I'm getting exceptionally tired of solutions in search of problems. What set me off on this tirade was an article titled "When the Sous-Chef Is an Inkjet" in the February 3, 2005, issue of The New York Times. In truth, the article was not really about somebody inventing a "solution" and then searching long and hard for a problem that it might, maybe, possibly, perchance solve. There was already a need that this solution filled very well: low-cost, high-quality computer printing.
I've kept those of you who have not read the article in suspense long enough. It seems that there is a chef in Chicago who is using a Canon i560 inkjet printer and food-based inks to print images of sushi on edible, flavored paper made from soybeans and cornstarch, which he then serves up for his patrons' dining pleasure. Great. What does he serve for dessert? The menu?
It's nice that he is making the "food" look tasty by printing images of sushi on it. However, I suspect that if I thought long enough and hard enough, I might be able to come up with another, much simpler way to make it look even more realistic. Oh, I don't know, how about this just off the top of my head: serve sushi. I haven't eaten any since a relative who happens to be a doctor described in excruciating detail the treatment for tapeworms, but I still think that I'd rather eat sushi than paper.
Call me old-fashioned. I'm happy to eat food that comes out of a pot, a frying pan, a saucepan, a steamer, a barbecue, a conventional oven, a convection oven, a toaster oven or, although I don't own one myself, even a microwave oven, but an inkjet printer? I don't think so.
It's not just the thought of eating paper that bothers me. I also don't want to be kept waiting for my dinner in a restaurant due to a hardware failure. I've worked with computers long enough to know that, eventually, something always goes wrong. That goes for peripheral devices, like printers, too. When something does break down in the kitchen, I'd much prefer that it be fixed by the Maytag repairman than by a computer geek. Can't you just hear the call to the customer support line?
Chef: "The nozzles on my inkjet printer are clogged."
Help Desk: "Are you using authorized Canon cartridges?"
C: "Not exactly."
HD: "Are you using new cartridges or refilled ones?"
HD: "What brand of ink are you using?"
C: "I use a variety of brands, but mostly Heinz, Kraft, Nestlé, and McCormick & Company."
I have enough experience with these tirades to predict a few of the responses that will be posted in the accompanying forums. Someone, or maybe a few someones, will probably call me a hypocrite because I've accepted all sorts of other food product innovations that have been introduced over the past years, decades, and centuries, but I won't readily accept this one. He, she, or they will probably include a long list of such innovations. Don't bother. I plead guilty. I'm very happy that science has been able to increase and enhance food production to the point where producers, distributors, and retailers can make a profit while supplying me and my friends, relatives, and neighbors with relatively cheap, plentiful, tasty, and nutritious foods. But this is going just a little too far for me.
I don't want to knowingly eat paper. Give me succulent lobster, well-prepared salmon, or a delicious rack of lamb any day. I sing the praises of delectable veal, duck, and chicken. And don't get me started about melt-in-your-mouth foie gras. (I predict that, if any animal rights activists read this column, the previous sentence will attract a few particularly hostile forum postings.) Some perfectly cooked asparagus on the side would also be nice. Let me wash it down with a fine wine and top it off with an exceptionally decadent dessert and I can die happy. But paper? No thanks. Use it to wrap up my takeout fish and chips, but I don't want paper to play any more intimate a role in my meal than that. I'm sure that the spies in old movies who were told to eat their orders after reading them are salivating over this innovation, but not me.
This chef is really off the wall. According to the article, he's not satisfied with his current techniques. Now he wants to buy a class IV laser. I'd never heard of such a thing before, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration apparently doesn't have a rating for anything more powerful. These things are normally used for surgery and welding. He's thinking of using it to drill a hole through sushi (real, not paper), which would cook it but leave the outer layer raw. At least that would help to eliminate my tapeworm angst.
Hold onto your hats...or rather, your food. This guy doesn't want to stop at just printing and drilling food. He's also experimenting with liquid nitrogen, helium, super conductors, and ion particle guns to try to make food levitate. Oh yeah, that's what we need; food that floats away. I might get behind it if he did it with rice pudding. I've never liked rice pudding. But, other than that, I'm really not interested in running and jumping to catch my dinner, no matter how good a workout it might give me. No, I want my food to sit calmly on my plate and accept its fate.
I shouldn't be too hard on this guy. I do see one advantage to his inkjet-produced restaurant food idea. If I think that his bill is too exorbitant, I'll just eat it.