Back in April I was asked by a group of food product developers to identify the most important kitchen appliance of the past five years. My answer: the iPad. But I may need to revise.
Smart clothing and accessories, perhaps most usefully Google Glass, could revolutionize—again—how we cook. If only Google would send that message to all home cooks, not just hipsters and foodies.
Google Glass, known as simply “Glass,” is a pair of lightweight eyeglass frames fitted with a thick band above the right eye that acts as a mobile computer. Tap the band, which acts as a touchpad, and images appear directly above your line of sight with sound coming through an earpiece connected to the glasses. Glass is connected to wifi or Bluetooth through your smartphone so you can perform voice-activated Google searches, use Glass apps (which are limited, as Glass is in its nascent stages), and answer phone calls—all virtually hands-free.
I had the cooks at “hands-free.”
With those two words, Glass can provide another transformational leap in cooking. First, we had the Internet’s 30,000 recipes for gooseberry compote; second the iPad’s banishment of printed recipes and hovering threat of destruction from laptop spills; and third the iPhone providing everyone with a in-store grocery encyclopedia. Hands-free is crucial in the kitchen, where hands are a cook’s most useful tools. Wiping them off before swiping an iPad every time hands get germy, sticky, coated, or slicked is a minor annoyance but an annoyance nonetheless. Glass’s images go wherever your line of sight goes, and move whenever your head moves, with no need to constantly adjust a device.
Glass’s benefits go beyond the obvious hands-free recipe searching and viewing. Watch an instructional video on how to dice an onion, directly over where your own hands are chopping an onion. Or convert measurements by saying “OK Glass, what is the conversion of grams to ounces?” and tapping your eyeglass temple. The answer may both appear on the screen and be spoken through the earpiece, Siri-style. Combine Glass and the NSA’s monitoring of citizens’ internet use, and those people who claim the FBI is listening to them through dental fillings don’t seem so crazy anymore.
Food-porn addicts can wordlessly command Glass to take photographs of their cooking by simply winking an eye, although Google warns “some eye makeup might throw off the wink sensor.” It’s the perfect gift for your Instagraming foodie friend who frequents restaurants with no-photograph contracts. Glass also provides a celebrity chef wanna-be ability to videotape her hands preparing a recipe while speaking step-by-step instructions: expect a spate of such videos on YouTube.
Watch chef Jamie Oliver cook with Google Glass.
Wearable technology could do what all of the cookbooks, food TV shows, classes, and counter-top sous-vide circulators haven’t: transform the actual practice of cooking. Paradoxically, technology will make cooking more accessible for some by making it virtually hands-free and voice-activated.
The actual practice of cooking could use another iteration, because people are simply not cooking much any more, at a cost to health, well-being, and communities. And yes, this is a problem in households that can afford Glass although we’re less likely to discuss that demographic because they can just pick up a nutritious prepared meal at Whole Foods without worrying about the price. But the fact remains: They are still not cooking, and their health will almost certainly improve if they do.
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Google needs to get the memo on Glass’s potential with home cooks. Currently its culinary push appears geared toward the go-go restaurant crowd. The Glass website features a single cooking video, with the instigator of the modern gourmet food truck trend Chef Roy Choi. The video has a staccato style with Choi joking about pureeing leprechauns for green sauce because “they have no bones” and trying to get his mom off the phone while he’s cooking. For Choi fans or swearing tattooed chef fans (I’m both) it’s funny and endearing but it’s disappointingly aimed at a niche and small demographic, limiting Glass’s potential.
Google is presumably trying to capture young early adopters of technology with the video; the company also had designer Diane von Furstenberg design frames exclusively for Glass. But the iPad didn’t similarly limit itself in early days—I bought my first-generation iPad in line next to 70-year-old former Secretary of State Bill Cohen—and its influence was monumental. Glass needs to speak to more than just Google’s choir and it needs to speak in more than one dialect.
Look, I’m ambivalent about Glass. When Paul Simon sang of the crazy lady who had diamonds on the soles of her shoes, no one predicted three decades later we too would demand equally expensive objects in our clothes. Even at $1500 each, even with the forthcoming iWatch and smart shirt spun from a fiber that monitors your heart rate and sends it to your phone, Glass is the most exciting wearable technology for food lovers. Hopefully Google will deliver that message to the over-Millennial crowd.
This story is part of National Geographic’s special eight-month Future of Food series.