Kitchens are not just holding pens for packaged food-like stuffs, but should be places for us to enjoy the company of family and friends and engage with the act of preparing and eating real food. In a New York Times Op-Ed, KidsHealth.org founder Neil Izenberg worries about the merging of his newly remodeled kitchen with his living room, playing to an increasing trend among American homes to have kitchens that blur the line between eating and entertainment. Izenberg’s main concern is the constant access he and his family will have to food day and night, potentially putting their health at risk.
When kitchens are viewed solely as food storage areas, it’s likely that one’s views on eating are a bit skewed. However, we do agree with Izenberg that ”modern home design plays an important and underappreciated role,” in the nation’s obesity epidemic, but in our opinion, the more welcoming and bright the kitchen, the better. Opening our living spaces to each other is part of the solution, not a direct route towards unending girth. More time spent in the kitchen equals more time cooking and becoming acquainted with ingredients, a cornerstone in a nutritious and satisfying diet.
The main impediment to healthy eating is allowing food marketers into the kitchen at all. Junk food is specifically engineered to be nutritionally void, consumed in large quantities and is portable enough to be eaten anytime, anywhere. One would be best served by eating food that doesn’t even have a package for retailing propaganda. Most health claims on packaged foods are questionable at best and designed to manipulate, so force out the snacks and drinks with preparation of real food items and enlightening conversation.
There are an array of design issues that directly affect our health, most notably car-centric urban planning and commuter suburbs where one must drive everyday to get from their kitchens to work and back again. However our buildings (kitchens, perhaps, at the fore) consume the majority of energy (48%, as compared to Transportation and Industry at 27% and 25%, respectively) in this country. As long as that energy is provided by fossil fuels, that reliance will adversely effect our health, far beyond the rise of obesity.
A sustainably built kitchen can minimize our reliance on fossil fuels with passive heating and cooling and granting access to lots of natural light. The open, spacious and inviting design of a kitchen—the one Izenberg fears—encourages families to eat together, spend more time cooking and getting to know what they are putting into their bodies. Also we’re pretty sure a lovely, light-filled kitchen encourages the savoring of food and drink, rather than scarfing. Aside from kitchen design, modern home architecture can help us live longer. Natural light improves our well-being and reduces the need for artificial light. Properly oriented windows can passively heat and cool our homes, lessening the need for energy consuming HVAC systems.
As Izenberg suggests, kitchens were tucked away in 1840s Philadelphia row houses because they were unpleasant and potential health hazards, but a more telling example is Colonial America, where kitchens were removed from the rest of the house because servants (or, more horribly, slaves) operated the cooking spaces. From a technological standpoint, kitchens were allowed to be open to the living space with the advent of the exhaust hood. Now your house wouldn’t smell like bacon all day. Kitchens weren’t relegated to the basement because people wanted them there or because such an arrangement lends itself to better health, but because of class and technological issues that no longer plague modern day homes.
While most of our clients do not request pizza ovens or pasta faucets (whatever that is), they do want to enjoy time with their guests in a true communal space. Frank Lloyd Wright was influential in re-centering the house around the kitchen, seeing the hearth (fireplace or oven, you decide) as the heart of the home. A positive byproduct of this layout is the free flow of natural light throughout the house. Open spaces and properly oriented buildings and window openings go a long way to reduce our dependence on artificial lighting, and by proxy, fossil fuels. When you consider this, it seems architects affect the fate of our overall health and preventative care. After all, and to quote Wright, “A physician can bury their mistakes, but an architect can only advise his client to plant vines.”