Features

We’re quickly losing the art of dining

In the pursuit of efficiency, the rituals of cooking and eating have been reduced to their most basic forms. What was once a communal experience is now a solo chore

Illustration by Mark Magnaye

Cooking has become an inconvenience, disrupting our daily work-obsessed routine. For a protein boost, we take powdered shakes in the form of Soylent and Huel and tolerate their gritty contents and cardboard blandness. In this instance, “cooking” comprises taking a measurement, adding water, shaking, and consuming. No chewing required.

The process and skill once required to create a perfect cup of coffee no longer apply, making the office “coffee break” obsolete. Instead, it’s now possible to chew on a caffeine gummy from Go Cubes to trick your brain into receiving a caffeine jolt and powering through an extended workday.

The meditative ritual of tea making has been debased with an aerosol can. With No More Tea Bags, users simply spray the contents into a cup and add hot water. Turns out even the 90-second routine of immersing a tea bag into hot water can be sped up.

The process and skill once required to create a perfect cup of coffee no longer apply, making the office “coffee break” obsolete. Instead, it’s now possible to chew on a caffeine gummy from Go Cubes to trick your brain into receiving a caffeine jolt and powering through an extended workday.

Even taste and flavors are synthetic reproductions. “Real food” has been engineered in an effort to replicate the original taste of food we’ve lost through technological advances in food production and farming. Our taste buds are no longer able to detect subtleties, a skill prized in haute cuisine.

We don’t cook, but we want to see how food is prepared. We can watch a two-hour stew being made through two-minute cooking videos. No words or personalities are required to explain complex instructions, but a pair of hands chopping and sautéing away will teach the understanding of a dish. Tastemade, the digital food and travel publisher, gets more than 1.3 billion monthly views on Facebook and averages 300,000 views per day on Instagram with regular video recipe posts. Despite these staggering numbers, millennials are still not entering the kitchen, and most likely will never recreate the dishes they’ve watched online.

SINGULAR SUPPORT

This super-efficient and hyper-connected world has reduced the need for physical interaction. We order food through a meal app, never once having to look at or interact with a person. We learn about restaurants and food through photography and on our Instagram feeds. Images profile a dish, its flavors, and associated emotions. Add a #hashtag and geotag and we feel like we’ve already been there, done that.

Social scientists are also pointing out the growing number of single people. In 1970, there were 38 million single people in the US, constituting 28 percent of the population. In 2014, there were 107 million and they comprised 45 percent of the population.

Restaurateurs are taking advantage of this go-it-alone trend. Marina van Goor is the creator of Eenmaal, Amsterdam’s pop-up restaurant catering purely to solo diners. Her intention is to destigmatize eating alone. “I’ve already got such positive reactions to the concept,” van Goor explains. “In a global busy city, there’s an increasing interest in moments of disconnection. With Eenmaal, we have created an attractive place for such a disconnection, by eating alone at a table for one.” The “table for one” reservation is becoming the norm as more people accept the reality of dining alone and restaurants adapt with bar seating and communal tables.

Social scientists are also pointing out the growing number of single people. In 1970, there were 38 million single people in the US, constituting 28 percent of the population. In 2014, there were 107 million and they comprised 45 percent of the population.

This disconnect is compounded by the use of smartphones. As we eat in silence and stare into the screen, we share images via smartphones to our virtual dinner companions. The communal act of eating is now online as the Internet consumes our food and we, in turn, consume the internet.

COOKS IN CONTROL

We want to be better cooks without ever having to cook. New cooking gadgets allow us to produce no-fail recipes with precision and control, skills normally developed through years of training.

Our reliance on technology is replacing our ability to cook with our senses and learning from our failures. Breville’s Control Freak, the latest induction cooktop, allows for unprecedented control of temperature, heat speed, and time. Cooks no longer have to practice perfecting crème anglaise because the Control Freak will do it for you.

Through technology, we can limit failures and feel less intimidated about cooking. The advances do the calculations, measurements, and guesswork for us. We are adapting the way we eat and cook to make the processes quicker and easier. But through these changes, are we losing our instincts, intuition, and vulnerability? With the Internet, societal shifts, and the advent of virtual reality headsets, social isolation is likely to rise. Eating and cooking, once communal experiences, are likely to become solitary duties performed out of necessity rather than connection.

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