Pi Attitude Zone: Self-Gratification

Me? Overweight? Blame The Kitchen

It has been estimated that one American in every three now weighs as much as the other two combined. America has been putting on weight, and fingers have been pointed at the food and beverage industries as the principal culprits.

But wait. Another striking statistic was recently cited as a possible contributory factor. Could our expanding size be related to the expanding size of …our kitchens?

In the mid-20th century, the typical American kitchen was about 80 square feet in size, and the average American male weighed 166 pounds. Today, average kitchen size has almost tripled, to 225 square feet. American adult males now weigh in at over 190 pounds on average.  Coincidence?

Aric Chen, a specialist writer on architecture and design, has written that architecture has had a knock-on effect on human attitudes, and in turn on human behavior. He started thinking when he saw a news item about a well-known US furniture manufacturer marketing a chair for people whose body weight ranged up to 500 pounds. The firm was responding to a growing problem basically by, well, giving in to it.

Wrong answer, Chen said to himself.  He turned his questing mind to the subject of kitchens, rather than chairs. He noticed that kitchen rooms were not just getting bigger, they were also changing in function, and that society’s attitudes to kitchens were mutating accordingly. This was encouraging people who should not spend more time around food to… do just exactly that.

Unlike the smaller kitchens of yesterday, on which the door was closed once a meal had been eaten and the washing-up put away, today’s triple-sized kitchen has been re-cast as a combined living room, entertainment-center, communication post, children’s playroom, dining room, bar-room, meeting point and home office, (quite apart from its primary function as a place where food is stored and prepared). Probably the most requested feature in new-build kitchens is the central island unit, where we park our increasingly capacious behinds on stools and engage in activities that range from yakking about the day’s events to paying our bills online. Oh, and of course… we also eat.

Chen acknowledged that there was something romantic and nice about family and friends choosing the kitchen as the place to foregather.  He traces this back to “a nostalgic era of hearth and home”. But back then, “You didn’t have big bags of Fritos chips lying around”.

One of the most requested features in new-build kitchens is “more pantry space”, implying that Americans feel a pressing need for more room in which to store food. But the presence of more food, argue dieticians, particularly processed foods and non-perishable snacks, in itself contributes to systematic over-eating and eating for reasons other than hunger. There is a concern about kitchens becoming the nerve-center of a household for nearly all activities. The worry is that “Americans become somehow mindless when they are watching TV, paying the bills, answering the phone or doing e-mails. …If you locate all those tasks in the middle of the kitchen with food around, it’s a recipe for mindless munching”.

Zone: Self-Gratification Country: USA / North America Product – Consumer Products