One of the benefits of using a connected oven like the June is the fact that the built-in HD camera automatically recognizes the food you’re cooking. Throw in a salmon and the June recognizes it, and helps you cook it perfectly. Even if it doesn’t automatically recognize a food, the touchscreen UI is clear enough that it’s easy to navigate homescreen > seafood > salmon in just a few taps.
But when I was making Beyond Burgers the other night, and the June thought they were regular beef burgers, it occurred to me that the coming wave of alternative, plant-based proteins is going to make things more complicated for the June, and any other appliance that either recognizes your food and/or has pre-set cook functions.
Beyond and Impossible burgers look and even “bleed” like beef burgers, which will bring up a couple of issues for smart cooking appliances. First, the device will have to develop new means for detecting what is placed in it. A fake meat patty will look a lot like a traditional one, yet different from other plant-based patties (like a black bean burger) — how important will it be to automatically tell them apart?
Second, not all “veggie” burgers are made the same. There is a “Veggie Burger” setting on the June, but that is more of an old-school Boca burger. I reached out to June to ask about how it will incorporate items like Beyond and Impossible, and this is what a company rep emailed me back with:
“We do think that Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger will have their own Cook-Programs in the future because of their different composition of protein (Beyond Burger being made of a mixture of pea protein while Impossible Burger is a mixture of wheat protein, potato protein and heme).”
And that’s just burgers! Just about all of the animal proteins we eat now will have a plant-based analog soon enough. Just has its mung bean-based “eggs.” Seattle Food Tech has its wheat-based “chicken nuggets.” And Good Catch is creating plant-based fish.
The June has already made moves to become more of an iPhone-like platform with the recent addition of the dedicated Whole Foods button on its touchscreen to automatically cook items from that grocer. If June creates separate settings for Beyond and Impossible, how far down that rabbit hole will it and other appliance makers go? At what point in popularity does fake salmon need to get before June puts resources into a specialized cook program? And how many brands, each with their own cook program and accompanying on-screen instructions, will June have to include?
Yes, there is probably no greater measure of my privilege than me fretting over how many buttons I’ll need to tap when cooking my plant-based burger in my expensive connected oven. But this isn’t entirely just a thought experiment either. Sales of plant-based foods boomed last year, hitting $3.3 billion, and plant-based meat alternatives are only getting better and cheaper. Any appliance company that makes guided cooking apps, cookware or appliances will have to keep one eye on the market and adapt now to an increasingly diverse plant-based food future.