Thesis Proposal: Draft

Well… here goes nothing!

For my thesis, I would like to use commonly available technologies to increase dialogue around and awareness of the foods we eat. To accomplish this, I would like to build an online social cooking experience to help people cook more, and through this, engage more deeply with their food. 

Increasingly, people in the US are opting for prepared, ready-to-eat meals rather than preparing their own food. This is especially true in New York City, where people are bombarded with takeout options and are often too hurried to pay much attention to what they’re eating on a daily basis. I believe that through this loss of food-preparation knowledge, we are moving one step further from knowing (or caring) where our food comes from. This is a problem because consumer choice is the main driver of our food economy, and current consumption habits overwhelmingly support a food system that is inefficient, wasteful, environmentally harmful and even detrimental to public health. I believe that one step to learning more about our food, and making the right decisions on what to buy, is to learn how to make it ourselves: discover ingredients, really read labels, look for things fresh and in-season. Under the right conditions, cooking can even spark a lifelong interest in healthy eating and increased knowledge of our food system, too.

In a sense, my target audience could be anyone who eats food, but in particular I would like my idea to reach those who currently don’t spend much time cooking. This means people like me, who live in NYC, subsist on takeout and usually too busy to cook.

The proposed service would work by allowing people to schedule virtual ‘cooking dates’ with friends (or strangers!). Then, they would meet up via video and chat over the web to prepare a dish together. Dishes can be taken from the website’s weekly curated list of seasonal recipes, or it could be one of the member’s own making. As the date approaches, the system would also provide alerts for ingredient shopping. The hope is that the fun of cooking together will keep people coming back to cook more, so that they can build skills and confidence to cook more themselves. And over time, through dialogue and experience, users will develop a closer relationship with their food. Social cooking could also be a great way for friends who love cooking to convince their less enthusiastic, far away buddies to join.

So far, I have done a great deal of general landscape research, trying to understand the complexity of the food system in the US as well as staying abreast of current food & technology endeavors through the blog I still have much to learn and will perhaps never know enough about our relationships to food, but I feel that I am ready to start designing and prototyping this idea. 

The ultimate goal of my thesis is to release a working product to the public. Therefore, I’d like to create wireframes and build rapid prototypes as early as possible, so that I’ll have time to gather feedback and iterate several rounds. This month, I’d like to interview people in public spaces about their food practices, prototype the experience of cooking with friends online using Google+ Hangouts, and begin creating wireframes & user flows for site experience.