Technology, as a rule, is not delicious. Ever licked a microprocessor? Well, don't. But every now and then, technology does make some strides in service of tastiness, and there's nothing wrong with that.
To wit: Cloud computing and advanced packaging technology is making possible new methods of food distribution, potentially reducing waste and cutting out long-standing efficiency problems. FreshRealm, a tech start-up out of Ventura, Calif., is rolling out a system in which growers and suppliers can deliver fresh food directly to shoppers - eliminating pesky traditions like refrigerated warehouses and grocery stores.
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Central to the FreshRealm system is a patent-pending refrigerated container called the Vessel, which allows nationwide delivery of fresh food directly from farms, suppliers or restaurants. You make your order online, and food is delivered to your door in the re-usable Vessel, which keeps contents at or below 40 degrees F for up to 40 hours without electricity or consumable refrigerants. (It uses old-fashioned ice packs and some heavy-duty insulation technology.)
In the interest of hands-on, two-fisted science, we arranged a Vessel delivery via one of FreshRealm's merchant partners, Terra's Kitchen, which delivers gourmet uncooked meals to your home. (Nutrisystem is another partner, and more are coming online.) The container arrived on time, via FedEx, and fully refrigerated. In the middle of a heat wave, actually.
The Vessel looks and works like a radically slimmed-down mini-fridge, but lighter in weight. Slide-out compartments are tightly packed with pre-portioned ingredients for the meals. The Vessel holds up to 10 dinner servings, with five different recipes.
Once you unpack the food from the Vessel - full-color recipe cards included - you just peel off the delivery label to reveal the return label underneath. The Vessel goes back into circulation to be packed up again. FreshRealm's cloud-based distribution system is designed to keep food suppliers and consumers connected for maximum efficiency, including co-drop networks for group orders.
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FreshRealm hopes all that computerized efficiency, plus the reusable Vessel technology, will make possible a national fresh food supply chain with applications beyond the gourmet home delivery market. Small farms, for instance, could potentially deliver directly to customers or groups, bypassing traditional distribution channels. Numbers from the company's analysis suggest that almost 40 percent of food grown in the U.S. perishes before it even hits the market.
In any case, the Vessel container is pretty slick. The inside was still surprisingly cool when we put it out for next-day return, around 30 hours after it was dropped off. Oh, and the food was indeed delicious. I recommend the Garlicky Quinoa with Asparagus and Pecans. Viva Technology!