Why I Think I Hate the Instant Pot…

By now the dust has probably settled on the instant Pot craze (and I mean that literally as I’m sure about 75% of them are likely sitting on the top shelf beside the slap chops and magic bullets).  Although they were hotter than a Hatch’em over the holidays, it goes without saying that it won’t top the list of intelligent gifts on February 14.  Valentine’s day, the first commercial aftershock of the Earthquake called Christmas, is hardly about anything practical and it would be an utter disappointment to be so unthoughtful.

When it comes to my feelings about the Instant Pot, I guess the biggest question is whether it’s a good thing for humanity’s relationship with what we eat or just another example of culinary sacrilege equivalent to Nutrigrain bars and TV dinners. On one hand, the Instant Pot has at least refueled an interest in cooking.  People are keen to actually purchase raw ingredients even it means throwing them all in a magic pot for a ridiculously short amount of time to see what happens. On the other hand, the demand for needing things completed instantly has almost gotten pathological.

Rosie the Robot Maid

First of all, why haven’t they made a live action Jetson’s movie?  I’m sure Emma Stone could team up with Damian Lewis, Seth Green or Benedict Cumberbatch in all-ginger starring cast depending on whether she wanted to pad her acting resume with a drama, comedy or oscar winner film respectively. Perhaps the plot could involve a spine-tingling adventure in which the couple tries to determine how two redheded parents could possibly have blond and silver-haired offspring.  Perhaps the role of Rosie the Robot maid could be  split cast between the Instant Pot and the iRobot Roomba 980.

I think many people dream of one day having their own Rosie in the future and the Instant Pot is a surrogate.  Perhaps as we get closer to a Rosie in every home we will see a closed loop system in which Alexa (who based on what I’ve heard from some is not the most intuitive of virtual friends) tells the Roomba 980 what to throw into the Instant Pot so one can arrive home with a delicious meal waiting.  As I mentioned, such an automatic process makes me question what we are doing with our relationship with food.  It seems to me that using the Instant Pot might be more important than what comes out of it, especially when you have the ability to use annoying hashtags like #instantpotential or #instantpotoninstagram to brag to your instagram friends. Making spinach dips, stir frys or roasted chickens in the Instant Pot, however, seems a bit counterintuitive to me as preparing them are normally quick and/or easy anyways.

Rosie Looks a Little Angry..maybe she’s afraid the Instant Pot will steal her job.

 You’ll have to wait a minute cause it’s an instamatic.

The words above are one of the many brilliant lyrics penned by the late Gord Downie. From the song “So Hard Done By”, I think it speaks of the ongoing conflict humanity has with time and the need to wait for anything.  Just like money, time is a commodity and we decide how to spend it.  I get irritated at people who tell me they don’t have time for the gym or television or buying their own groceries.   Like money, how you use your time is a choice and there is usually enough for most things so let’s no don’t disguise choice, good or bad, as a by-product of not having enough time in a day.

What does this have to do with the Instant Pot? Simple…people crave any perception that they are saving their precious time even if they aren’t. You can’t tell me that roasting a chicken in an Instant Pot actually saves any time.  You still need to prep the bird and clean up the pot after.  The only variable is how long it takes.  These are two different concepts.  It’s kind of like Amazon prime.  It takes the same amount of time to order regardless of which means we use; the difference with prime is we get it earlier.  Let’s not mistake saving time with a lack of patience or the desire to get something immediately.  They are two difference concepts.

so hard done by
Lyrics for “So Hard Done By” taken from http://tragicallyhiptour.blogspot.ca/2011/04/so-hard-done-by-lyrics.html

The Dan Brown Phenomenon

Dan Brown burst onto the scene in 2003 with the Da Vinci code, his sophomore effect in the successful Robert Langdon series.  I’m not a huge fan of Dan Brown’s writing per se but I think his brilliance was taking the concept of religious symbolism and instead of writing a textbook what would sit on a shelf (likely beside an instapot), he transformed his theories into a fictional novel. Despite a weak plot and poorly developed characters, the Da Vinci code has sold around 80 million copies and has people looking at their dollar bills a little more closely.  I call the ability to disguise something as another for the purposes of  increased exposure and/or profit the Dan Brown phenomenon.

Let’s be real…the Instant Pot is nothing more than a glorified pressure cooker.  This technology has been around since the 17th century and the science really hasn’t evolved much since.  It is the sole reason, after all, why Top Chef contestants can cook short ribs to near perfection in under an hour; a process which usually takes at least three. Despite the fact the ability to cook food faster by simply adding pressure has been around for almost 350 years,  all of a sudden people are fascinated at the fact they can cook a chicken breast easier and faster than microwaving a hungry man dinner.

da vinci code
The Genesis of the Dan Brown Phenomenon 

The Instant Pot: The Universal Remote Outside the Family Room 

Maybe proponents of the Instant Pot will argue that it’s not the ability to pressure cook that makes it the best thing since sliced bread (although I believe the Lux model might actually slice bread as one of the features). They will instead argue that its multi-functionality is the key to its brilliance. The ability to steam rice, warm soup, saute veggies, set the pot to porridge setting and even make yogurt all in the same device seems revolutionary.  This has likely lead to kijiji sites across the country lighting up with hundreds of only-used-once crock pots on sale due to “downsizing” for $20 o.b.o. My only issue is, much like losing the universal remote, you are screwed if anything happens to the all-in-one device and you may end up in a situation where you may actually have to remember how to turn on an element to boil some water….providing you have any pots or pans left in your dwindling reservoir of kitchen items.

universal remote
The Instant Pot of the Family Room

My Take

I’m still on the fence about the Instant Pot.  On one side, i think it has sparked a re-interest into getting people back into the kitchen with the intention of trying to cook using raw ingredients.  This has been coupled by a sizable social media community posting cool and innovative ways to use the device suggesting that cooking may actually be fun again. The device has infused a sense of pride in both those with curious culinary minds who want to truly play with their food and those who are kitchen amateurs and can take pride in the fact they cooked spaghetti with “homemade” sauce in one pot.

On the other hand, the Instant Pot is another example of the constant propaganda intended to give us immediate satisfaction with minimal effort. It’s a glorified vending machine and  another step toward Rosie the robot and the near complete automation of food preparation.

In the end, it’s not really about saving time but instead about feeding our need to satisfy our ever increasing impatience. The Instant Pot will eventually join the graveyard of kitchen gadgets with the likes of Gotham pans and George Foreman grills. Until then, people will continue to exercise creativity in efforts to abandon primitive cooking practices including using a stove top and a skillet, ultimately saving a few minutes while only washing one pot.  Personally, I’ll continue to roast chickens, make stirfrys in a wok and buy my yogurt for $1.99 in a tub at the grocery store.  If I do ever get an Instant Pot, it will likely be on kijiji, partially because I can feed my impatience knowing I can get it right away.  Even Amazon prime would take a day or two …even if I eventually figured out how to use Alexa to help me order it.





From Hippy to Hipster: The Rules Haven’t Changed

I remember listening to the song “Signs” by Five Man Electrical Band (and later Tesla) when growing up.  It speaks of the tribulations of a hippie trying to get a job or into a country club without a membership card. It was a scream at the state of society in the early 70s and reminds me of what it’s like trying to enjoy a meal in a restaurant in 2012.

 The rules have changed in food service and establishments since the Five Man Electrical Band but remain as outdated as they were back then. Currently, establishments will have you believe that their rules are not  an expression of pretension but in fact a matter of improving efficiency and adhering to good business practices. I call bull shit. Here are the some of the most ridiculous rules in food service today:

1.  No Reservations with No Regret

I question any establishment who informs me that at this time “we regret at this time we are unable to accept reservations”.  Open Table provides online reservations for over  25 000 restaurants across North America.  Each one of these restaurants is “able” to accept reservations. Last time I checked the combination of a phone number, a hostess and a paper calendar is another way to ensure that people reserve a seat.  I commend any restaurant whose success warrants an exclusion from the need to make a reservation, but it doesn’t help when meeting friends you haven’t seen in years or trying to impress a girlfriend, spouse or customer.  “Hey, honey, I knew you’d enjoy standing in line for 45 minutes for the privilege of eating here” sounds much more romantic rolling of the tongue  than “I knew you’d like this place so I made a reservation a month ago to make sure we could get in”.

As an example, the Mandarin, one of the busiest buffet restaurants in Ontario, willingly takes reservations although they don’t really need  to so you don’t have to leave Gramma standing in the front door waiting for her chicken balls.  

2.  “As a result of our policy, we won’t seat you until your entire party has arrived”. 

I’m puzzled by this one.  I recently went to a restaurant where I was  footing  the bill for 9 people who were in various meeting during the day.  I made a reservation (see it works!), let everybody know  and was informed at the door, despite 8 of the 9 of us arriving,  that we would not be seated until the whole party showed.  I suppose I understand the fact that it makes much more sense to clog the doorway with people waiting to eat than just sitting them down and letting them start on overpriced cocktails and appetizers.  I guess I could of loaded up the clown car and have us all roll in at the same time so as not to create any inconvenience for the restaurant.

3. “We can’t give you separate bills”

I challenge anybody to ask the poor waiter or waitress the reason for this policy.  I guarantee you will be 25 different answers ranging from “It’s just our policy” to “our system doesn’t allow us to separate the bills”. I can’t argue with the first one since the answer is so clear and logical. Policy is policy. The second is amusing.  I mean, you have a system that allows you to hit a computer screen with your finger and spit out a ticket to tell the kitchen that you want a medium well burger with extra pickle, no mayo and onion rings instead of fries but it can’t split a bill.  You are also suggesting that your system is unable to take a $180 bill among  6 people and split it evenly. I’m sure any ten-year old has this same question on a math test and can figure out using a  Texas Instruments calculator.

4.  Cash Only

I understand that credit card companies are greedy, money-grubbing scum but they’re damn convenient.  They let you spend what you want on a meal without having to do the calculations in your head based on the money in your pocket.  I’d hate to skip out on the key lime pie because I ordered a side of grits with my brisket  and only have 40 bucks in cash. There are surcharges that restaurants endure to carry Visa/MC/AMEX which increases business costs, but in many cases they are absorbed when pricing the menu.

I guess what I don’t understand is the fact that the “cash only” concept is now considered hip by some. I’ve been in a few restaurants where the server has proudly informed me of the  policy with or without  a phony apology. Others raise their eyebrows as passively stare at the “Cash only” written on the blackboard while clearing their throat.  Don’t  get me wrong, there are some helpful places.  Some are kind enough to install an ATM in the establishment so you can absorb all the costs including whatever service charge they program into the machine. Another was kind enough to tell me that I could order first and that the nearest bank machine was about 500 metres down the road. I left and it felt good. 

 Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not adverse to paying cash, especially at food trucks,  bars and hot dog carts. However, I don’t like being forced to do it, especially when I’m racking up a decent bill with drinks, entrees etc.  It’s not like I see a significant cost savings passed to me especially when I’m sitting in a near condemned house at a formica table with  mismatched chairs eating $14  eggs bennie off  corningware plates I saw at a yard sale last week. 

So, things really haven’t changed much since 1970.  Whereas then you had to have a tie and a membership card to get inside, today you just need patience, your whole group and a big wad of cash.