Humor me as I indulge in a tangent here.
This post is adapted from a piece I originally wrote in July 2015, and I’ve been reminded of it as a result of the strange coexistence of both unity and divisiveness that seems to have intensified over the last week or so. The kitchen is often a hub of activity, but also a polarizing subject, especially in conversations of equality. Perhaps it is also place in which we can gather & learn more about each other.
There’s no well-defined purpose of sharing this here. But I will say that reflecting on the role of the kitchen in my life generates warm, positive feelings – and I think I could use a little bit of that right now.
It was a rare sight to behold. Alex leaned over the counter, examining a Pyrex vessel in which he carefully measured three-quarters of a cup of milk.
“Hey Kate, are you supposed to measure using the meniscus?”
My 16-year-old, scientifically inclined younger brother was tasked with making dinner in my mom’s absence, a responsibility that seemed to fall to me as of late. But at Dad’s insistence it was Alex’s turn, and we were starting him off easy – with hot dogs and Kraft Easy-Mac. We embarked on this cooking endeavor knowing good and well Mom would have been horrified at the inclusion of Easy-Mac, but what she doesn’t know won’t hurt.
As I washed dishes that had accumulated on the counter, I was riddled with questions:
“Is this enough water?”
“Should the butter be cut into chunks, or is this okay?”
“Does this count as boiling?”
“How long do hot dogs cook for?”
I shot back answers with jesting, sisterly confidence, with the exception of the last inquiry. The packaging provided no instruction and, as a vegetarian, I didn’t have a proper answer for him. We settled on 10 minutes, guided by the understanding that hot dogs seem to share some of the mysterious properties of Twinkies, including consumability in all circumstances.
That evening, and those exchanges, while so ordinary and strictly practical, settled in my mind laced with sentimentality. In those moments, I was reminded of the inexplicable comfort and contentment I associate with kitchens. They are a busy space, a central space, and one with many stories to tell. If stovetops – or countertops or sinks or refrigerators – could talk, to what could they bear witness? They’d tell of homemade pizza, hearty laughs, and serious conversations. They’d smile fondly at the thought of friends meeting to talk and bake brownies, in which “baking” is used loosely – it would appear more batter disappeared directly from the bowl than made it into the oven. They would describe the aromas of my cousin’s Thanksgiving biscuits and Dad’s attempt to recreate his grandmother’s fried chicken, which we will cautiously call successful. Numerous disputes over who had the privilege of licking the brownie or cookie dough bowl, the mental tallies and diplomatic “He did it last time’s” would each be recounted. All formative, memorable experiences.
Is there any other room in the domestic sphere so unique or so often discussed and romanticized? It seems dining rooms are antiquated, bathrooms are inappropriate, and mentions of bedrooms come in hushed tones met with sideways glances. Family rooms have been overrun by beer-inhaling sports fans and reality TV stars, while no one seems to have been informed of the purpose of the formal living room. (In my experience, it may have been the least lived in room as I was growing up).
Today, the ideas and principles embodied by the kitchen are both glorified and vilified. A vestige of the original American dream that is continually evolving, our kitchens hold the key to family time in a world that’s constantly moving. They provide an opportunity for a time to stop and talk, put phones away, and chat. I’ll admit, it’s something that’s become less frequent and harder to obtain in my own life as I move out on my own, yet something sought after dearly.
At the same time we know it all too well; the kitchen is the butt of sexist jokes and has served rallying point for decades of women’s movements. It, or its absence, holds another ideal; the one in which women cast their aprons aside and walk out the door of the stainless steel-applianced prison in which they have been held since the discovery of fire. In some ways the kitchen is a spaced look down upon, perceived as less-than and limiting.
Generations of women have found themselves growing up to love this place they’ve been taught to hate, or hating this place they’ve been taught to love. To love the kitchen is to have surrendered your independence, and to hate it is to have turned your back on the importance of family and conversation. In some sense, perhaps the kitchen debate is a tangible metaphor for the societal struggle of today’s woman.
But does it have to be this way? While we frame our use and purpose of kitchens in terms of family space, we continue to perceive it as strictly the woman’s domain and portray this in a demeaning way. Could we come to recognize and value the activities that occur within kitchens? Cooking is a skill part art, and part science, both a necessity and a hobby. Imparting wisdom and sharing stories is to be enjoyed by all. If we are to perceive the kitchen as a symbol of values, can we discuss it in a way that embodies the same things taught within its walls?
It was on the floor of the kitchen we all sat as children, colanders on our heads and wooden spoons in our hands, drumming away to our hearts’ content, until our parents suddenly and mysteriously sequestered every pot in the vicinity. And it will be in the kitchen we rise, set the pots upright, and learn to sustain ourselves and others when the time comes. It is a journey for men and women alike, beginning with two pots of boiling water, a pack of hot dogs, and Kraft Easy-Mac.
If you made it this far, thanks for hanging in there. You’ve earned yourself some Easy-Mac.