Stagnation of innovation is often illustrated with kitchens. In 1996, Paul Krugman wrote, “I live in a house with a late-50s-vintage kitchen, never remodeled. The non-self-defrosting refrigerator, and the gas range with its open pilot lights . . . it is still a pretty functional kitchen.” (Illustrating, at least, his lack of change.) Tyler Cowen said “if he were to introduce his grandmother to a modern American kitchen, it wouldn’t be all that earth-shattering for her.” David Brooks mentioned lack of innovation in many things, including “appliances”. Last week, the Economist said:
Take kitchens. In 1900 kitchens in even the poshest of households were primitive things. . . . Fast forward to 1970 and middle-class kitchens in America and Europe feature gas and electric hobs [= burners] and ovens, fridges, food processors, microwaves and dishwashers. Move forward another 40 years, though, and things scarcely change.
For a long time I wanted to go to the giant kitchen and housewares trade show in Chicago every summer, until this article convinced it would be the same old stuff with tiny variations.
In contrast, my kitchen has changed greatly in the last ten years. Here’s how:
1. Tea-brewing equipment. Soon after I started practicing the Shangri-La Diet (calories without smell), I started drinking lots of tea (smell without calories).
2. Electric tea kettle (heats water for tea better than microwave).
3. Kitchen scale (for tea and flaxseed). I discovered that flaxseed oil and, later, ground flaxseed improved my brain function and gums.
4. Noseclips. For the Shangri-La Diet.
5. Yogurt maker. I believe that fermented foods are essential for health.
6. Kombucha brewing tools (e.g., glass jars).
7. Spice grinder (for flax seed).
8. Soup cooker (for pork belly and miso soup). Eating lots of pork belly improved my sleep.
I would like to make more fermented foods. I hear that in South Korea I can get a machine that makes both natto and yogurt.
My kitchen changed because my ideas about health changed. My ideas about health changed because of my research. I found a new way to lose weight. I had a new explanation of why we like foods with complex, sour, and unami flavors (so that we will eat more fermented food). Self-experimentation convinced me that I was seriously omega-3-deficient, thus the flaxseeds. I discovered that if I eat a lot of animal fat, I sleep better.
I believe kitchen stagnation reflects stagnation in our thinking about health. Every October, I point out that the Nobel Prize in Medicine has again been given to research that is so far useless. “Molecular medicine has come nowhere close to matching the effects of improved sanitation,” says the Economist. Could mainstream health researchers be trapped by their desires to show off (no cheap equipment), to be respected (no “crazy ideas”), and to produce a steady stream of publications (no time to test implausible ideas)? Could having goals other than the truth (such as respectability) make it harder to find the truth? People who have written about stagnation in innovation do not seem to have considered these possibilities.