When I launched my latest tech and food venture, Sue’s Tech Kitchen, I ran some of my ideas by food technologist Emilie Baltz. She’s been working in the multisensory space for years, having made wonderful tech creations such as the Cotton Candy Theremin and the Lickestra.
That’s why I support this woman’s work.
Emilie Baltz is a multimedia artist who uses food as a material for creativity and multisensory communication. She is an award-winning author, public speaker and founding member of NEW INC, an art/tech incubator hosted at the New Museum in New York City. Baltz is passionate about inventing new forms of human behavior that cultivate balance, joy and community within the physical and digital landscapes.
Randi Zuckerberg: What is a food technologist?
Emilie Baltz: A food technologist uses technology to better the food experience by blending the art and craft of gastronomy with the science and logic of technology. Examples of this could be anything from an app for meal delivery services to weather sensors for improved agricultural growth or even a lickable ice-cream orchestra!
Technology has been happening since we invented fire and tools. It just so happens that today’s version of technology is embodied in digital form, but let’s remember that yesterday’s printing press is actually today’s Snapchat. The materials and tools might change, but human needs are still the same: a balance between the practical and the pleasurable.
Blending food and digital technology is, for me, one of the best ways of expressing the human condition. We eat because we need calories to live. But we also eat because we love — and need— to feel pleasure. My personal interest lies in the latter end of this spectrum.
I use technology to foster delight and joy in consumers by creating experiences, educational platforms and new products that balance the function of living with the pleasure of being.
RZ: How is food a metaphor for multisensory communication?
EB: Food is our most multisensory of materials. When we eat, we are experiencing more than taste; we are actually participating in a whole sensory symphony. The sound, sight, smell and texture of food all affect our perception of what we are “tasting.”
Imagine eating a soggy potato chip. Gross, right? Even more than its salt or fat, the pleasure of a potato chip is found in its snappy sound. Food brands and academics do incredible research to engineer these crunch sounds as a way of better understanding how sensory communication affects human perception.
When we think of food in this light, it becomes a great metaphor for understanding how we perceive the world around us. The sensory information we digest daily (the way someone smells, looks, moves, talks, feels, etc.) adds up to an experience that we assign meaning and value to.
RZ: What is it about the intersection of food design and the internet of things that interests you?
EB: The medium of food is a fundamental connection to our bodies, our communities and our planet. To me, this is a natural parallel with the internet of things, seeing as both attempt to create deeper connections between individuals and their environments.
There are so many opportunities at this intersection, from creating better systems of distribution and preservation to igniting new relationships between our food, bodies and personal psychology. Health and wellness are areas of personal interest in which I think food design and IoT (internet of things) can help create more delightful approaches to longevity, sustainability and self-care.
RZ: How does the culture of food and entrepreneurship intersect?
EB: How do they not?! Food is the most entrepreneurial of cultures. The root of “entrepreneur” is from the French “entreprendre” (which means “to undertake”).
Be it at home or in a business, every day we “undertake” cooking, feeding and distributing our food to others or ourselves. This very activity also means taking on risk, which is an embedded factor with any entrepreneur.
In food, we acknowledge the risk that a crop may fail, the stove may break, a guest will hate a dish, etc. These functional risks are then coupled with emotional risks.
Think about what it feels like when someone hates what you spent hours cooking for them. Pretty awful. And, I bargain, such failure might be even more painful given that cooking and eating are still some of our more emotional and intimate experiences as humans.
Together, these factors all contribute to the dichotomy of risk/reward that any entrepreneur is drawn to.
RZ: The Cotton Candy Theremin, Lickestra — how do you come up with your ideas?
EB: I ask “what if?” all the time. Putting myself in a state of wonder fosters curiosity and helps fuel my imagination. And I embrace embarrassment.
Creativity is a vulnerable process. Assuming the potential risk for failure, rejection and ridiculousness helps break down the judgments and self-criticism that kill creativity and invention.
— Randi Zuckerberg is the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, a best-selling author and the host of a SiriusXM weekly tech business show, Randi Zuckerberg Means Business. Follow her on Twitter: @randizuckerberg or connect with her on Facebook. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.