Swap Meat

Miracle “meat” — vegetarian alternatives wrought through “high-tech” methods — promises to change the world for the better. But such products mean more growth and more consumption, the same problems they aim to solve.

Taste Made

If the internet were a country, its cuisine would speak to a turbulent civic life. But more than this, all food grown in the terroir is by definition unpalatable. The internet is like a metaphysical takeout window — there is no for-here option, everything must be passed through the square opening before it can be consumed in the traditional sense. Yet the way food is consumed online is meaningful precisely because it’s all metaphor.

Home Cooking

Food-prep videos do more than provide instruction; they encode an ideology of what “authentic” life is supposed to look like. They are part of a history of filming factory work as a means of negotiating the relation between production and consumption.

Edible Creations

Hampton Creek is one of a cadre of food startups advertising hefty scientific and technological qualifications, while advancing a vision of a future in which their product will be indispensable, woven into the fabric of everyday life. These visions have inspired outsize anxiety, scorn, mirth and suspicion, and the reactions make sense: Though the futures these companies propose are far from being realized, they still shape what is imaginable in the present.

Fancy Feast

What to make of Moon Dust, rainbow bowls, and mermaid toast? These culinary artifacts are odes to a specific ideal of the modern capitalist woman: the woman who can have it all, the entrepreneur who can get a quirky idea to land in the overcrowded marketplace of quirky ideas, the well-off person who can turn their love for travel into profitable expertise, all while being beautiful and decidedly nonthreatening. They signify being able to chase your dreams and catch them, the sparkling fairy dust of success.

Dinner Theater

In its evocation of a family dinner table with no past and no future — having no leftovers is one of the key advertising promises of these services — meal-kit delivery services promise that traditional family life can continue undisturbed even as its underlying structures undergo extreme disruption. If becoming an adult is learning to parent yourself, meal-kit delivery imagines that parent at sea in the overwhelming churn of an unmoored and unrecognizable life.

The Domino Effect

Food apps repurpose unseen human labor as machine magic. No one is working for you, only empowering you to make your own decisions, based on your own tastes, as your tastes slowly shift in a direction that suits the logic of a database. Abstracting away the reality of labor creates a permission structure in which you’re more comfortable asking for what you think you want.

Liquid Lunch

Meal replacement drinks like Soylent, and its predecessor, SlimFast, fetishize austerity and promise transcendence through self-denial. SlimFast, marketed to women, sells bodies without minds, while Soylent, masculinized, sells minds without the encumbrance of bodies, disguised as “biohacking.”

Image Feed

Food is a visual medium. Consuming images of food offers a different satisfaction from eating that food, and often a better one. We use “food porn” to imagine ourselves in situations we may or may not want to be in, to experience desire over food we might not dare to actually consume. Staging meals for photos is its own pleasure too, lending permanence to a transitory occasion.