Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Small Kitchen, a Hunger, and an Invitation

My kitchen is a case-study in America's shift in how it views gender norms.
Let me explain: My kitchen is a two-butt kitchen. No more than two butts can be working in there at any given time.
Our house was built in the early 1950's at the height of America's romanticism of the American housewife. It's an atomic brick ranch with three bedrooms and two bathrooms.  The garage has long since been enclosed and now provides the main entry off of the carport. But originally the front entry brought everyone into the house properly at the living room, far away from the kitchen.
My kitchen was designed with the ideal '50's housewife in mind. It is square and efficient. The sink-oven-refrigerator triangle optimizes the cook's workflow pattern while affording her a view into the front yard. It's a great kitchen for a solo cook with no guests or foot traffic. The swinging door into the dining area allows the cook/hostess to easily move back and forth between spaces with ease while shielding her husband, family, and guests from her unsightly culinary world.
Today, said-door is a nuisance and my two-butt kitchen is a bottleneck. It is the only route connecting the backyard, playroom, and main entry with the rest of the house, including both bathrooms.
As the walls of gender norms have tumbled since the 50's, so too have the mystic and taboo of the kitchen. In today's America it is the place to be. Modern kitchens are expansive and open to the rest of the house because everyone congregates in the kitchen. And of course they do! It's fun in there! It's where all the action is!
Working solo, I actually love my kitchen. The square shape and triangle flow (now with added automatic dishwasher and microwave) is efficient and allows me basically to pivot from work space to supply space. But on the weekends and especially when we entertain, my kitchen is cozy but cramped. The kids run through or stop to help, and friends and family want to grab a beer and hang out while my husband and I cook.
The kitchen is the campfire; not only in the real sense of being the place where food is prepared, but also in the cultural sense of being where stories are told and relationships built. At most American parties, the kitchen is where people most familiar with the hosts congregate. It's usually the loudest room and where the most jokes are shared.
Being the least formal of the gathering spaces, it's also where relationships are most quickly built. As long as the cook is an extrovert, offer to help peel carrots or load the dishwasher and you'll be with her in her inner sanctum. Oh, the stories you're likely to hear!  
This dynamic is precisely what is calling me into the kitchens of others. It is a sacred space, the holy of holies, full of ritual, history, liturgy, and hope. Spend time with someone in their kitchen and it's hard to remain strangers. If your personalities align, it's impossible not to become friends.
I have a theory that the kitchen may be the fastest access point for peace. Studying a people or culture can remain abstract and objective unless you enter their cuisine. Food ignites all of the senses in a way wholly unique, making learning a fully corporal experience and not solely cerebral.
In college I studied the religions of the world. Hinduism seemed exotic but abstract. I enjoyed studying the tenants and scriptures of this religion but didn't become truly engaged and familiar with it until we made an overnight visit to an ashram and ate with the residents. Tasting the food and taking a yoga class made Hinduism tangible. My connection to the religion blossomed fully when my mom and I traveled to India after I graduated from college. How I wish I could go back now and get in those kitchens!
I hunger to enter into the kitchens of others to come to better understand who they are and know them. I want to experience their world in the same room I best express mine. And I particularly want to be in the kitchens of people whose community has been in the media in some way. I want this because I want more than the 30 second sound bite filtered and censored by the news. Through watching, listening, smelling, tasting, and touching a people, their faith, and their community become more accessible and familiar. I want to know what happens in the kitchen; the place where the lifeblood is prepared before being presented. And I want to share that with others.
I believe this can help pull down other walls that divide us. The tumbling of gender norms has made it okay for everyone to be in the kitchen. How could that space then become a forum for pulling down other prejudices? If we spend time in the kitchens of people of races, cultures, religions, and nationalities different from our own, they become less strange and more understood. With every cooking technique shown is the opportunity for a story shared and knowledge gained.
It is for this reason that I'm imposing myself on others and begging their invitation to enter their kitchens. And it is for this reason that I invite you to go with me through this blog. Let's spend some time in the kitchens of others and hear their stories, hear their prayers and meditations.
I believe we will find ourselves around a larger campfire than we ever imagined.

In honor of my 1950's kitchen, I share with you pictures of a 1960's cookbook. My mother-in-law received this as a wedding gift and pulled it off her shelf for me last week. Such a classic! My favorite part is on the third picture: "My husband's mother gave me this recipe since I could not prepare hominy to please her son Bob." Ouch! I think my mother-in-law is way better than hers was. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. I love the idea of how being in the kitchen with others while they cook breaks down walls. From one who has often seen cooking as a chore, your idea gives me a new perspective


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