Olaf Deiningers and Hendrik Haase’s book “Food Code”

EA flashing red wall lamp in the salon signals the right degree of doneness of the steak sizzling in the clinically sterile kitchen next door, which jumps up at the push of a button and even performs the turning maneuver on the roasting device: What was still the subject of burlesque joke in 1958 in Jacques Tati’s “Mon oncle”, that was complete Rationalized everyday kitchen life should soon be commonplace. Back then, however, it was just about automating the kitchen. Olaf Deininger and Hendrik Haase dedicate their book to the blessings of digitization. They do it so comprehensively, thoroughly and comprehensively that it is easy to get anxious on their tour d’horizon through the world of “Food 4.0”.

Perhaps not yet in front of individual smart kitchen appliances such as the voice-controlled oven, which uses a camera and artificial intelligence (AI) to recognize the food that has been inserted and automatically selects the temperature and preparation time; the interactive refrigerator, which is also equipped with cameras and a touchscreen, which identifies food and uses the smartphone’s calendar function to take over the entire planning of meals from the point of purchase; or the heating rod for Sous-vide low-temperature cooking that can be remotely controlled using the app. But these gadgets are networked with retailers and food producers via platforms and are therefore elements of a system solution whose trump card is an all-round service that includes shopping, delivery, a recipe database and health services. A promising prospect for food retailers and established brands for whom connected devices are opening the doors to millions of kitchens.

„Power to the Bauer“

Convenience on the consumer side is bought at a high price: with permanent monitoring by the providers, for which detailed behavioral profiles are essential in the competition. In addition, the question arises whether the platforms, as interfaces of the beautiful new kitchen world, will also allow regional food artisans and farm direct marketers to play a role, or whether oligopolies or monopolies are threatened, as Deininger and Haase point out.


Olaf Deininger and Hendrik Haase: “Food Code”. How we keep control over our food in the digital world.
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Image: Antje Kunstmann Verlag

On the other hand, with the help of AI, the waste of food can be avoided through better planning of production, and all processes of agricultural direct marketing can be automated cost-effectively. “Power to the farmer” is the motto of some start-ups that are in the process of optimizing the concept of the farm shop and the vegetable crate logistically with decentralized, intelligent delivery networks.

Modular products

Sowing, weeding, fertilizing, harvesting: autonomous, adaptive robots promise an environmentally friendly and resource-saving “precision agriculture”, an optimized management of each individual field. However, the plants and fruits have to be adapted to the machines, especially for the harvesting step. And whether the farmer who is taking part in the technological change will remain sovereign on his farm is an open question. Because the adaptive agricultural robotics needs computing power to the extent that it can currently only be provided by the very largest digital companies. – Who does the collected data belong to?

In the processing and food industry, digitization has long been the driver of rapid change. Electronic noses that can divide smells into digital profiles and tools that can break down food down to the smallest chemical and sensory detail provide food architects with the construction kit from which they can create products that are perfectly tailored to demand and individual preferences, on the computer and completely without a research laboratory , Experimental kitchen and test eaters. The only question is whether these are still groceries.

When sensuality is rationalized away

In view of these scenarios, Deininger and Haase warn against culinary paternalism and “digital paternalism” and warn that “we remain the protagonists” and “that the sensual relationship to food, to our food, is maintained even in the digital age”. Too many are now outsourcing “health management” to technology, the digital nutritionist, and using self-tracking to reveal the most private data when they use fitness and health apps on their smartphones, wearables and other gadgets such as the personalized food traffic light on the digital wristband read in and process your body data.

And what a hundred years ago under the motto “Household Engineering” – “The rational housekeeping. Business studies “was the title of Christine Frederick’s standard work published in German in 1921 – the promise of liberation from the yoke of housework, threatens today to” rationalize away “the sensuality and enjoyment associated with eating, not to mention the ritual of table company the highly individualized nutritional regime seems to be a thing of the past anyway.

The dream of having a table, delegating kitchen work to automatic machines and processes could quickly turn into a nightmare. The “uprising of things” is already hinted at in “Mon oncle”: in the quirky kitchen boxes in the truest sense of the word, which pull the nerves of the bewildered Monsieur Hulot. Compared to what threatens when networked automatic AI systems get out of hand – keywords: “hacking” and “hijacking” – a downright touching scenario.

Olaf Deininger and Hendrik Haase: “Food Code”. How we keep control over our food in the digital world. Antje Kunstmann Verlag, Munich 2021. 264 pp., Hardcover, 25 euros.

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