Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

Those Germans. They’re even hungrier than caterpillars. After mastering the culinary artistry of Zwiebelkuchen, Schupfnudel, Maultaschen and Käsespätzle, which I’m not even going to bother defining because I’m so exhausted from figuring out how to type an umlaut, they’ve turned their prowess to creating 3D-printed food for residents in 1,000 German retirement homes.

As an irrelevant aside, until writing this article I believed the umlaut was either a cousin of the kumquat or the original name of the most annoying pop song of the ’90s. With yet another core belief shattered, looks like I’ll have to haul out my tear-stained Eckhart Tolle books again.

But back to the printed food. Apparently the European Union is paying for the development of a product called Smoothfood, which elderly patients with swallowing problems can more safely eat. Through a process I don’t understand where something happens I can’t fathom, actually nutritious, food-shaped items pop out of what appears to be an ink-jet printer and magically transubstantiate onto a dinner plate. It’s a miracle!

I don’t know how the Epson printer people missed out on leading this revolution. With a little creative thinking, we could all be more cheaply refilling our ink cartridges with liquefied cauliflower and pork, and wolfing down pictures of food. But like the sad story of Kodak, they’ve missed the moment and are being left behind in a cloud of pureed chickpeas.

Speaking of pictures, the photos that accompany the breathless news stories about 3D food printing might not be the best way to promote this fledgling technology. One of them features what appears to be a comma of hummus, a truffle of pond scum and something I can’t describe without risk of needlessly inflaming the delicate sensibilities of long-term care leaders nationwide. Though almost certainly more nutritious than the “liquid candy bars” currently being offered as supplements in many facilities, work definitely needs to be done on the presentation. 

But visually unappealing as 3D-printed food may currently appear, this product is already helping people in long-term care, so we all need to just swallow hard and accept the inevitable. It tastes like real food, is made from fresh ingredients and can be eaten without choking. Not even Taco Bell publicly offers those assurances.