Nosh Box: Ins and Outs of Eating In and Out

Nosh Box: Ins and Outs of Eating In and Out


Goji berries, a harbinger of change.

As I was a child of the Fruitvale, no calendar could top our annual olfactory omen that vacation was ending, and school was about to start. Nearby, Del Monte’s 37 canning plant stacked columns of steam, belching odors of tomatoes by the truckload cooking 24/7 from mid-August through September’s end.

While tomato sauce, paste, canned-whole, and catsup remain, the popularity of tinned vegetables has waned. Today, Oakland’s Cannery Row is long gone, replaced by strip malls and apartments. And food-processing automation eliminated the backbreaking seasonal labor of men and women who fed the mechanized lines, then stacked and shipped the finished products during two daily 12-hour shifts.

The Fare Technology Brings

Some things never change, and September’s role in our yearly routine is one of them: the end of vacation, and back to work or school. But this September what we eat and where we eat receive closer inspection—along with the reasons both are changing. So this month we examine the fare technology brings.

Harbingers of Change:

• New foods have been introduced, such as quinoa, goji berries, spelt, insects, Impossible Burgers, and the Carolina Reaper.

• Food-fashion has popularizes trends like avocado toast, lettuce-wrapped bun-less burgers, and fad diets like the Atkins, Paleo, or Ketogenic.

• New ways to prepare meals introduced food processors, microwave ovens, induction cooktops, instant pots, hydroponic grow-wear, and sous vide.

• Technology has been both a cause and the catalyst of how our eating habits change: High-tech careers include long hours and high disposable incomes, meaning less leisure time for meal prep and cooking, but more cash for shopping and eating.

• Smart phones have ushered in a proliferation of apps, many of which deal with food, meals, or eating—both at home and in restaurants.

Figures Don’t Lie

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the average American household spends just over $3,000 annually dining out. Within the last two years, the number of meals eaten out has surpassed the number eater at home by 65 percent to 45 percent. If translated into dollars spent, that difference amplifies. Accordingly, since 2003, the total amount spent on food away from home vs. at home has nearly doubled, increasing 94 percent. Equally astonishing, since 2001 less than 60 percent of the meals consumed at home have actually been cooked at home.

Yuppified Meals on Wheels

A major boost has been the go-between in this gustatory shift: the emergence of computerized food delivery services, at the beckon call from any smartphone. Uber Eats, DoorDash, and GrubHub, are the big three, but Yelp Eats, Foodlier and others prowl about the vicinity.

Meal Kit Hinterland Grows

The makers of meal kits assemble and ship all of the ingredients needed for a portion-controlled meal. The big players are Blue Apron and Hellow Fresh. The cost to consumers is somewhere between restaurant prices, and the cost of the ingredients at retail stores, averaging $10–$12 per serving. This market sector is growing strong, at about 25 percent –30 percent annually, according to Toast, a provider of all things software for the national restaurant industry.

Cutting Edge Development

Uber Eats is trying a new service in handful of U.S. cities, allowing customers to order food from a menu, then show up at the restaurant to sit down to eat. According to Tech-Crunch, the app is available in select target markets, but not yet locally.

Users can order and—in some cases—schedule arrival times. “The app will show you how long the food will take to prep and the distance to the restaurant. You’ll then be notified as the order is prepared and approaches readiness. You can add a tip in-app or on the table. Uber will not charge a fee, and the restaurants get 100 percent of the tips left by users…” T-C notes.

No Personal Buy-In

While I’ll happily expound on these high-tech nosh trends, I’m no practioners of eating delivered meals at home. Not because I’m a Luddite, or don’t use a smartphone. It’s because I see little upside to paying premium or restaurant prices for food—plus a delivery tip—then having to wash dishes and clean the kitchen. Somehow it just doesn’t add up.

Faces of the East Bay