"The Bakery of Tomorrow" Makes Me Want To Cry

Aug 30 2011 Published by under Isn't It Ironic?, Technology Gone Bad

A thousand years ago, when I was an undergraduate, there was one bank in State College, PA that had an ATM.  "Rosy, the 24 hour teller!" it was called.  The bank had to give the ATM a name and warm, friendly female persona to introduce this strange new concept to its customers, especially since they were charging them extra for the card they needed to use it.  Craziness, I thought.  Who in the world is going to pay for the privilege of having access to their money, when you can just go in to the bank and have a real teller give you your cash?  That silly thing will never catch on. Rosy!  What a hoot!

Many years and a skazillion ATM fees later, the bank has the last laugh.

Now, in my Sunday paper, I read about this horrifying development in the land of the baguette.

Jean-Louis Hecht [a] baker from northeast France has rolled out a 24-hour automated baguette dispenser, promising warm bread for hungry night owls, shift workers, or anyone else who didn't have time to pick one up during the bakery's opening hours.

"This is the bakery of tomorrow," proclaimed Hecht, who foresees expansion in Paris, around Europe, and even to the United States. "If other bakers don't want to enter the niche, they're going to get decimated."

There are only two machines...for now.  And people may scoff that it's not as good as the real thing...for now.  But just as we got used to paying for our own money, and scanning and bagging our groceries ourselves, we'll get used to this.  Monsieur Hecht says so.

"It's like with banks: Before, everyone went to a teller; now, everybody uses ATMs," he said. "It will be the same with bread: Today, everybody goes to the bakery. Tomorrow they'll go to the baguette dispenser."

We are too busy to wait in line for human tellers inside a bank, or for someone else to check out and bag our groceries.  We'll do it ourselves, 24/7, and never mind that the waiting in line used to contribute to someone having a job.  Never mind that accepting a half-tolerable baguette, because you can get it at any time of the day or night, will put bakers and their employees out of work.  Monsieur Hecht says his bread dispenser will change the lifestyle of bakers, letting them sleep in a little later, and imagines this desiderata justifies the technology, but what the bread dispenser will really do is dispense with baking.  As he says

"If other bakers don't want to enter the niche, they're going to get decimated."

It's deeply ironic that France, of all places, is discovering fast-food bread, at a time when many U.S. cities are beginning to rediscover the virtues of old-fashioned bread-making and bakeries.  At one local farmer's market near my home, a baker sets up a stall each week and those who would purchase bread from him had best get there in the first two hours of the market.  The bread goes before the cookies, before the croissants and apple dumplings and nut rolls and cannoli.  Even in my local Genuardi's grocery store, the Wonder bread languishes on the shelves but the "artisan bread" from the store bakery is snapped up early in the day.

Technology that decimates, that destroys jobs and gives lower quality food as its gift, is truly technology gone bad. The bulk of U.S. food culture is ample proof of that.  How much food culture will France be willing to sacrifice in the name of efficiency and convenience?  Or will they realize what they already know, that eating cheap crap on the run is no bargain?


19 responses so far

  • GinBerlin says:

    The French adore McDs, but I don't see that catching on to actually replace the corner bakery. Here in Germany, we visit our bakery daily (and double up on Saturday, when they are open 4 hours). Every block has a bakery. Toast bread (or the stuff sold in plastic bags) has a place, but it is a limited one. I took a bread course this week and it was full (75% men, in fact, as was the master baker teaching it): no German will be buying a baguette from a vending machine unless: they really need it, and it's as good as the par-baked ones we already buy and keep in the freezer for emergencies (in which case, the freezer is more convenient and probably cheaper).
    But if I were wandering about after partying and wanted a baguette, I might eat one (if it tasted good).

  • Mike says:

    I saw the article, and having been in France for a while doubt that it is the future of the Baguette, even if it tastes OK. The French are justifiably proud of their bread and bakeries, and enjoy the different takes on bread that can be found on just one street.

    M. Hecht is wrong in assuming that it's just about the bread. That's like saying French cooking is all about the sauce.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    I have been buying Grant's Farm bread which I got used to living by St. Louis. The local grocery stores have quit carrying it, and the store bakery bread does not suit me as well. All part of the ongoing downward slide of Western Civilization! The store delicatessens no longer have pickle and pimento loaf or old fashioned loaf! Woe is me!

  • Dan says:

    Isn't this the food of yesteryear?
    Automats with pieces of pie and sandwiches behind glass in wedge-shaped compartments go back at least as far as first-run episodes of the Jetsons.

    You can still buy just about any food item out of a machine in Japan.

  • Kea says:

    Damed right, and until we fix the banks (etc) there will be too many people with no money to put in the bread dispensers, 24/7. Heck, I'm old enough to remember opening a bank account with 5 cents. The teller slowly stamped my account book with a friendly smile, while my mother explained that I would earn interest on the money that I gave the bank. No amount of propaganda in the intervening decades has ever brainwashed me into believing that I should give up service in the name of economy.

  • Ed says:

    I'm not so sure. The reduction of jobs issue is the most important one for me, but it's not so black and white. There are the advancements that create net value and the ones that simply funnel more of the existing profits into the pockets of the wealthy who own everything. The problem is that the wealthy hoover up for themselves any of the value created by such technological advances, too.

    The wealthy do what they want and the rest of us get it in the pants no matter what happens, there's your problem. We need to separate wealth and political influence better so we can make sensible and reasonable legislation - so when a company starts using new machines if there is net value creation it can be split between the company and the existing workers, maybe through training for the new approach, so everyone makes out on the deal. If there is no net value creation then it does not benefit the economy anyway so no big deal if it does not happen.

  • sciwo says:

    Well, yes and no. Going to see a person in a bank is great -- if you happen to have a job flexible enough to let you do your banking during traditional business hours -- or have the rare bank that has hours other than about 9-5 M-F. Same with beautifully baked artisanal bread - it's fantastic. But for the huge number of households with errand schedules dictated by the work/daycare routine (and work schedules dictated by the daycare availability, for that matter), an ATM is a godsend and a baguette machine could be a significant improvement over the crap they sell in convenience stores.

    • Kea says:

      Most would agree that ATMs are a convenience to appreciate - but why do we pay more now for far less service than before? That is the problem.

    • Zuska says:

      I hate Bank of America, but they have a branch office and ATM in my local grocery store. The branch has extended hours, much longer than any regular branch. They are open into the evening so that people can do banking business after normal work hours, not just use the ATM. I like this idea - both the extended hours, and taking the bank to a place where people are already going to be going.

      As Kea mentions below, ATMs are a convenience, but it drives me nuts to pay ATM fees. Does it really cost $3 on one bank's end and $2 on the other bank's end if I need to access my money from an ATM that is not my own bank's ATM? I really don't think so. I really don't think computer transactions cost that much. ATM fees are a giant money making scheme.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    Curious coincidence: I read this just as the house is full of the smell of baking bread.

    Hard to beat the taste and it's all over vending machines for convenience, but now I feel guilty because I'm not supporting the local bakers.

  • becca says:

    Frankly, I think the loss of bakers (due to sandwich bread or bagutte machines) is even more worrisome than loss of bank tellers or cashiers.
    I know people who had happy-enough jobs as bank tellers, and grocery cashiers were sometimes unionized and not-bad jobs. But there are people who have a *calling* to get up at 5am and make bread- although this is unfathomable to me, I cannot deny the loveliness that is the smells and tastes that go along with the job (and if it weren't for the 5am part I might even be tempted myself). Such bread is also immeasurably better than the alternatives (at my farmers market at least. I think we have an actual bakery in this town too, I need to visit more).

    • Zuska says:

      I am not one to be nostalgic for a mythical past village life of simpler times etc. But there is something seriously wrong with the way we have arranged our modern lives. Technology is touted as "labor saving" but in the process of saving labor jobs, industries, cultures have been killed. A few have been enriched, many impoverished. Should "labor saving" or "convenience" be the main or only measure of technology's utility or worth, the main deciding factor in whether or not we want to implement it in our lives? It is easier to have an iron plow for the field than to have to till it by hand, and more land can be cultivated more quickly. What then shall be done with all the extra food, all the extra time liberated by the production of that food? These questions have been poorly answered over and over again.

      More conveniences make it ever easier for us to work at all hours of the day and night. Baguette dispensers make it look like you can have your slow food and run in the global marketplace race, too. What we need more of is technology that lets us slow down, not keep speeding up. That technology may be low tech, not ever more high tech.

      • GinBerlin says:

        They are hiring bakers (and bakresses, as nouns are gendered here) madly for apprenticeships. The weather may be terrible in Germany, but there are some things that do work, including having a path, through apprenticeship, to respected (guild level) work.

  • In the UK, most ATMs are free - even ones at a different bank than the one you have an account with - and the ones that aren't have to be clearly labelled as such. Also, checking accounts pay you interest. I am constantly shocked by how much banks get away with in the US.

    Also, the one thing I really miss since finding out I'm gluten intolerant is proper French baguette.

  • Craig Evans says:

    I remember Rosy... "Have a Rosy day!" in my freshman year at PSU (Biology '84).

    I've read your blog occassionally, but never caught that you were a fellow Penn Stater.

    (Remember the "Our Store Food Co-op"?)

  • Wait. It gets worse. A friend who works at our city hall told me of a study she'd heard about at an urban planning conference that looked at what aspects of "neighbourhood" most contributed to the overall satisfaction/happiness of the citizens who lived in that area. They looked at possibilities like schools, parks, access to public transit, those kinds of things. The #1 feature?

    "Proximity to a bakery".

    While living close to a local bakery means wonderful baked goods, it also means this: if you live close to a bakery, chances are you may also be living within walking distance of the library, the flower shop, the shoe repair guy and a good coffee shop too. All of these mean you may be less likely to depend on a car to drive you to the nearest Big Box store or mega-mall, fight traffic, find a parking spot, and generally do things that make you UNhappy.

    If you don't live near a bakery, you might consider doing what my 30-something daughter has just discovered: baking your own bread. She's been perfecting her no-knead recipe for months, easy-peasey to whip together, takes a couple days of just sitting on the counter to very slowly rise, but essentially every bit as convenient as finding a bakery (or that baguette-o-matic thingy) and absolutely delicious!

    Is there anything in life more lovely than the smell of bread baking in the oven? Another lost life experience for many of us...

    • Zuska says:

      When I lived in Germany, bakeries were everywhere. People argued about whether the bakery of this person or that one had the best whatever pastry that you picked up on the way in to work (walking, or by tram/train, of course). The bakeries mattered so much. It took me such a long time to wrap my head around the idea of not buying everything in one place and then, when I came back to the U.S., the disorientation of having to go to a grocery store to get everything in one place and not having a bakery, cheesemonger, etc. was so depressing I wanted to cry. What was even more depressing was how no one even realized how crappy the way life was organized here had become. And how it had contributed to loss of jobs. Bah! I could go on forever in my cranky old person mode. I'll just stop now.

  • [...] and upgrading them just like your smart phone or iPad.  (Side note: If anyone can explain to me why the new robot thingies always have to be called "Rosie" I will be grateful.  Don't blame it on the Jetsons.  Where did the Jetsons come up with Rosie? Is [...]