The high-end appliance company Miele recently commissioned an interesting study about the kitchen of the future. It projected that in 50 years our food will be 3D-printed, walls in our homes will grow food, and we'll even have mini-fish farms right in our kitchens. But you'd be forgiven for feeling like you've heard this all before. Specifically, from Martha Stewart back in 1996.
The September 26, 1996 issue of the New York Times Magazine was completely devoted to futurism. And Martha Stewart's take on the kitchen of the future was a perfect mix of hyper-localism and forward-thinking science at a time before fear of GMOs would overtake mainstream America.
Food in the future is fresher than ever because you grow it at home. One wall of the kitchen holds saltwater and freshwater aquariums for fish as well as hydroponic growing beds — using a suspended nutrient-gel solution instead of water — for melons, lettuce, strawberries, lemon and lime trees and other produce.
The menu, Stewart promises, will also include food that was previously swimming around in your own kitchen. The only thing that really distinguishes this prediction from the visions of today is the favorable mention of genetically engineered fish. After a couple decades of anti-GMO propaganda, it's hard to imagine something like this showing up in a mainstream American newspaper today.
A prototypical menu? Steamed red snapper genetically engineered so that "it is very fleshy and so that the skeleton can be easily removed"; a tomato, cucumber and orange salad with a citrus vinaigrette, and a seaweed salad.
Stewart promised that your kitchen of tomorrow would mix sleek, techno-positive design with sustainable, home gardening. The kitchen even has a gigantic screen that can help any aspiring chef become better at their craft — or just watch mindless TV.
Then there is the "window": an immense flat-paneled screen that can display nearly anything, from cooking shows and recipes (for the truly industrious) to news, photographs, movies and, no doubt, soaps.
The biggest problem with this assertion that hyper-local (which is to say, grow-your-own food) is going to be popular in fifty years, is that these trends are so cyclical. Sometimes, embracing all things technological in the kitchen of tomorrow is in fashion. Other times, food and kitchen technology is presented as no less than an assault on what it means to be human.
In the late 19th century, meal pills were supposed to liberate women from the drudgery of the kitchen. The rise of convenience foods after World War II pushed promises that one day science would perfect our meals. This gave way to an emphasis on organic and small scale production in the 1970s, which in turn led to the molecular gastronomy and more palatable convenience foods fad of the late 1990s, only to be usurped again by the popularization of hyper-local and slow food movements in the 2000s.
Many people today take it for granted that the future of the American kitchen must be dependent on more local and self-grown food that shuns technological advancement. But if we've learned anything from the most recent backyard chicken craze—chickens that are now being abandoned en masse by would-be urban farmers around the country—it's that most of us simply don't have the money, the time or the patience to raise our own food.
The concept of everyone having their own sustainable organic garden to draw from is a pleasant one. But historically, after a few years of embracing "natural" food and kitchens, the futurist pendulum swings pretty hard the other way. There's no telling if 3D food printers will ever become a mainstream reality. But judging by 20th century trends of the retro-future, they're almost certainly going to be the next big craze for foodie futurists everywhere.
Images: Martha Stewart in the kitchen of the future from the September 26, 1996 issue of the New York Times Magazine