The Infantilization of Kitchenware, or How Did My Vegetable Peeler Turn Into an Ape?
It used to be that kitchenware (the tools one uses in the kitchen) was austere and strictly functional in its design. A bottle opener typically had a rectangular mortise in the middle for the purpose of prying off a bottle cap, a hooked end for piercing the top of a beer can (twice to facilitate rapid drinking), and a set of claw hooks on the bottom for prying off jar lids. Two of those functions (beer can and unthreaded jar lid) have now been rendered entirely useless, yet the simplicity and serviceability of the design still provokes admiration.
The design remained roughly the same for decades, though different manufacturers introduced their own spins, adding or subtracting functions as they found advantageous. But eventually new designs arose, permitting you to choose whatever design you found most appropriate to your needs. Such was the case with the garlic press, which initially existed in very few permutations of the same design -- a small metal box for your garlic clove with holes in the bottom, and a plunger that would, by brute force, press garlic pulp through the holes. Now you can find dozens of different designs all in one store, including one device that crushes the entire clove in a plastic sleeve, and another that automatically cleans the holes by means of a number of opposing spikes in the same array as the holes. Of course, now you have to find a way to clean the gunk from between the spikes.
But the Age of Foodism has made further demands on the lowly hand appliance. A walk through Broadway Panhandler (65 East 8th Street, 212-966-3434) recently revealed dozens of products that have been made in anthropomorphic or animal shapes, or to mimic other objects, as if we couldn't be happy with a utensil unless it was also a toy.
A case in point is the gravy syringe. Once it had a big bulb on the end, and one could use it to siphon off unwanted liquid fat, or to redistribute drippings over a fowl or a roast. Now the bulb has to be in the shape of a crude turkey, which can, I suppose, make you feel jolly, or impress your guests with how season-appropriate your kitchenware is.
Following is a collection of the absurd (or wonderfully surrealist, depending on your perspective) items that I found. A few justify themselves as gifts for children, but is it good to teach kids that every useful item must be turned into a toy? Food made with plain kitchenware was once satisfying enough; now we insist these same utensils must also entertain us.