stingy Scottish heritage I do not fret about the cost of a single egg like many average middle class housewives of the middle century apparently did.