Thursday, January 26, 2012

kitchen talk

Today I took a brief sojourn into the world of academia. I settled myself into a spacious room where I awaited to hear the panel on modern kitchens at Food Networks: Gender and Foodways. Before I delve into detail, I must give further note to my surroundings--or should I say surrounders. I was in the minority when it came to lack of prestige, but I was in the overwhelming majority when it came to gender. Namely, I am a woman…or girl/young woman/feminine emerging adult, as I like to refer to myself when I’m in denial of my actual adult status. Anyway, the fact is that the room was full of women with a handful of men. Why is it that the study of gender appears to be so much more appealing to women than to men? Is it because people assume that “gender studies” means “women’s studies?” I often get this when I mention my gender studies minor. People will say, “Oh, so you study girl power and feminists and stuff?” Then I so kindly correct them that, no, gender does not mean woman. It does not even mean man or woman. Gender is all shades of grey, and attempting to pinpoint it as one or two things seriously limits the opportunity for lively and important discussion. The same goes for the kitchen. If people are so set on seeing the kitchen as the women’s domain, then they, too, deny the potential for lively and important discussion and progression within the home. Though I don’t think that the notion of the kitchen as the woman’s place is as prevalent today as it was in the past, traces can still be found.

Before I enlighten you with my modern day experiences in the kitchen, there was one major point that stuck out to me from the talks that referred to the kitchens of the early and mid-twentieth century. This was the idea of the Frankfurt kitchen, which was designed with the woman in mind.

As you can see in the picture, the kitchen was quite small, and all of the shelves and utilities were within reaching distance of each other. This was to increase efficiency so that the woman cooking would not waste time. Everything that the woman needs for cooking is close, so she can cook more things simultaneously and not have to walk all over the kitchen. I’m not quite sure how much time this saves anyway, since alternative kitchens are not the size of football fields, but that’s beside the point. So let’s agree that the efficient design of the kitchen saves the woman time. Ok. Does this mean she will have more time to do other things while the food is cooking (since she won’t be walking), say talk on the phone, read the newspaper, or even take a little nap? I doubt it. The time saved will undoubtedly benefit her family rather than give her newfound leisure. They won’t have to wait as long for dinner to be done, and all of their food will be hot at the same time (for example, their meat will still be hot because the woman did not have to waste time walking across the kitchen to chop potatoes. She got those going right away.) I would argue that the efficient kitchen is not really eliminating work for the woman. She does the same amount of peeling/chopping/boiling/cooking, but just in a smaller window of time. The nice thing about an efficient kitchen is that it recognizes the modern middle class working woman. She has a job to go to during the day, maybe even at night, and doesn’t have hours on end to devote to cooking. She needs something quick and easy yet delicious and nutritious. But cramming everything into a kitchen is not the only alternative. The woman would also save time if, say, I don’t know, her husband, gave her a hand. Sidenote: I know that there are men who help their women in the kitchen. I also know that there are men who conduct kitchen affairs all on their own. But there are also those who don’t. Those who find hilarity in the fact that their wives suggest they cook dinner for one night. Take my family for instance.

Though it is always nice to go home and see friends and family over break, there are definitely some perks that come with living on campus. Take meal plans for instance. Sure, we have to get creative from time to time in the dining hall, but we don’t have to deal with planning, cooking, or cleaning for a meal. 3 times a day. 7 days a week. Over break I thought I would help my family out, so I endeavored to create a menu each week, complete with homemade meals as found in food magazines shoved on the bookshelf. Break was a month. I probably made a total of seven creations. This can be attributed to my picky taste buds, my relative lack of food creativity, and the fact that constantly thinking of meals to make, and actually making them, is no simple task. I offered to help because my family, or should I say my mom, is a very busy person. My dad informed me that he loves when I come home because it means he gets to eat “real meals” on a regular basis. I couldn’t help but think, “Why can’t you make your own real meals?” You’re a capable adult. But then I wondered if I would actually let my dad in the kitchen, let alone eat the food he made. Honestly, I would probably just rather do it my way. Does this stem from my desire for control? Perhaps. But I also think it stems from his lifelong dependence on others to make him food. We enabled him by giving in, but it’s not like we would make a meal for ourselves and then just tell him he can’t have any. After all, I do enjoy being able to care for my family and to provide for their needs. Yet I don’t see this as condoning the “domestic woman stereotype.” I see it as showing my affection and care for those I love. It is a better way to show love, I think, than dish duty afterward. Now that is a whole other story…