Your automated dinner

The list of jobs which cannot be automated continues to shrink, largely to the benefit of consumers. Milking machines have been reducing dairy costs for almost a century, but robotic technology is now being deployed to replace the dairy farmer. From the New York Times:

Robots allow the cows to set their own hours, lining up for automated milking five or six times a day — turning the predawn and late-afternoon sessions around which dairy farmers long built their lives into a thing of the past.

With transponders around their necks, the cows get individualized service. Lasers scan and map their underbellies, and a computer charts each animal’s “milking speed,” a critical factor in a 24-hour-a-day operation.

The robots also monitor the amount and quality of milk produced, the frequency of visits to the machine, how much each cow has eaten, and even the number of steps each cow has taken per day, which can indicate when she is in heat.

As usual, this new advance has implications for others in the business. Automation may reduce costs, but it requires capital investment. It makes the most sense at larger scales.

Many of those running small farms said the choice of a computerized milker came down to a bigger question: whether to upgrade or just give up.

“Either we were going to get out, we were going to get bigger, or we were going to try something different,” said the elder Mr. Borden, 59, whose family has been working a patch of ground about 30 miles northeast of Albany since 1837. “And this was something a little different.”

The Bordens and other farmers say a major force is cutting labor costs — health insurance, room and board, overtime, and workers’ compensation insurance — particularly when immigration reform is stalled in Washington and dependable help is hard to procure.

The machines also never complain about getting up early, working late or being kicked.

“It’s tough to find people to do it well and show up on time,” said Tim Kurtz, who installed four robotic milkers last year at his farm in Berks County, Pa. “And you don’t have to worry about that with a robot.”

For all the promise of automation, author Michael Pollan offers his usual warnings. Food is not purely a product. It is impossible to truly commoditize. Products which are consumed in mass but incapable of commoditization are an awkward fit for capitalism. Food, as a market, also has limited growth prospects. There is only so much you can eat.

This is something, Pollan says, that you see again and again when you look at which food innovations get attention  —  and funding. A close look often shows that the problem being solved wasn’t a problem in how we grow food, but in how companies grow profits.

Wall Street wants these companies to grow by at least 5 percent each year. But America’s population only grows by about 1 percent each year

There’s a “key fact” you need to know to understand the food industry, Pollan says: Wall Street wants these companies to grow by at least 5 percent each year. But America’s population only grows by about 1 percent each year. That is  —  or at least was  —  a problem.

“For a long time people in the industry thought it was impossible to get people to eat more,” Pollan says. “They called it ‘the fixed stomach’ and they lamented that, unlike in the shoe business where you could get people to keep buying more kinds of shoes, you couldn’t get people to eat more. Well, they’re to be congratulated. They solved that problem. Capitalism is very powerful. It solves problems. But it solves its own problems, not always our problems.”

More of Michael Pollan’s interview with Vox here.

Chris Ladd is a Texan living in the Chicago area. He has been involved in grassroots Republican politics for most of his life. He was a Republican precinct committeeman in suburban Chicago until he resigned from the party and his position after the 2016 Republican Convention. He can be reached at gopliferchicago at gmail dot com.

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68 comments on “Your automated dinner
  1. tuttabellamia says:

    Every time I read this blog title I think of the Automat in New York.

  2. flypusher says:

    Funny thing about the blacklash that Sterling douchebag is getting now- this leaked conversation, dusgusting as it is, is small potatoes if you look at his history. While better late than never, where was all the massive public condemnation when he was playing slumlord and mistreating people for not being white? Nice of the NAACP to cancel a 2nd award, but how the &$@# did he get a 1st one???!?

    Also no sympathy for the “girlfriend”. She knew what she was selling herself to.

  3. kabuzz61 says:

    Off topic but good. The LA Clippers racist owner is a huge democratic supporter and voter. He has gotten caught saying what dem’s want to keep hidden.

    • bubbabobcat says:

      Getting orgasmic buzzy?

      You still have Cliven Bundy all to yourself.

    • Crogged says:

      So we start a new 100 Year Conspiracy, beginning with you just now learning Donald Sterling is a huge douchebag.

      • DanMan says:

        never heard of him until this story broke, don’t hate me for that

      • tuttabellamia says:

        I’d never heard of Soros or the Koch brothers, or the word TROLL, untill I began posting comments 4 years ago. I’m still not sure what it all means. Don’t hate me for not having cable.

    • DanMan says:

      I find this story hilarious as hell. He’s an 81 year old millionaire many times over that doesn’t want to divorce his wife for financial reasons. He’s keeping a 20 something black girl as a plaything and got mad when she flaunted her associations with other men at his basketball team’s games and he told her she could do whatever she likes but don’t bring her boyfriends to his stadium.

      I haven’t heard all of the recordings but the ones I did are pretty telling as to who’s goading who.

      He a big dem around LA and he is getting roasted by dems. And the funny thing is, his $12.5 million purchase in 1981 is now worth north of $600 million. Punish him!! make him pay!

      • bubbabobcat says:

        Thanks ROR. That threw some cold water on buzzy’s and Danny’s orgasmic politicalSchadenfreuding.

        Back to trolling with your usual bottom feeding crap boys.

        And you still have Cliven Bundy all to yourself. With something messy on your faces to boot.

      • rightonrush says:

        Things aren’t too peachy on the Bundy spread. The militia “Oath Keepers” and the boys that fancy themselves as Bundy’s bodyguards have had a major disagreement. I’m just waiting for the shooting between the fractions to start, and then the Feds can come in to mop up the mess.

      • DanMan says:


    • goplifer says:

      Not that reality matters here, but Sterling is registered as a Republican. He donated $4000 spread across four Democrats in the early 90’s, including $2000 to former basketball star Bill Bradley. He’s been a registered Republican since 1998.

      Do you guys ever get tired of being wrong?

      • DanMan says:

        with all that information, did you leave out his donations to repubs? how much was there?

      • DanMan says:

        hey I voted for Hillary in Operation Chaos…but I didn’t send her any money.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Lifer, since when has reality ever mattered here anyway? We all have fake names, create false impressions, and your blog clock is an hour behind “real” time.

        Thanks for letting us share the stage with you. We are nothing more than a cast of characters, a bunch of actors hamming it up for our audience. You throw us a topic, and we improvise as best we can.

        Today, however, we are struggling to come up with something that will stick.. I guess the idea of automated dinners is not that revolutionary anymore.

      • Crogged says:

        Anonymous comments can be freeing–certainly some (nearly all?) of us may adopt a little more outgoing or voluble persona here than we would in person, thus revealing more of our own ‘truth’. There is the other side, to be contentious just because, or to avoid admitting error or adopting abuse as argument. I think there does come a point where one can glean what sort of person we are dealing with and forgive when tone and passion intersect into intemperance.

      • flypusher says:

        “He’s been a registered Republican since 1998.”

        Why should that matter? You’re talking about people who insist that party associations/ platforms from 100+ years ago are relevant right now. It’s like you’re expecting rational thinking it something.

      • objv says:

        Tutt, you are wrong, wrong, wrong. For once, I disagree with you. Life’s time is real time – if you live in the mountain time zone like me. 🙂

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Oh-Vee, you are living in the PAST!

      • objv says:

        Tuft, jealously does not become you.Obviously, Lifer set the time with ME in mind.

      • goplifer says:

        You’ve stumbled on the the dark truth behind this charade of a blog. It was all created for objv.

        It feels better just to get that off my chest.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        OV, either way, we get an extra hour to BS.

      • objv says:

        Looks like my kindle auto corrected your name, Isabella. Tutt became Tuft. Enjoy that extra hour!

      • kabuzz61 says:

        A speech at a convention that feeds ‘red meat’. Really? Is that all you got? Sarah Palin? Come on.

  4. way2gosassy says:

    Off Topic…

    I would like to extend my condolences to all the families through the Midwest who lost loved ones and their homes.

  5. Anse says:

    Saw an article online yesterday about a Chinese company that is now able to build houses using 3D printers for about $5,000 using recycled construction waste and cement. They look butt-ugly, and goodness knows if they’re sturdy or not, but there’s another example for you.

    • DanMan says:

      meh, I used to frame houses and got replaced by Mexicans. I learned a whole lot but I don’t really miss it as a career.

  6. John Galt says:

    “…robotic technology is now being deployed to replace the dairy farmer.”

    I don’t think this is accurate at all. The older milking machines still require a lot of human intervention, but it’s unskilled manual labor. The dairy farmer quoted didn’t seem to think he was going to be out of a job anytime soon, but rather was freed to concentrate on the more complex tasks of running the farm, such as managing the herd, and can make it quite a bit more efficient. What it will do is replace the unskilled labor, a (potential) issue you’ve previously discussed.

    • DanMan says:

      you skipped the reason the farmer wants to automate. To eliminate labor and the associated health care, taxes, social security payments and everything else that comes with employing people in these times.

  7. kabuzz61 says:

    We feed more than the USA’s population. We feed a big part of the world. So right there this article is bullshit. Chris, you seem like a pessimist in search of a problem.

    • DanMan says:

      when I got to the part about Wall St. wishing for ever expanding stomachs I saw the source of this bs. Last week Vox gave their version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The poor rube that wrote it got pantsed bad and his only comeback to being roundly ridiculed was he couldn’t find a name in the reply.

      • Crogged says:

        I guess the ‘Washington Free Beacon’ is a better source than something called ‘twitchy’. I have to admit I’ve never heard of either of them (or of many of the sources you read).

        Let’s try something–please find one time the Washington Free Beacon’ ever posted a correction to something they wrote. Ever. Nobody’s perfect, but many of the sources you quote never own up to making a mistake. Why is that?

      • DanMan says:

        what are talking about Crogged? Vox is Ezra Klein’s play pen to dumb down the news to a lower level than even Jeff Bezos could tolerate and he ran him off from WaPo. Vox is merely showing it’s stuff and getting ridiculed for it. So in your mind the more corrections a news source makes the better the credibility? Okay, the Vox piece wasn’t corrected by its author, it was defended by its author by attacking the people that outed him for not putting their names on the outing. He didn’t correct anything even though every point he made was refuted with facts.

      • Crogged says:

        No, there was no rebutttal of facts in the “Washington Wannabe” and a lot of hair splitting horse crap. No, Ezra Klein was not ‘run off’ but left on his own, such as what Andrew Sullivan and others have done. Try this–Andrew Sullivan’s byline is ‘biased and balanced’, if he is wrong, he admits it, he even admits to occasionally changing his mind. And yes, it is completely valid criticism to ask why someone who is writing ‘news’ and ‘facts’ isn’t willing to put their ass on the line-in fact it’s the MINIMUM standard of acceptability.

      • Crogged says:

        Otherwise, it’s just you and me commenting on a blog, not a source of information, well a source that proves the adage you get what you pay for.

      • DanMan says:

        Crogged, every point Zach Beauchamp made was refuted. Every one. And not by splitting hairs. Zach did not counter any of them. And it was done by the staff of the Beacon as the byline reads.

        Our humble host went berserk the other day when I mentioned a 70 year old book pretty well detailed the machinations of Obama’s tactics and how they followed the tactics of FDR and Woodrow Wilson and all he did was scream about the source. Glaringly absent was any counter to what I said. Is this where y’all are now? Education has to come from federally controlled schools stocked with dem backing union members and news can only be disseminated by government approved media outlets. Got it.

      • Crogged says:

        So your ‘book’ was a antique piece of crap, doesn’t mean you are a bad person. I found an even older book at my grandfather’s house detailing the threat of “Papism” and “Catholicism” to America. if I find it I’ll send you the author’s name so you have more reading material.

      • kabuzz61 says:

        That buzzing sound you just heard was something going right over Crogged’s head.

      • Crogged says:

        No, it was an amputated arm being hurled out of Oregon by a dedicated Republican.

      • DanMan says:


      • Crogged says:

        Good thing that arm was way over my head, I didn’t want to stain my shirt

    • bubbabobcat says:

      Refuting crap line by line legitimizes crap. Which was your goal all along Danny Distortion.

      Stop whining when people call crap for what it is. Who cares if you like feeding on and shoveling crap.

  8. Tuttabella says:

    I’m very much into animal ethics. This opens up a big can of worms for me. For me it’s not just about technology and the economy. I prefer not to comment on something that really strikes a nerve with me.

    • John Galt says:

      Did you read the original article, Tutt? The cows seem to prefer it – they can get milked more often, the machines can learn their best milking speed (not always fastest), and they are more productive as a result. They’re also able to move more freely. Sounds like a win for the animals and the farmers.

      • John Galt says:

        Oh, and Tutt – I wasn’t trying to challenge you here but I know a lot of us, me included, start commenting before we read background material. For once, this might be a technological improvement on factory farms that actually benefits the animals. But if it’s not a subject you want to discuss, then no worries.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        JohnGalt, I did read Lifer’s blog entry, but not the original New York Times article he cited. The technological improvements might be beneficial for the cows, compared to how things were previously, but if it were up to me, I’d say leave the cows the heck alone. Period.

        It’s a delicate subject for me that leads nowhere, so I usually limit my words on the subject and keep my ideas about this to myself.

        Years ago, I read everything I could get my hands on regarding animal ethics/rights/welfare — Peter Singer, Tom Regan, Matthew Scully — which actually led to my opposition to (human) abortion.

    • kabuzz61 says:

      JG, do you believe in Dr. Doolittle? Are the cows talking? No. Are there assumptions? Yes. Are they correct? Probably not.

      • DanMan says:

        The cows ate grain during milking at the dairy farm I worked at, we had no problems lining them up and plugging them in. The milking floor is a bizarre place. Cows come in, put their heads in the feeding trough, get locked in, get plugged in and they stand there and just eat and get milked and piss and shit til, well the cows come home.

        When they’re done milking and the racks are raised they calmly back up and walk out with the lead cow showing the way. Twice a day every day.

        Then you wash down the floor, fill the honey wagon and start calling the neighbors to see who needs fertilizer. If you drive the tractor pulling that wagon you learn about the wind direction on the first day.

      • Crogged says:

        Did Kabuzz write it? Yes. Is it idiotic? Kabuzz wrote it.

      • kabuzz61 says:

        JG, fight your own battles. It is embarrassing for you.

      • John Galt says:

        Ummm…OK, Kabuzz, if you say so. The only thing I’m (very slightly) embarrassed by is that Crogged called out your rather dumb comment before I had a chance to.

      • Crogged says:

        The Kabuzz Algorithm 2 point 1 is one of the more interesting programs responding here. Most posts suffer from endless loops, but there have been the occasional glitches into logic.

      • DanMan says:

        how would you know?

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Dan, I’ll bet your siblings were jealous of your job at the dairy farm.

  9. bubbabobcat says:

    Also I read into the farmer’s comments that the illegal immigrants are more dependable and punctual than the “real ‘Muricans”.

    Doesn’t surprise me one bit. The Cliven Bundys of this country are just the 47%’ers taking, taking, taking nonstop and then taking a breath every now and then to spout some ignorant racist comment for good measure.

    You know, like the “conservatives” who post all day on the internets.

  10. bubbabobcat says:

    Also more humane for the cows. They can be milked more often as needed instead of staying painfully engorged most of the day to be milked only twice a day.

  11. DanMan says:

    Vox = Wikipedia 2.0

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