Edible Braille?

Regular readers of Blind Confidential know that, although my Braille skills have improved, I cannot claim to actually “read” the dots but, rather, I “unspell” information and process it a character at a time.  When I pick out a CD from my collection, I might read “c… o… l… t… r…” realize that I have interpolated my way to the Coltrane section of my shelves and then I’ll start reading the album titles one at a time until I find the recording I want to hear.  Clearly, this system can be improved in many ways but it works for now and I am trying, with the help of my friend Roselle and some printed Braille books to learn both grade 2 and to read more rapidly.

I tend to argue in favor of nearly any technological or mechanical solution that will provide greater accessibility to people with vision impairments.  Although my personal expertise relates to audio techniques, I do enjoy learning and working with some tactile projects as well.  When I read about having Braille embossed on food (not its packaging but the food itself) I grew both curious and a bit squeamish.  The refrigerators in the Freedom Scientific lunch room leapt into my mind.  The thought of people fondling food until they found the item they wanted eat sort of turned my stomach.  I really don’t want to eat anything that someone else has read.

The invention that makes this possible, though, will provide increased accessibility and, as accessibility is my goal, I will not discriminate and today I will write about the prospects of Braille food.

In an article that came over Blind News last night titled , “Gourmet impression, LLC: Da Vinci Code Messages On Foods – To Be Revealed,” from a publication called Newswire Today, I learned about a company that just, “invented the only food embossing and impressing tools in the world.”

The article begins, “It is rumored that the world would be ready to get his coded messages only when a great mind appears and invents a unique tool. Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452.  The fictional prophecies of the Da Vinci Code Messages will be revealed when the world discovers the existence of “edible billboards” and “when foods can talk.” The secrets will be revealed and appear in all languages (including Braille), embossed or impressed onto a plethora of foods when served or presented by those bearing the messages.”

I read the Dan Brown novel shortly after it hit the bookstore shelves and somewhat before the thriller hit the fever pitch of disproportional coverage and Harry Potter like fanaticism.  Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Science Channel, A&E, History Channel and nearly any other outlet the broadcasts docutainment programming has done one or more productions about the concepts in the fictional book.

I admit I enjoyed reading the novel.  Dan Brown created a terrific page turner.  He also plays fast and loose with facts.  At the beginning of the book, before we start on our adventure, Brown includes a single page that states that the Priori of Scion is or was a real organization and that Leonardo, among other luminaries, had chaired the secret society – unfortunately, no actual living historian will make the same claim and point to the document Brown uses to support his argument that such an organization did or does exist having been shown to be a forgery a decade ago.  Next, on the same page, Brown states that Opus Dei is a real, very orthodox Catholic organization based in New York, on this matter he is correct, Opus Dei does exist, it does profess a particularly traditional form of Catholicism and it is based in New York.  Finally, in a statement which, having read the book makes me cringe, Dan Brown says that “all of the art history has been well researched and is factual.”  He then concludes by saying that everything else in the book should be considered fictional.

The fact that there is no basis for proving the existence of the Priori (brotherhood) and that he uses the name “Da Vinci” to refer to Leonardo, something no art historian would ever do as “Da Vinci” is not the great artist’s last name but, rather, a label that says he was born out of wedlock in a place called Vinci.  Leonardo, in all of his paintings, notebooks and other surviving works never used “Da Vinci” to describe himself.  Brown, who claims that his art history is entirely factual, might have noted this.

Within the first few Chapters, Brown reminds us that his art history had not really been the focus of his research and that, when it worked for him, he would alter facts of the artworks to which he makes reference when it suits his story.  My wife Susan read me this book aloud so we could enjoy it together.  We do that from time to time when we agree on a book to read and she finds the patience to go through it at a spoken pace rather than her much faster reading speed.  I can distinctly remember the evening when, near the beginning of “The Da Vinci Code” I yelled out that a “fact” of art history had changed radically only a few pages after we read Brown’s statement that his research was impeccable.

Personally, my art history background puts me into the category of dilettante and not even a really high functioning one.  I would succeed as a docent at a museum about jazz, certain areas of classical music, a couple of museums of science and industry, probably at the Boston Computer Museum and, if restricted purely to the visual arts, I could probably do a respectable job as a back up volunteer at a collection of Edward Hopper works.  I would fail miserably at Le Louvre, arguably host to the world’s finest collection.  Thus, I found myself amazed that an author of a best seller would toss down the gauntlet of “all of the art history is factual” and, then, early in the book, make such an obvious mistake and make it central to the action of a scene.

If you’ve read the book, near the beginning, right after our hero Harvard professor is saved by our sexy French heroine when she grabs the Leonardo masterpiece, “Madonna of the Rocks” off of the wall in the great hall and, placing her knee against the back of the canvass, holds the painting hostage so she and the egghead can escape.  Unfortunately, Brown conveniently forgets the part of art history that tells us that people did not paint on canvass for nearly a century after Leonardo’s death and that the particular work to which he refers was painted on wood and, along with its frame, I find it highly unlikely that this extraordinarily sexy and petite young woman would have the strength to lift the masterpiece, let alone carry it across a room balanced on her knee.

I don’t mind artistic license nor do I think facts should stand in the way of a good story – especially in a work of fiction.  I only find Dan Brown offensive for insisting that his art history had been thoroughly researched and then, throughout the book, he changes history as he sees fit.  The New York Times ran a terrific article a couple of years back that list all of Brown’s artistic anachronisms and also says they wouldn’t have grown angry if he hadn’t challenged his readers to find factual errors by claiming that none existed.  The many television programs about the truth within the book almost never mention the art history but that would probably bore the Wal-Mart shoppers (I know, I promised to be nicer to these people in yesterday’s post) but the television programs do seem to have credible historians who punch a ton of holes in the fundamental theory behind the fictional “Da Vinci Code” and the book “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” which suggests the same theory as fact.

Ok, it’s my blog and I can rant if I want to.  Back to the tactile food topic:

“Consuming and digesting the written word, will leave not a crumb of its secrets,” continues the article which then goes on to describe a new invention which has, “patent pending protection in 128 countries.”

“Gourmet Impression’s “Roller” is used to roll your message onto long foods or borders of many foods, while the “Stamper” is used to stamp messages onto varying shaped foods. Even a child, can now beautifully transform foods from pizzas, breads, vegetables, melons, pastries, cheeses and even ice-cream banana sundaes into ‘literary works of art’.”  Does this disgust anyone other than me?  I found my nieces and nephews far more fun to spend time with after they got past the age where the concepts of food and toy had distinguished themselves.  Now, some inventor suggests that kids should emboss their letters from camp onto uneaten pizza or cheese?  What will the mailman think when his bag starts to smell of rotting pepperoni?

The same company will, in the coming months, announce its super secret wand product which will be, “It is used for creating initials or custom logo stamping onto hot food items in an oven or on a stove with a longer reach, It’s like a hot branding iron except the food is hot and “The Wand” is not.”  Of course, I thought, this may just be the invention that all of mankind has been waiting for, it’s right up there with the artificial heart and may just be the most important product to hit the culinary world since the Indians invented curry or Columbus introduced the Italians to pasta.

I wonder if the same children insistent on doing their homework on the side of a Twinkie (banana or vanilla cream) might also use this wand to torture animals.  Maybe we can identify the future Jeffrey Dommers this way, give the kid a food embossing wand and see if the little snot nose graffitis the dog.

The article concludes, “Leonardo da Vinci would be proud.”  Somehow, I doubt this.  Doing some quick research on Leonardo’s inventions, one can find helicopters, submarines, hot air balloons, parachutes, tanks, all sorts of medical devices but nothing that my admittedly quick Internet search would identify as having any relation to the culinary arts.  In fact, I couldn’t even find a reference to a recipe he especially enjoyed.

Leonardo left us with great works, including the Last Supper, central to the Dan Brown novel and he left us with his amazing notebooks.  The Last Supper painting seems to be the only reference to food that I could find in his many masterpieces.  The only other reference I have seen to Leonardo and culinary delights resides in the MGM Grand hotel in Vegas and it is a terrific Italian restaurant named for the great man.

So, please, do not hand me a Brailed graham cracker nor send me an edible birthday card.  I don’t want my food to contain secret messages nor do I care to have children composing poems on pizza.  Call me a traditionalist, a Ludite if you must, but this is definitely an invention that exceeds any level of silliness that I want to experience.


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I'm an accessibility advocate working on issues involving technology and people with print impairment. I'm a stoner, crackpot, hacker and all around decent fellow. I blog at this site and occasionally contribute to Skepchick. I'm a skeptic, atheist, humanist and all around left wing sort. You can follow this blog in your favorite RSS reader, and you can also view my Twitter profile (@gonz_blinko) and follow me there.

One thought on “Edible Braille?”

  1. Ah, you’re missing the true commercial purpose. Think of pictures of your favourite mouse emblaizened all over burgers at your favourite holiday resort.

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