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Labun Jordan: Printing Food

(Host) The weeks before Thanksgiving are when we're thinking about traditional food the most. But through her work at e-Vermont, commentator Helen Labun Jordanhas gotten used to ideas that are more about the future than the past. And lately, she's been contemplating the future of cooking, and what new technologies may soon be arriving in our kitchens.

(Labun Jordan) 3-D printers that create three dimensional objects using a variety of substances for their ink, aren't the newest technology news -they've been in development for decades. By now we're at the point where futuristic invention meets Black amp; Decker - the challenge is in turning these machines into common household appliances. There are a variety of reasons why customers might want this, from printing car parts to fashion accessories.And one possibility is printing food.

My first reaction to food from a home printer was that even if the technology arrived on my countertop tomorrow, there's no way I'd make dinner out of an ink cartridge. But actually, it's not a crazy idea.

For one thing, printed food is already here in two dimensions. We print images on cake tops and patterns on chocolates. So it's not such a big leap to think of printing the cakes and chocolates themselves.And the complexity of two dimensional food is growing. In Chicago's famously progressive Moto restaurant, they serve their Maki roll alongside a print out of, yes, their Maki roll.

Another point in favor of food printed at home is how selective we've become about specific ingredients - nut-free, lactose-free,gluten-free, wheat-free, soy-free, no corn syrup, no transfats, vegan,vegetarian, GMO-free, low carbohydrate, glycemic index reviewed, and I'm still trying to forget Atkins. And that's not even including the simply picky eaters.Think of how much easier birthday parties would be if parents could print each child a cupcake tailored to his or her personal dietary restrictions.

And think of time savings. This isn't laziness. I'm part of the Localvore generation, and I've made my share of pasta from locally milled flour. I've pickled and I've made jam and I've even attempted a garden - and frankly, I'm tired. When I don't want to spend suppertime finding a new use for wheat berries, I microwave popcorn. I'd be just as happy pressing a button for risotto - especially if I could preserve local ingredients as the so-called 'ink' for future meals.

We could get even more creative. We could imagine a time when it's possible to take apart the components of taste and flavor and create a flavor palate that home cooks blend just like colors of paint. We could imagine using our home inks to whip up any combination that strikes our fancy,like juniper berry hickory smoke peanut shell cocoa bean steak rub - or butter with a hint of jasmine and honeysuckle.

Vermont's culture isn't built around competition to have the latest cutting edge technology the moment it hits the market. But that doesn't mean there isn't a market. When we stop and take stock of what's useful in daily life, there's often a good technological match. The difference is in looking for that match first, and not buying technology for its own sake. Soyes, someday soon there might be a 3-D printer sitting between my heirloom apples and homemade pie crust. I think I'm ready for it.

Helen Labun has worked in Vermont nonprofits addressing issues in rural economic development. Today, she is Executive Director of the Vermont Fresh Network, connecting chefs to Vermont farmers in support of the local food economy.
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