The Most Processed Food of All

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I’ve been getting steadily more obsessed — via reading the book Kosher Nation and my wife working at a restaurant, mostly — with the food we eat and how it gets here. Last week, a kosher-inspector friend was telling me about a commercial (non-Jewish) ketchup factory. It’s the messiest building you’ve ever been to, he said. But they keep the mess out of the food. So it’s kosher.

We try to avoid eating too many processed foods. Granted, it’s easier to stick your dinner into a microwave than to take a bunch of foods and cook it yourself, but the other choice is healthy, there won’t be a zillion preservatives, and the end product doesn’t taste of your toil and sweat (um, maybe that’s an argument in favor of processed food).

According to the science and science fiction blog io9, there’s a new technology under development at Cornell University that lets you design your own ideal food — and then it “prints” that food into existence.

So maybe that little turkey-and-celery square sitting there doesn’t look much like actual turkey and celery. It also doesn’t look, uh, “good.” They’re working on taste first, and appearance later, I guess. But the actual dynamics of the machine are pretty simple, according to the article:

The contraption will allow people to load vials of liquified food into the printer as inks. They can then set a ‘recipe’ that will make the printer arrange the liquified ingredients in a particular way. The printer will do the rest, presumably while the person chugs a bottle of pepto-bismol and puts their head between their knees.

What does this mean for kosher food? Well, if we imagine that it will ever get (a) made, (b) mainstreamed, and (c) used by the general public, it could be potentially really cool. For one thing, if we assume that every “ink” is available in a kosher version — and why shouldn’t they?, if they’re all essential tastes like “bitter” or “juicy” or “that bright-red Chinese restaurant sauce” — then EVERY FOOD COULD BE MADE KOSHER. And not just a lame generic version, either, like Hydrox instead of Oreos. Imagine a chef like Anthony Bourdain would make up a recipe, my non-kosher friends would try it out, and then they’d email the recipe right over. And I could eat it.

Or, also likely, none of the liquid inks will be available in kosher form. And we’ll just have one more thing that we can’t eat.

But we’ll always have broccoli, my dear friends.

Posted on December 29, 2010

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