We can't handle it. Or – simply: at the Ruhr University in Bochum, 4,000 meals are prepared every day from 6 a.m. by ten chefs and 40 assistants. And everything on the menu consists of ready-made ingredients. Comfort level: 100 percent. It used to be peeling potatoes and cleaning vegetables. In the past, many employees worked on two dishes to choose from. Today there are nine of them. Things are melted down for diversity with fewer people. “The ready-to-eat trap” is the title of a 3sat TV report: “How the products in the bag are changing our diet”. The manager of the university cafeteria explains his new culinary art as follows: “We try to put our signature on good comfort.” The dessert comes completely out of the package. Then some fruit, chocolate fudge and vanilla sauce are covered. Students think it is already fresh. Has the feeling of true freshness disappeared?

Taste sensitivity becomes dangerous

Experiment at M√ľnster University of Applied Sciences. Two prepared foods should be compared with freshly prepared food made from the same ingredients. Fresh takes a long time, up to an hour. But the goods are cheaper. A vegetable pan as a ready meal costs 1.75 euros – only 0.79 cents fresh. Ready-made fish is 7.99 euros, fresh 2.95 euros. 42 test eaters pay in the sensory lab. They rehearse in individual booths so as not to influence each other. In the case of a fish dish, the question of which tastes better leads to a tie, as does the vegetable roast – although ready meals are recognized. Only 63 percent of the test eaters, who rarely eat prepared food, think that fresh vegetables are better. Nutritionist Guido Ritter says: We are so used to ready meals that we find the unfamiliar better or at least equivalent. We lose the quality of taste. It is not harmless. Ritter doesn't just warn against prepackaged salads. He describes studies in which 62 percent of produce from salad packs had hygienic defects. Corn in particular is often considered contaminated with bacteria. Otherwise, the freezer often comes with a lot of fat and few vitamins.

Will artificial intelligence meet stupid consumers?

Business is great. In Germany, sales of comfort products were still at six billion euros in 2014, but in 2022 they reached nine billion. Growth: 50 percent. Wine is not made from water, but meat and fish are often made. Of the many finished products, only a good half is animal, the rest is stabilized water. Artificial intelligence is used experimentally in some canteens to optimize the system. All you have to do is hold the cleaned plates under the camera. It records exactly, gram by gram, how much of which ingredient was left uneaten. In this way, shopping and dining plans can be optimized to match the forecasted weather data. Artificial intelligence has long been able to predict very accurately how many schnitzels a stupid consumer will buy and eat in the next week.

Powers David versus Industry Goliath

In Germany, the Federal Nutrition Center, a rather unknown institution on a rather important topic, complains about how few resources there are for education compared to the enormous advertising pressure from manufacturers and suppliers. A large-scale study is sounding the alarm in Spain. For 22 years, 21,000 subjects have been interviewed every two years. Just a few results: Anyone who consumes five highly processed foods a day doubles their risk of developing high blood pressure. People who eat a lot of ready-made food and love sweet drinks die earlier: cancer, diabetes, circulatory diseases – cheers, food!

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