One of the running gags on this season of HBO’s widely-adored Silicon Valley involves an app that sounds too farcically absurd to exist. It's called SeeFood, billed as “the Shazam for Food.” The user interface is pretty straightforward; users can simply angle their phone's camera at a dish in front of them and the app will summon that dish's metadata, telling users what it is and displaying its nutritional information.
The characters soon realized their business plan had some gaping holes, so they instead retooled their app to be a hot dog recognition app. A totally-real version of "Not Hotdog," created by HBO’s team, launched in the App Store concurrently with the episode’s airing. A similar, aggressively imperfect variant of SeeFood existed in 2011, well before Silicon Valley even hit airwaves; it failed. There’s a cottage industry of hyper-specific food apps in the App Store, believe it or not, for nearly every imaginable consumer imaginable: those hungry for oyster happy hours or curious about whether their watermelon is safe to eat.
It’s the gag that keeps on giving: Yesterday, Pinterest announced a number of updates to its technologies specifically focused on food. One was an easier search filter; another was to the option to see star-ratings from food sites across the web for certain recipes.
The most compelling of these developments, though, was that Pinterest now gives users the option to point their “Lens” technology, a visual discovery tool that’s still in beta, towards a given dish. The Lens technology now has the capability to identify what that dish is, its ingredient makeup, and show you a few recipes for it so you can make it on your own.
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The technology is by no means faultless—Lens was launched in February, and the company’s still working out kinks. The synchronicity between Silicon Valley and Pinterest's actual product development is totally coincidental, Pinterest confirmed to The Verge yesterday.
I’d say this is further proof of Silicon Valley’s rather unsettling genius, one that muddies the line between the fictive and real. Welcome to 2017, where the joke is continually on us. Anyway, if you treat Pinterest as a hub for foraging for recipes, give this new toy a whirl.
Have any favorite food apps? Let us know in the comments.
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.