There are few things that make us green types crazier than Keurig-type coffee machines, turning Americans into pod people who pay too much for lousy coffee and then leave little impossible-to-recycle plastic and foil droppings for the landfill. So when I heard about The Genie, a machine that was described as a "Keurig-type coffee machine for food," I was ready to rumble and rant. The waste! The cost! The horror!

Perhaps inventor Doron Marco and his team at Israeli design company White Innovations shouldn't use the Keurig analogy, because what they have built is actually pretty interesting. He and his team were working late and complaining about their food options when they had the idea: "We thought it would be great to have some contraption for making meals materialize with no fuss or mess, like on Star Trek." 

It's not quite a replicator, but it is clever. Inside those recyclable pods are freeze-dried, healthy ingredients using recipes developed by chefs and nutritionists. You stick the pod into the Genie machine and it adds liquid, then mixes, shakes, bakes or cooks it, delivering a freshly cooked meal in the pod, which you can eat out of. Cofounder Ayelet Carasso tells Reuters:

The dish can be anything, it can be a meal like chicken with rice, like couscous with vegetable or an amazing Ramen or even a chocolate soufflé or any other desert that you want. We're using only natural ingredients, we're not using any preservatives or anything that people add to their meals.
food pods for the GenieSo why no rant? Why is this different than the coffee pod? For one thing, people already buy far too much food in disposable plastic ramen bowls or single serving microwavable containers. Most of the stuff they buy is not very healthy, with far too much fat, sugar and salt. CEO Carasso tells Israel21C that the tricky part “was making sure the contents of the capsules had a long shelf life, but with no preservatives. We wanted to create healthy meals and snacks, not processed junk.” Conceptually it is not a huge leap from the microwave to a machine like this that adds water and stirs.

There is also the point that so much food is wasted; Americans throw away 40 percent of the food that they bring into their homes and much more is lost, a third of the world's food is wasted before it even gets to the customer. The Genie meal has controlled portion size, which is good for the over-eating westerner; it has a long shelf life, so it can help solve food problems elsewhere. Inventor Marco tells Reuters:

In our world, we are getting fat and we are throwing away a lot of food, in their world, they don't have any food. So if you use Genie, you can distribute the food better, you can have the shelf life much longer without the preservatives, give the people better food for them. We can even the food distribution in the world. That's a very, very important goal for us.
The pod coffee machines are convenient, and so is the Genie, particularly given how many people live alone and have to eat at work. Unlike the pod coffee machine that create mountains of plastic and foil waste, the Genie might actually reduce waste, given the two-year shelf life of the ingredients in the pods. That's a very different thing. While it is not a real substitute for cooking a meal with fresh ingredients from scratch, people aren't doing that anyway; this might improve their diets. So guys, lose the Keurig comparisons and stick with the "Star Trek" replicator.

Related in MNN and TreeHugger: 

Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.

Scotty, beam me up one of those Genie food replicators
Some call it 'a Keurig for food,' but that's a disservice. The Genie is much more interesting than that.