Friday, April 15, 2011

The Joy Of Not Cooking???

Megan  McArdle is the business and economics editor for the Atlantic, but from time to time she writes a damn interesting piece on cooking in America.   In her latest post,  Megan postulated on how we're spending more on our kitchens but cooking in them less which you can read here

She posits that since, for many, cooking has become more of a leisure activity, we're more apt to spend more money on our kitchens and devote more square footage of them.  She writes:

Perhaps we’re spending so much on our kitchens precisely because we’re using them less. When women left the kitchen, they began earning their own money—and the spending authority that comes with it. Since 1990, while the inflation-adjusted income of traditional single-earner couples has barely risen, the income of dual-earner couples has risen 16 percent. Schwefel says, “The core of my business is that 40- or 50-something woman who has more time than she did 10 years ago and is rediscovering kitchens.”

In other words, cooking is increasingly a leisure activity, especially at the high end of the market. My grandmother loved cooking, but it was still essentially a job: she cooked well because she wanted her family to eat well. For women today, cooking from scratch is an option—something you do when you are not hard-pressed by the demands of children and careers. Schwefel sees an increasing bifurcation between the markets for everyday equipment and for leisure cookware: the stainless-steel sauteuse for a quick weeknight stir-fry; the ebelskiver pans, and braisers, and jumbo chef’s knives for the weekends, when there’s time to use them. The split is even more striking in our recipes. The best-selling cookbooks are aspirational fare, like Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Yet the No. 1 cooking magazine is Taste of Home, which relies heavily on mixes and processed foods, and offers speed and convenience rather than lifestyle fulfillment.
She also notes that:

When we’re spending on leisure rather than drudgery, we think about our purchases very differently. Jobs are about cost-benefit analysis, which is why no one buys ultra-premium paper clips for their home office—in fact, many people who cook for a living make fun of amateurs like me, with our profusion of specialty knives and high-end pans. Leisure is as much about our pleasant fantasies as it is about what we’re actually doing. If you see cooking as an often boring part of your daily work, you’ll buy the pots you need to finish the job, and then stop. But if it’s part of a voyage of personal “rediscovery,” you’ll never stop finding new side trips to take—and everyone who’s been on a nice vacation knows the guilty pleasure of spending a little more than you should.
I found this article particularly interesting because I am about to embark on my own kitchen flight-of-fantasy upscale myself.  

When we bought our house 17 years ago, it came with a cute, charming kitchen that the previous owner actually built himself (he was a major do-it-yourselfer).   I painted it blue (it was beige) and over the years as major appliances died, we put in a new refrigerator, stove and two dishwashers.

I posted pictures of my present kitchen above.   Don't get so excited--it doesn't always look this good.   Two years ago my house was on an historic house tour and this is my kitchen gussied up for the tour. 

People love my kitchen, and are taken in by it's charms, but it was built by an amateur and there's all sorts of issues.   For one thing, I can't open up my freezer all the way to get an ice tray out.   I also have a set of drawers by the stove which I can't open unless I open the stove first.  I don't have all the fancy pull out cabinets so much of my cabinet space is unreachable and so, unused.   Also, some of the cabinets have started to pull from the wall and are literally being propped up by appliances like the microwave.  

I also can't use the back burners on my stove for long periods of time, because you may notice from the pictures that not only do I not have an oven hood, but the cabinet is less then 12 inches above the stove top.   Finally (but still not everything) the terra cotta floor is cracked all over and I have to periodically put back pieces that came up and people kicked around (it's like a giant jig saw puzzle).

So, considering its close to 30 years old, I think my kitchen's time has come.  I've been meeting with the builder and architect, and hopefully we'll get going on it sometime before the end of the year.

I have to admit, the urge to not fly completely off the handle and spend a zillion dollars is tough.   Kitchens are such a central part of the real estate culture these days (even though they're barely used), that its hard saying no to granite counter-tops and $10,000 Aga cookers.   Fantasy does seem to want to win out over practicality.  

I have to keep telling myself that I actually want to cook in this room when I'm through ripping it out and replacing it, and have to think about what will make it the most efficient and easy to clean.   I also have to keep reminding myself, that, unfortunately, I don't have a zillion to spend (although the amount we will be spending is still eye-popping), and need to rein in the fantasy a bit (although granite counter-tops ARE practical when you think about it.)


  1. Redoing a kitchen is exciting (hopefully in a good way) and complex. All the best with it! can't wait to see the after pics.

  2. I envy a kitchen redo. As we are hopefully moving in the next year the first thing I do when looking on line is look right at the kitchen pictures. We need space so two people can cook and get things done in there. Can't wait to see the progress!

  3. Woohoo - I would love a kitchen update! Go for the granite - it will be great! Can't wait to watch this unfold!