Food politics is suddenly at the top of many agendas, in discussions about obesity, food provenance, ever-increasing worries over environmental degradation caused by agribusiness and forecasts of future world food shortages after a recent UN report. The front page of the Daily Mail even told its readers this week to eat less meat - who would have imagined this even a year ago?
One problem is that home cooking has become a hobby carried out by enthusiasts, with families eating together the exception rather than the norm and the pre-cooked food industry aiming to reduce home cooking even further. Already only 40 per cent of British* families eat a full home cooked meal, and then just once or twice a week, according to a recent article by Sally Peck:
From video, Compassion in World Farming
As home cooking is endangered, it is, in a slightly surreal way, becoming a political act. It can also incorporate these added benefits: buying local or high quality ingredients from sources you know, supporting producers who care about animal welfare, and generating quality time among family members. Designers can help facilitate that path to a healthier diet and to a revitalised local food network which, according to Michael Pollan, ‘passes right through the home kitchen’ (Cooked, p. 193).
Enlightened kitchen design provides the perfect environment for promoting home cooking, eating and sociability - and can even claim to play its role in combatting obesity! Frequent cooks tend to eat less, eat better and avoid one of greatest contributors to obesity, secondary eating - that is eating or drinking alongside other activities like watching television or driving.
When as either cook or eater you know a good meal is waiting or in prospect, you leave room for it. When yours is a kitchen in which you really enjoy cooking, where it is done sociably and the processes are recognised as pleasurable, you have provided yourself not just with good food but have heightened your chances of good health and longevity: ‘Obesity rates are inversely correlated with the amount of time spent on food preparation’, says Pollan in his new book Cooked (p. 192), citing research by Harvard economist David Cutler.
In a recent project our studio created a piece of furniture structured like a spine that connects work stations of different sizes and heights as well as cooking and serving facilities. It incorporates other features to encourage collaborative cooking, such as a knife block that sits between work surfaces and a rise-and-fall work surface to allow children to participate - with a free spot to use as a leaning post while you chat thrown in. Two work stations seem essential, with end grain tops to encourage good knife work (they don’t blunt knives). Encouraging social interaction in the culinary zone might slow things down, but that is not always a bad thing - slow food favoured over instant gratification? A good-sized serving platform is provided for contemplating completed dishes. Mini work platforms mean order and fun and allow for a wide variety of cooking activities: baking, brewing, reading recipes, preserving, pastry-rolling, veg slicing, garlic chopping… and just being in the kitchen! Let’s take a stand against cooking becoming a minority activity.
*For American families the figure is 67 per cent, but definitions of cooking include pre-cooked ingredients.