In the recent past, we’ve been neglecting our kitchens. The idea of women staying home and cooking for the family is no longer the reality, but rather an American memory of decades past. The 1950s notion that women found fulfillment in domesticity was widespread at the time. Additionally, the effect of 1950s media bombarded women with the notion that the kitchen was their realm and advertisements showed them in the kitchen, serving dinner, cleaning, and otherwise enjoying the latest appliance (“American Memory of the 1950s Housewife”). In the 50s the kitchen was the real “heart of the home”, serving a strictly utilitarian function where the housewife worked for her family, rather than a room of social gathering.
With the invention of the microwave in the 1960s, while not widely available, it reflects a distinct shift in our valuation of time and convenience. Additionally, it was a decade of change for women’s rights. People became resolute about equal rights for all individuals. They vocalized these issues and through the passing of different Acts, the government begins to acknowledge the need for equality in American homes (“Nova Online”).
It was not until 1972 that the Equal Rights Amendment was approved by both houses of Congress. This amendment granted women equal pay and eliminated sexual discrimination in the workplace; it was a major victory for women’s rights movement (“Nova Online”). By the end of the 1970s, the newly liberated woman completely eradicated the idea of the “happy housewife”.
With less women in the home during the 1980s, the idea of food services develops and with advancements in thermal technology, companies like Domino’s are able to promise a pizza delivered to your door in “less than 30 minutes or it’s free” (“Wikipedia, Pizza Delivery”). This marks another serious shift in our culture’s values—Americans still need to eat, but don’t want to take the time to prepare it. Luckily at this time, 25% percent of households own a microwave, which allows them to conveniently reheat their meals within minutes (“Wikipedia, Microwave Oven”). This also allows the homemaker to spend less time in the kitchen and more time with the family in more social spaces.
By the mid 90’s, this trend increased 65% with 90% of households owning a microwave, and 98.4% of American households owning at least one television (“Wikipedia, Television in the United States”). Evenings and weekends were spent watching TV with 24-hour broadcasts of news, cartoons, and sitcoms. The TV room became the primary gathering space—the new “heart of the home”—and watching TV becomes more important than the meal. The 90’s was a period of total neglect for what a kitchen is meant for. Instead of preparing large meals for the family, households shift to heating up fast meals so they can enjoy their television shows together. Just as the dust settles on our appliances, the reevaluation of what we consume becomes apparent with the availability of information as a result of the present day internet age.
The Delivery Age
In the midst of the internet era, delivery service has gotten even faster. Online ordering services allow for “1-stop-shop” medium where you can forgo the hassle of picking up the phone and relaying your dinner order and credit card number over the phone. Sites such as Seamless.com and Grubhub.com answer our ever-burgeoning problem of time, but don’t address our needs for nutritious meals.
Immediate accessibility of information and knowledge from many sources has led to an overstimulated nation of consumers. Purchasing decisions are influenced by celebrities, media, medical professionals and your own personal network. With this hyper awareness, in combination with the rise of disease, diet fads display a strong response to our concerns for our health and what we consume. This has resulted in opportunities for various groups to offer “expert” opinions to a population that is easily influenced.
As a result of these expert opinions, consumers demanded healthier options. The notion of the food pyramid loses creditability, leaving many feeling confused. In an attempt to make things less confusing, companies begin to label goods and produce to satisfy our need for information. Our nation becomes label obsessed. We begin to prioritize our caloric intake, and we neglect our understanding of ingredients and complete nutrition. What began as good, healthy intentions developed into a supremely flawed system.
This flawed system was taking us even farther in the wrong direction, and our country needed someone to reverse the damage. Accredited professionals soon began to promote health from the inside-out and refocus our intentions on nutrition rather than fad and vanity. With these reliable beacons of health, our focus did shift to emphasize ingredients, nutrition, and overall health, as well as feeling stronger and leaner. This marks a paramount shift in values from only caring about our precious time, to now caring about the balance of time and nutrition in meals.
A radical concept of healthy, pre-portioned, locally and seasonally sourced ingredients delivered to your door solved the problem of time and nutrition. With all the ingredients separated and cooking instructions included, these meal kits educate consumers in the variety of whole foods available. They are also putting pleasure back in the art of cooking and consuming because you are able to truly enjoy the healthy meal you work for. Additionally, these meal kits cut out your time having to plan meals and go to the market. Since they are pre-prepared, they cut back on food preparation time and food waste. The meals are also cost-efficient and can be tailored to your dietary preferences/restrictions. Companies providing this service, such as Blue Apron, Plated, and Sweet Roots NYC, are encouraging you to be aware of what you consume and also get you back in the kitchen, rather than ordering a pizza.
With the emphasis again on a home-cooked meal, the heart of the home has returned to the kitchen. The dust on our appliances slowly rises as we turn the heat back up.
Hasta la vista, Microwave!
It is our optimistic hope that kitchens will continue to remain the heart of the home. With delivered meal kits that strongly encourage customers to cook wholesome meals, kitchens will no longer be neglected the way they have in our past. We anticipate that with the plethora of knowledge our nation is gaining about health and disease—and the speed at which we receive this information—people will continue to make nutrition a priority. We hope this means less fast-food and delivery orders, and a more conscious effort to cook healthful meals. With delivery meal kit services such as Blue Apron and Plated gaining popularity, we expect more companies like this to pop up across the nation.
Time will always remain a priority to Americans, and services like these recognize that but force us to see that our nation has reached a health crisis. We need to change our consumption habits, and these services give us those tools. While they cut back on our time by taking care of recipe planning, purchasing, and some prep work, there is still an element of contribution by the customer because items still need to be chopped, heated, fried, boiled, etc. This inclusion of the consumer gives them a sense of pride and a better understanding of the meal they prepared and a connection to the food. It also reminds us to appreciate the appliances and tools we have in our kitchens. We’re able to move away from the microwave era and put an emphasis back on the traditional appliances, as well as new technology like the multi-functional steam oven and pod-tops.
After cooking, you might be more likely to sit down and enjoy your meal with the members of your household. Eating together, and placing importance on eating together, allows you to connect with others. It is a universal mode in which everyone connects and socializes. Food promotes new friendships and connections, as well. For example, Blue Apron and other meal kit services, have a unique gifting idea that encourages clients to give a free box of food to anyone they choose every few weeks. This enables people to connect with food as a common interest, while expanding your network.
We hope that these meals add to people’s culinary knowledge of portion size, freshness, whole foods, seasonality, and ingredient pairing. With these tools you’ll also be able to make more conscious decisions when you’re not in your own kitchen. As your knowledge increases, you’ll share this information with your friends and family. Because we are so easily influenced by what other people “know”, the more we talk about health and nutrition, the more quickly it will become the norm, just as delivery has become the norm.
As the dust collects on the microwave, the more diversified culinary experience in the kitchen will become the enjoyable norm, and no longer seen as a hassle. We will finally use the powerful appliances the way they were always intended. As kitchens begin to be used more frequently, the technology for these appliances will advance in a variety of ways—speed, energy use, recyclability, size, and smart home features. By changing our diets and encouraging home cooking, we will begin to head in the right direction for our nation’s future health and wellness. It’s going to be exciting to be cooking in the kitchen!
Written by Brittany Gudewill & Kate Kaunitz