Cooking with Science in Wired Magazine

Cover of Wired Magazine's October 2013 issue, featuring the Science of Cooking.

Cover of Wired Magazine’s October 2013 issue, featuring the Science of Cooking.

Cooking with Science

Wired Magazine’s October 2013 Issue featured the topic “Cooking with Science.”  This issue jumped out at me because of our recent articles on patenting food, flavors, and beer.  In those articles, we noted that relatively few foods or beverages are patented.

The lack of food patents seems somewhat surprising in view of two things: (1) the food & beverage industry is immensely important; and (2) food & beverage products fall squarely within the “composition of matter” category of patentable subject matter.  Furthermore, new methods for making food and culinary equipment would give rise to patentable inventions.

Chef David Chang Discusses the Science of Cooking

In the October 2013 print issue of Wired, the authors discuss cooking with science on pages 136-150.  The most comprehensive piece is written by David Chang, Chef and Founder of the Momofuku Restaurant Group.  Here’s what Mr. Chang had to say about cooking with science:

I’ve also noticed a growing disconnect between the role of food science and today’s food culture. Cooking is a scientific process, after all, but calling food “processed” has become a slur. It’s almost as if we are expected to hide the science that goes into our food. This wasn’t always true: If you look at advertisements from the 1940s and ’50s, they celebrated that the latest chewing gum used artificial sweeteners and flavoring agents, because that was the hot thing. Today, though, everything is supposed to be “natural,” simple, old-fashioned. We’ve been brainwashed to believe that science is scary.

I think Mr. Chang has a point.  Somehow society has developed a mental block about viewing food as chemistry.  People are horrified about having “chemicals” in their food.  But, technically speaking, the food we eat is made 100% of “chemicals.”  Pick any food.  That food can be analyzed as a chemical composition.  The term “chemical” simply  means very small.  Chemistry refers to the way things look at the molecular level.  It refers to the atoms and molecules that bond together to make up the macroscopic world that we see and touch.

The Food—Technology Disconnect in Patent Law

Much like the consumer’s boundary between cooking and chemistry, the food industry imposes a similar boundary when it comes to patenting the technology.  Very few food innovations are patented whereas other chemical disciplines frequently utilize the patent system.  (For example, the materials and pharmaceutical industries make a habit of filing patent applications).

I expect that new advances in food will soon be viewed appropriately as “technology.”  Notably, Wired Magazine has already displayed some forward thinking by placing “cooking” in the same sentence as “science.” That intellectual leap will lead to tremendous opportunities as people in the industry make the transition from just cooking to inventing.

Patenting a new food technology would give the inventor the exclusive right to make, use, or sell the innovative food.  Patenting a food would allow the inventor to demand royalties from copyists who wish to utilize the invention.

 

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