NY Times essay - Kitchens as health hazard?

ginny20March 26, 2013

And he doesn't mean the radioactive granite or the insufficient MUA.

This is an amusing and thoughtful essay by a pediatrician wondering if the amenities in our modern, convenient, "beautifully lit" combination-kitchens-and-entertainment-areas are encouraging less activity and more eating.

Interesting question. My own kitchen is small and not communal (although beautifully lit) but I'm still managing to be, well, shall we say, increasingly less slim than I used to be. Obviously there are lots of factors at work.

Fun kitchen article, anyway.

Here is a link that might be useful: Is your kitchen a health hazard?

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The NYTimes owes a royalty payment to mtnrdredux, who has been making this point for a couple of years. And I agree. Why should the kitchen be the literal heart of the home, and open to everything, unless you're eating all the time? You shouldn't be eating, or thinking about food, or even be around food, every waking hour that you are home.

I read in an article about Downtown Abbey about how inaccessible food was in the big mansions and manor houses. You ate regular meals at very set hours, and did not go traipsing to the basement kitchen to pick up a snack whenever you felt peckish.

Today, people spend a lot of money on their snack centers, including special refrigerators to ensure that bottles of sugar water are kept at the perfect temperature.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 3:30PM
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Guess my kitchen will be safer - I don't have many snacks living in it (except for pretzels sometimes).
I have not bought soda in 8 years (sometimes I make my own from concentrated cherry or cranberry juice)
Oops - forgot about those muffins that I just made (they are almost healthy... low fat with a yogurt base) and stored in the freezer so advanced planning is needed.

But wait - the dark chocolate that my MD prescribed does live in the kitchen but it rationed out by the 1/2 ounce.

OK - I agree we all eat too much - but is it the kitchen or what we put into the kitchen.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 4:17PM
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Couldn't have said it better A2 - "but is it the kitchen or what we put into the kitchen."

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 4:54PM
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Circus Peanut

If you go so far as to put a television in your kitchen ... it's the kitchen. Ugh.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 5:04PM
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Well, not really. A lot of fat people eat healthy food--just too much of it, too often. Accessibility really is a big culprit.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 5:08PM
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I have noticed that for me, when I have a large kitchen in which to cook...I cook and control what goes into my food. I cook healthier. Now, I am in a rental and have NO space so I tend to eat quick easy things (frozen dinners, quick packaged meals) and for the most part not so healthy. I do cook healthy meals but not nearly as often as I should.

I am not disagreeing with anyone but just wanted to share my experience and take on the large kitchen idea.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 5:32PM
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Interesting article. Our new kitchen will be comfortable enough to enjoy sitting in, to finish up that bottle of wine after dinner or trade sections of the Sunday paper over coffee on Sunday mornings, but I don't want it to be the hang-out space beyond mealtime. Partly because I'm one of those mindless snackers who will eat if food is around, and partly because we moved from an apartment to a house so we could enjoy dedicated space - office here, TV area there. For that reason, there will be no TV in the kitchen and someone will have to drag in a laptop or mini for online access, because there won't be a dedicated computer station either.

On another note, DH and I met with a kitchen designer last week, to get us out of our planning rut with the architect. One of her questions was why we didn't put a mini-fridge in the TV room, which is one floor away from the kitchen, so we wouldn't have to walk downstairs to the kitchen if we wanted a snack while watching TV. I was all, seriously? Walking down one flight of stairs is considered unnecessary inconvenience these days?

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 5:38PM
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Circus Peanut

I think the proposed theory isn't really about the size of the kitchen so much as how it's furnished. Queen Elizabeth's kitchen is huge, but entirely functional: nowhere does it contain overstuffed benches, televisions, saunas, soda-can dispensers, cupholders, magazine racks, spittoons...

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 5:39PM
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aktillery, you aren't disagreeing, you're right, too. You need at least a functional kitchen to cook in, or prepared foods are all you can manage. Although there are healthy, portion-controlled prepared foods that can be microwaved. Wegman's (a northeast grocery chain) does a booming business in theirs.

When I was young and single, I was quite slender. For dinner I often ate healthy-type frozen dinners or canned soup and fruit. Marcolo is right, portion size is key.

TV definitely makes you eat more. There are food commercials on all the time, and when you're watching, you slip into that mindless eating. I do, anyway. Like popcorn at a movie.

Oooh, I want a spittoon!

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 6:58PM
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Yes, it's great to have a well-designed space to prepare a healthy meal. But the "heart of the home" kitchens aren't really about function. Look at all the layout atrocities perpetrated by new build designers in the name of "open concept" (why is it a "concept" anyway?) design. Those are about show, and about multipurposing kitchens as homework centers, family command centers, computer stations and kitchen stadiums for all that entertaining people supposedly do.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 7:06PM
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All accessible all the time is not really a means for learning any kind of self control.

My "favorite" objection to certain layouts is that if X is in the path of Y, people won't be able to prepare a snack while dinner is in the throes of production and almost ready. Why do your kids need to eat when they are going to be eating in a few minutes? Whatever happened to "Get the@#$ out of the @#$09 kitchen while I take this roast out of the oven!"

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 7:30PM
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I agree with the statement "but is it the kitchen or what we put into the kitchen." I'm in the kitchen what seems like ALL day long. I have four young children between the ages of 2-8 years old. We only cook natural organic foods. Since I cook from scratch and refuse anything that is packaged and premade I need to spend more hours in the kitchen then the person who orders a pizza or opens a can of whatever. My whole family eats all day long and we are all fit and trim. I'm a size 3 and eat 6-7 meals a day. Food isn't the enemy it's the wrong kinds of food that causes problems.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 7:44PM
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palimpsest, you must have heard me. I didn't realize my voice carried so far!

I can't multitask the way I used to. When I'm doing four courses for a dinner party, I can't have people sitting at an island with their wine and the hors d'oeuvres. I'd invariably screw something up. I can handle one person, but no more. It's lonely in the kitchen while everyone is chatting in the separate living room, but it does ensure I get a reasonable meal on the table.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 8:06PM
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Well, don't we all need island seating and eating, breakfast room seating and eating, dining room seating and eating, den seating and snacking, media room sitting and snacking, sunroom seating and eating, and patio seating and eating? The horrors of having to make do with having only a dining room where you are expected to sit up straight and wipe your chin with a cloth napkin! It's practically child abuse!

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 8:15PM
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Maybe it's not so much the convenience of the kitchen that adds the extra pounds, but rather the fact that most of us here love to cook and we enjoy what we cook.

During our kitchen renovation, DH and I both lost about 8 - 10 lbs (and we weren't at all overweight to begin with). Despite the fact that we had the refrigerator in the family room, where we spent most of our lounging time during the reno, there wasn't any tempting homemade food in it so we didn't indulge. Why waste calories on something that's only so-so?

I agree with those who say that it's not the ktichen so much as what you put in it. DH and I love to cook our favorite meals, and we make sure there is plenty so we can have as much as we want. Having a convenient and beautiful kitchen will certainly encourage more good cooking. DH and I are thinking that maybe we should just eat until we're full, instead of stuffed? ;)

Alternatively, maybe we should have gone back to an inconvenient kitchen, one that we wouldn't want to cook in thus eliminating the most tempting source of calories for us.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 10:41AM
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I do believe there is something to the "out of sight, out of mind" theory here.

We opened our kitchen because of the nature of our space. And like many of you, we don't eat processed food so many hours are spent in the kitchen. I enjoy no longer feeling sequestered from the rest of the living room.

But I miss my previous (larger) kitchens that were separate from other spaces. I totally get how seeing my kitchen all the time inspires me to create food items.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 11:30AM
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I am with Ginny20 on this. Cooking is a personal experience for me that is tactile and very fun. I really don't want to chit chat and socialize at this time. Remember the maginot line? I would rather finish cooking and join the socializing in a different space. I really hate when people hover in the kitchen. One of the favorite things for DH and I is to have breakfast together everyday. Not much talking.. He makes coffee, I make toast and eggs and we both enjoy the silence with newspapers or crosswords. Weekend brunches are similar and a tad longer. Now DD8 has joined this ritual. A friend I have known for years thought this was weird and somewhat dysfunctional :). I hate TV in kitchen.. really distracts me but I do love to listen to NPR while cooking or prepping. In my kitchen, while I have gone to ridiculous lengths to make prep and cooking easy, I have not done any easy access to snacks. This was by design. I do believe restricting accessibility works.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 11:53AM
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We are rather extreme about our food. We eat mostly organic, local farms when we can (which is pretty often, esp in summer), grass fed when we can. Our kids totally eschew fast food and when we eat out it is very very high quality and often farm-to-fork.

I've always had a propensity to gain weight, as does one of my three children (10,11,13). As a result I am very strict about snack foods, sweet or salty. Plus frankly if you are going organic that cuts out a lot of the middle of the grocery strore anyway.

All that said, I believe, and behavioral research supports this, that overeating can be a crime of convenience. You eat more when food is served family style on the table, with a serving bowl in front of you, then if you were given a portion on your plate and need to get up to get more. You eat more fruit if it is in a big pretty bowl on the table. If you were a store, you would market food by making it easy to see and get to. If you are at home, you can suppress eating by keeping food out of sight.

My last home was a very formal older home and the kitchen was isolated. My current home is more casual and the kitchen is not open, but it is sort of a hub off of which many other rooms and hallways flow.

At our lakehouse, we have a kitchen/great room. If the weather is such that we are not outside, we are usually in this room. I witness everyone snack and nosh more, because we are actually, in a sense, living in the kitchen. I have a comfy chair I like to read in, and it faces the pantry. Even though all i see is the cherry cabinet, I know what's in it! And I want it! (Come to think of it, I am moving that chair when we go up this weekend!).

Anyway, we have been able to test the null hypothesis and in my family, at least, an open kitchen means more frequent snacks. We are in the process of buying a beachhouse and I can promise you it will have a closed kitchen!

PS Marcolo --- how sweet of you to remember! I read the article in the NYT a few days ago and just rolled my eyes! I think it is so so true.
BTW my DH loved "goy 'em up". : )

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 12:07PM
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