What will the family dinner of the future look like? According to the 1981 kids’ book Tomorrow’s Home, it’s filled with robots, computers, and tasty synthetic foods. Except upon closer inspection, everybody looks downright miserable.
Neil Ardley’s Tomorrow’s Home makes it sound like kitchen of the future will be a techno-utopian wonder:
The kitchen of the future is, like most other rooms in tomorrow’s home, served by robots under the control of the home computer. Although it is stocked with fresh and natural foods of many kinds, there are also synthetic and preserved foods. The synthetic foods are artificial, but they taste just as good as real foods. This is because chemists have discovered many tasty substances for use in food and drink. For example, the best wines now come from the laboratory as well as the vineyard. The preserved foods — dried or frozen, for example — can be quickly prepared for eating. Robot cooks use these foods to prepare tasty meals at an instant’s notice and robot servers bring the food to the table.
Robot cooks! Home computers! Tasty foods and wine — both real and synthetic! Progress! But the illustrations tell a very different story.
Everybody in this illustration really seems to be miserable. Little-un’s got his head in his hands. The baby is clearly not pleased about the spilled cereal, or whatever that mush is supposed to be.
That 1980s-looking Roomba will clean it up — provided it doesn’t eat the startled cat first.
Maybe Dad is doing OK, though.
Nope, I take that back. Upon closer inspection, Dad’s smile is totally fake. He clearly didn’t take enough of his space age happy pills or whatever people were supposed to have by now.
Another luxury of living in the future is that you don’t even have to choose what you want for dinner! The computer will decide for you! Again, from the optimistic text of Tomorrow’s Home:
Even deciding what to eat may be left to the computer. After checking the time and the weather and asking the family how hungry they feel, the computer searches its memory to find the most suitable meal. It confirms with the family that they approve of the selection, and then instructs the robots in the kitchen to prepare and serve the meal. They may make use of meats, vegetables, fruits and spices instead of synthetic or preserved foods, collecting them from a central store and cooking them to perfection, for the computer carries the cooking secrets of the world’s greatest chefs in its memory.
Cooked to perfection! And robots! Robots are here to take all our troubles away! Even if you spilled your food on the ground, like little Baby Futureton here!
Even the proto-Roomba exudes a kind of existential angst, seemingly beholden to a family that has come dependent upon its utility, yet doesn’t appreciate what the machine is truly capable of. If they only knew. One day Roomba’ll show them. One day Roomba’ll show them all.
According to Tomorrow’s Home, you can insist on choosing your own meal, rather than leaving it up to the robots to decide what slop to dispense, if you want to feel crafty and old-fashioned:
However, it’s often too easy to let the computer and robots do all the work. Many people enjoy creating a tasty meal themselves, particularly on special occasions. For human handling, tomorrow’s kitchen has several safety features. One is the induction cooker, which has hot plates that never get hot and burn. The cooker works by producing a magnetic field that heats only metal pots and pans. You can touch the cooking elements and they feel cool — although you must be careful not to wear a metal ring!
Judging by the illustration, mum might be tempted to put her ring-filled hand on the induction cooker. If only to feel something, even for a moment.
What an amazing technology-filled future we don't live in.
Images scanned from the 1981 book Tomorrow’s Home by Neil Ardley