Cooking 2026: the future of making meals in the home
Here is Chapter 1 of a pamphlet commissioned by Le Creuset in September 2006. To download the full PDF version, click on this title link ‘Cooking 2026: the future of making meals in the home‘.
Time pressures favour speed, instant gratification and American convenience
In 2026, 30m of the 66m people in Britain will be 45 or older (1). They’ll have a more international range of family commitments, friends and leisure pursuits than they have today. But they’ll also be even busier than the over-45s of today. Many of the 18m Brits who will be 60+ in 2026 will still be working, even if they often work from home.
Along with web cameras, the rise of China, India and the rest of Asia will see to that.
In 2026, globalisation will make people travel more widely for work. It will help ensure that, as in 1986 and 2006, one in seven British workers still works shifts (2). Aided by sixth-generation mobile IT, people will still go ‘eating on the hoof’ and ‘grazing’ (3). They will still have to prepare and get hold of food quickly.
Globalsation, in short, will drive convenience in cooking. The global pace of life in 2026 will also make mouth and stomach, like eyes and ears, demand instant gratification. The long simmering to death of vegetables, so often the habit of 20th century Britain, will finally give way to the use of steam. We will see a more widespread turn to shallow frying, as well as greater use of skillets – good for quick cooking, turning food and the emptying of oil or deglazed sauces.
Microwave ovens, food processors and blenders will do well. Delight in relatively lengthy cooking processes, in the family meal and in entertaining for friends will not have died out, and there will always be a place for the roast, the casserole, and the baking of breads, cakes, quiches, flans and tarts. But by 2026, today’s teenagers will have grown up to a National Curriculum, television and books devoted to the idea that tasty can be done in 30 minutes (4). Among the rich, too, more weekend dinner parties will be provided for by outside caterers.
Pasta and stir-fries look set for further popularity. So do high-speed searing on ribbed grills, the wok, and the Japanese rice-making machine.
The technologies behind and quality of convenience foods in 2026 will also be surprisingly good. Put another way, US foods will remain a major part of the global food landscape.
Protectionist trends on the world economy could well be fierce in 2026, but US multinationals will by no means have withdrawn from the EU. Perhaps Brussels will visit massive fines on McDonald’s, as it does today on Microsoft; yet if America continues to accelerate European eating styles, the phenomenon won’t be limited to Domino’s Pizza or Starbucks coffee.
In 2005, McDonald’s reported excellent results in France. In 2026, firms such as Wal-Mart in retailing, Euro-Disney in leisure and Aramark in corporate ‘food service’ will go on feeding millions of Europeans. In terms of speed, the Italian espresso will probably be even more popular – but the conveniences of US food giants will still be enormous.
Given their size, today’s US food giants will still be around in 2026 (5)
Company HQ 2005 revenues $bn 2005 assets $bn
Tyson Foods Springdale, Arkansas 26 10
Sara Lee Chicago 20 14
ConAgra Foods Omaha 15.5 13
General Mills Minneapolis 11 18
Kellogg Battle Creek, Michigan 10 10.5
HJ Heinz Pittsburgh 9 10.5
Campbell Soup Camden, New Jersey 7.5 7
Dole Food Westlake Village, California 6 4
Europeans still take time, but go more global
Today’s diplomatic spats between Europe and America may not last till 2026. Still, Europe’s reaction to American lifestyles is likely to persist over the next 20 years. Thus, if the European kitchen focuses further on lemon juice, the Spanish paella and perhaps even the Swiss fondue, it will also want to pay attention to recipes from the East and the South.
While EU leaders may still squabble, Europeans may find, in cooking, a source of common identity that they like to contrast with American manners. If Europe’s holidays stay long and working weeks short, its ‘slow food’ movement could stay the course to 2026 (6).
So, too, could the Brussels Commission hostility to US genetically modified (GM) products. Many Europeans will never buy a GM concoction of onion and garlic, no matter how cheap or nutritious it is. Many, too, will abjure the ‘fusion flavours’ enjoyed by Californians, even though the restless inventiveness of the genre sometimes produces great results.
Immigration will expose us more to the cooking of Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. Turkish food will jostle with Polish borscht and Hungarian goulash, perhaps; but low cost air travel and airfreight, even with environmental taxes, will also help globalise taste. On high definition TV, Moroccan tagines, Chinese bamboo steamers and Indian tandoors will make food programmes more like wildlife features in their aesthetic appeal. Chinese and Indian food firms will also invest in Europe, so that they rival US food giants.
In the 20th century, globalisation brought Mediterranean cooking to the US. By 2026, it will give Eastern cuisine mass support in European kitchens (7). In Britain sales of ‘ethnic’ cookware, at perhaps £100m and 10m items in 2026, will beat those of bakeware and microwave cookware combined. In aggregate, too, Japanese tempura or teriyaki, Korean beef and pickled chilli cabbage, Indonesian rijstafels, Malaysian curries and Vietnamese soups may overtake Thai food. Similarly, dates, cashew nuts and Lebanese baklava could edge out apple crumbles, as well as bread and butter puddings.
Ironically, slower methods of food preparation will be aided by the spread of an American speciality: dishwashers – including small versions designed for single-person households. Cooks will want new ingredients, spices, sauces, processes and cookware, but will want to wash everything up with ease. In Britain in 2026, dishwashers, long installed in middle-class households in the South East, will be the rule for most people in the UK.
In the US, more than $150m of packaged marinades is today sold each year – three times the figure achieved in 1997. But in 2026, we can still expect millions of Europeans to savour marinades that are hand-made, with few fears about how much time it will take to clean up the debris from them.
1. National Statistics, Population Trends 123, Spring 2006, Table 4, p16, on
2. See ‘Shiftworking ticks along nicely’, IRS Employment Review, No 845, April 2006.
3. Ron Kinton et al, The Theory of Catering, Hodder Arnold, 10th edition, 2003, p50.
4. In September 2006 Nigel Slater’s classic Real Fast Food: 350 Recipes Ready-to-Eat in 30 Minutes, published by Penguin in 1993, stood within the top 1000 bestsellers at Amazon UK.
5. Figures from ‘The 500 largest US corporations’, Fortune, 17 April 2006.
6. For a brief account of the movement, which began in 1986, see Chapter 3 in Carl Honoré, In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed, Orion, 2004.
7. As the US marketing guru Theodore Levitt quaintly exaggerated things many years ago, ‘Chinese food, pita bread, country and western music, pizza, and jazz are everywhere… They don’t deny or contradict global homogenization but confirm it’. See Levitt, ‘The globalization of markets’, Harvard Business Review, May-June 1983.
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