This story is situated on the planet Compuser.
Compuser is the third planet around the star 'Kernel' and as you might guess, though none of the inhabitants are aware of this fact, exactly parallel with the Earth. As you may or may not know, in parallel universes things are often much the same with some very minor twists, to create some metaphorical situations with which the author tries to motivate the reader to put certain things in perspective.
With the planet Compuser this is not the case. It is not like Earth with some minor twists. From the point of view of the Earth, Compuser is a severely twisted place.
So the relevance of the story of Compuser and its inhabitants to the Earth can easily and may well be debated for a long long time.
So as the author, not wanting to hold back any incentive or fuel for this possible debate, I now find myself forced to tell you the story of the planet Compuser.
One of the more peculiar things of Compuser is the food system. For some inexplicable reasons, Compusers (as the dominant lifeforms of Compuser like to call themselves) have only recently found the need or desire to ingest food. Somehow, this need or desire is related to the advent of the first kitchens, which served more or less exclusive meals.
In the beginning the meals were not really exquisite as even some of the very cheap meals nowadays can be, but since they were the first and only, those kitchens got the head start and developed into Haute Cuisine.
At some point, a more middle class of kitchen became popular, with some cooks who made something that was as much edible as the Haute Cuisine catering, just less expensive and exclusive.
But even that didn't bring food to the masses, because they couldn't afford the cutlery and china. Which wasn't really a problem since most didn't even see any need for ingesting food anyway.
Then, one company that was into exclusive cutlery and china making, and Haute Cuisine catering - Joint Catering and Nutrition / JCN - did something that changed the landscape of the food related sector forever: they pronounced that their more affordable cutlery and pottery be standard, and anyone could imitate those. Anyone would be able to use the imitations with the same food as the originals.
First side dish
JCN had managed to set the standard for pottery and cutlery, but two other companies profited immensely from this.
The first was the external company Extel that delivered clay for the pottery - the standardisation and competition related dropping in prices of cutlery and pottery made food much more popular, with a strong increase in the demand for pottery clay - to such a point that they even licensed another company to make and sell the same or very similar clay (Applicable Materials for Domestics).
Second side dish
The second company to profit immensely from JCN's decision to make the standard open was one of the middle class kitchens -- Majestic Suppers.
JCN asked them to make a standard meal to be served from their plates. MajSup gladly complied and in a shrewd way, in time, got rid of the competition.
They imitated any flavours that consumers liked, tuned their main meal and side dishes that were popular to go well together and put notes on their side dishes that people might get sick if used with main dishes from other kitchens -- even if that wasn't the case at all.
Then they managed to get resellers to bundle their meals and some side dishes with any set of cutlery and pottery to be sold.
Very few consumers saw any problems with this, if you're going to buy cutlery and pottery, what harm if you also get your meal with it? If you don't like the meal, you can always have something else.
And besides, each time a more refined recipe was made and used by the cooks of MajSup you could just use your food duplicator and eat it with the cutlery and pottery you already owned. MajSup allowed this duplicating even though it was officially illegal by their rules, because they saw that that would get all customers to eat their meals and become the standard.
The newer main meals of MajSup became heavier at each iteration, allowing for more and richer side dishes, but sometimes (more and more) necessitating better pottery, made with newer mixtures of clay for stronger dishes. The dishes could then be larger and hold more, and were more practical to eat the MajSup new meals from.
MajSup became more and more powerful - to the point where they could manipulate all cutlery makers to make their cutlery compatible with the meals of MajSup, and likewise for the makers of all kinds of side dishes.
The lack of competition (they had their main meal firmly in place as the standard and any really popular type of side dish too) meant that MajSup never really had to lower their prices on the main dish and most popular side dish, even though the recipe was largely the same for over a decade. The cooks had only made very small adjustments, some to accommodate more types of cutlery or side dishes, but nothing major.
But because of their position, they could ask prices as if they had still made huge investments lately to create their recipes.
Needless to say that their recipes and kitchens are not accessible to the public.
Third side dish
Somehow for years in the shadows, a different type of cooking became known recently (or more precisely: first the resulting food, then the cooking behind it). The recipes of this food are freely available, made by cooks who mainly just cooked for themselves. They discussed with other people who liked to eat and cook - exchanging tips and know-how on how to prepare things, and accepting criticism from people who ate the food prepared to their recipes.
Most of these cooks started for themselves to get fed, but after a while more and more of them liked to refine recipes after comments from people who liked those foods.
In the beginning, people who tried these foods would sometimes not like the taste of it as a whole, and not feel satisfied - but the recipes were continuously improved.
Often the recipes were not well understood and so mishaps were known to happen, or even to be likely, like eating (or trying to eat) soup from very flat plates with forks).
The cooks in these so called Open Kitchens were a colourful bunch. Some were idealistic, thinking that anyone should be able to cook foods and obtain good, edible results. Others were pragmatic, knowing that by cooking in an Open Kitchen would get them the help from other cooks and necessary feedback to finally obtain a pleasing taste and appetite-satisfying result.
Some came from the Haute Cuisine Catering scene, others were self-professed cooks who learned by reading and adopting recipes from Open Kitchens.
One cook among the earliest cooks in these Open Kitchens, Rich Meat Stewmaker, was an idealist and visionary, and he foresaw problems with closed kitchens and secret recipes long before anyone else.
He had the insight to write down the rules for the Open Kitchen Recipes which would protect them from takeovers by closed kitchens such as Majestic Suppers and those making side dishes for MajSup's main dish.
As a cook in the Open Kitchens (or more precise: Free Recipes) he wanted to make sure that if a recipe or dish would be popular through its refinement, taste and appetite-satisfying capacities, no Closed Kitchen could take the recipe, refine it or alter it to go better with MajSup's main dish and make big profits but keep the original cooks out of it.
So he wrote down the General Free Recipes Agreement (GFRA) under which all recipes from Open Kitchens could be freely reused, refined, integrated in meals and adjusted in flavour, as long as the adapted recipe would again be made available under the same Agreement.
That way, any improved version of some meal or side dish would be available to the original Open Kitchen cooks as well as anybody else.
A lesser known fact is that any cook or group of cooks that have opened their recipe can, as long as all who added to the recipe, also develop the recipe in a closed kitchen or sell it to a closed kitchen -- since they are the ones who own their own recipes.
Fourth side dish
With all these Free Recipes floating around, many variations to a theme, Compusers got confused -- they wanted to eat, not to cook. Luckily for them, there were the menumakers.
The menumakers cook up a whole menu with all kinds of side dishes, and because of the GFRA, anyone could take their menu and stick it in a food duplicator.
Most menumakers were actually selling their service, so they developed tactics to increase their revenue. Some (quite a few) created some non-GFRA side dish(es) or even used some non-GFRA sauce through and through and then people could not freely duplicate their menus. Others offer extra service to paying consumers.
Some differences between Open and Closed Kitchens:
- Open Kitchen cooks only call a recipe 'done' once it is edible, tastes nice and satisfies the appetite, not as soon as it looks presentable
- however, since the recipe is available for anyone to look at, it can be used at each stage, and some stages may not yield a pleasant meal (but none of the cooks actually tries to hide this fact)
- some Closed Kitchens spread stories about each other how people might get sick of the food; MajSup used this method to get rid of quite a few competitors
- Closed Kitchens tend to add plenty of colourants to make the food more appealing, but it doesn't necessarily mean the nutritional value is o.k. -- many people have shown allergic reactions
It doesn't take a genious to realise that Closed Kitchen enterprises like MajSup are not happy with all these freely available recipes. After trying to spread stories about people getting ill due to Free Recipes, and other negative stories, but failing to reduce interest in Free Recipes, they are trying to find ways to deal with the situation, to turn events to their advantage.
What Closed Kitchens seem to be doing out of fear for Open Kitchens and Free Recipes (note that there are many other more or less plausible explanations for these actions):
- under the pretext of a guarantee that no-one can spike your drink, they try to make cutlery and pottery unsuitable for Free Recipe main dishes
- with all the money they have, they are very good at lobbying all kinds of political decisionmakers to make sure people won't get it in their heads too much to actually eat something from an Open Kitchen
- in the 'Old Continent' they are lobbying for a law that can make parts of recipes restricted (which they already have managed in the 'New Continent')
So what is the point? you may ask. Where is the relevance to Earth?
Let's look at the situation on Earth and contrast this with what we have just learned about Compuser.
- the inhabitants of Compuser are not ultimately in need of food, contrary to Earth inhabitants
- as a primary necessity of life on Earth, food and recipes for the preparation of food are ubiquitous, apart from some exceptions on non-primary foods (Haute Cuisine for instance)
- we would laugh at the idea of having to buy one specific brand of meals with pottery or cutlery
- contrary to the inhabitants of Compuser, we would not be so naive as to believe that we would have to thank MajSup for bringing food to the masses (or would we?); we would realise that if not them, some other(s) would have done it
- Haute Cuisine and / or exclusive meals do exist on Earth, but people are willing to pay the price for the experience, not just the meal/menu, but the service, presentation and entourage. And to not have to do anything yourself but be waited on - even if they would use recipes that one could clearly make at home, it can still be a very worthwhile evening - so the free availability of recipes does not exclude the existence of Haute Cuisine or put cooks out of a job
- any restriction on the propagation of a recipe would be considered ridiculous, as would any restriction on the use of a recipe
The author wishes to thank the following people and institutions:
- Richard M. Stallman and the FSF
- Linus Thorvalds for starting linux and all people working on the linux kernel
- all GNU and
Free Recipes Cooks Free Software developers
- all linux supporters (companies and people) and users
Disclaimer: this story is completely fictitious and any resemblance with any person or company is purely coincidental.|
However, the reader is free, for the sake of discussion, to map the described events, situations, characters and companies onto actual Earth, ehmm, counterparts.