“Eating in our time has gotten complicated, needlessly so.” The opening lines of Michael Pollan’s new book, Food Rules, remind us how to use our instincts to navigate our relationship with food. This parallels what has happened in kitchen design. We have lost touch with our basic needs. Expressed in modern folk wisdom, Pollan outlines a manual for eaters with the goal of increasing their health and enjoyment of food. It was with great interest that I attended his humorous and elegant talk at the Royal Society of Arts in London.
Familiar with much of his ideas after reading In Defence of Food, I learnt new facts such as that the average American has gained 18 lbs since the 1980’s when low fat and diet products were introduced. This is the opposite of what what was originally intended. The food industry discovered a way to sell more food by demonizing fat and replacing it with salt and sugar. They persuaded the public that diet food was good for us and we could binge as much as we liked.
Pollan says it is not just what we eat but also how we eat that is crucial. One of his food rules is to eat at a table, whenever possible, in the company of others. It reduces both greed and speed, and improves digestion and pleasure. He has summed up the job of kitchen designers in a nutshell. During the 1980s, kitchens were created where you could not have conversations because the work surfaces faced the walls, showroom spaced clad in plastic, shiny surfaces and matching doors. Domesticity was too old fashioned or simply too difficult to mass produce.
The kitchen industry needs to avoid the unintended results created by the food industry – the consumption of large quantities of food has led to large cabinetry and appliances. The focus should be on creating spaces for living, eating, prepping and cooking. Instinct tells us everything we need to know. We want to be in a room because it feels like home.
A kitchen has simple needs: modest-sized, freestanding furniture pieces for each major function (like cooking, prepping and washing up), minimal countertops, a walk-in larder and a storage cupboard or two, a decent table, access to the outdoors and panoramic eye contact. And don’t forget about a place to make a mess, have a drink, chill out, experiment, and generally behave like you live there.
So throw out your matching units, continuous counters and matching doors with repetitive handles. You have nothing to loose but convention, and everything to gain. More space, less cost, more of you in the surroundings and less of being self consciously stylish, more playing with colour and use of vintage pieces. Enjoy discovering your inner interior designer.