Danger in the Kitchen!

From the designer’s desk:

In April, a Canadian publication came out with an article titled, “Is your sleek new kitchen making you fat?  Modern spaces are not doing your waistline any favours.”  It’s an interesting article, and I would encourage you to read it for yourself.  (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/home-and-garden/design/is-your-sleek-new-kitchen-making-you-fat/article23837950/)  

As a kitchen designer, the idea that my creations could be adding to the obesity epidemic instantly struck a nerve.  But I do like to keep an open mind.  The article cited several health experts, and I discovered an overarching theme to their argument.  In short, our modern kitchens are just too darn comfortable and convenient.  While I can’t argue with that sentiment, especially given current design trends, I do wonder how much this convenience contributes to our ever-growing waistlines.  Let’s think about that for a minute.

The kitchen has made a steady progression over the centuries from a separate building to the heart of the home.  Everything happens in the kitchen these days, and in response, we’ve begun to create our kitchens as extended living spaces.  TV’s, charging stations, and homework areas are all commonly found in a modern kitchen.  Families and friends gather here, and so we make it a comfortable space to linger.  According to the experts in the article, this is a major part of the problem.

They assert that lingering leads to snacking and grazing.  This is where convenience becomes a problem.   Our giant refrigerators keep an abundance of food within our reach.  Our microwaves encourage us to gorge on processed, convenience products.  It’s easy for us to mindlessly munch when so much food is so readily available.  I can understand the logic here, but isn’t it just as easy to devour a bag of potato chips while sitting on the couch?

The experts in the article would have us shrink our refrigerators and store food in pantries that are separated from the kitchen.  They would also have us exile our microwaves, keeping them from being so close to the main action of the kitchen.  In other words, we need to make our kitchens less convenient.  I can almost understand this reaction, but is it really the answer?  To somewhat confuse matters, the article goes on to encourage home cooking, especially structured family meals.  So, don’t spend too much time in the kitchen, and make sure the food isn’t too convenient, but you should be cooking every day.  I agree that cooking at home is generally better for you than running through a drive-through.  (Although, being from the south, I know some excellent home cooks whose cuisine is not what you would call friendly to the waistline.)  However, this causes us to walk a fine line between kitchens that are comfortable and convenient places to cook and kitchens that don’t encourage lingering and snacking.  I think this over-complicates the matter.

I feel that the biggest issue here is barely addressed by the article.  No matter the size of your refrigerator or whether your microwave is easily accessible, the key is the type of food you’re storing.  You may have a pantry full of wheat germ and brown rice located down the hall from your kitchen, but the box of cookies at arm’s reach is going to win out every time.  The experts in the article do suggest keeping healthier foods in plain sight, which really does make a difference, but those healthy foods must be present in the house first.

In short, before you start accusing your kitchen designer of sabotaging your diet, ask yourself a few questions.  Do you shop often and store little?  By all means, go for that smaller fridge and less storage space.  Do you prefer to stock up and take fewer shopping trips?  Don’t shy away from a larger fridge and pantry, preferably one that’s convenient to the kitchen.  Is your microwave a vital cooking tool?  Make sure it’s within the main flow of your kitchen.  It can be used for more than just heating frozen burritos.  Above all, ask yourself what kind of food you’re bringing home, because, in the end, I feel that is what makes all the difference.

What do you think?