Friday, 11 July 2008

Kitchens

I have a developing love for the kitchen.

In the past, kitchens meant: grabbing a quick meal, washing dishes, constant sweeping, washing dishes, scrambling to cook a meal, and washing dishes.

But with the help of a few old memories, and the aid of a couple new interests, the idea of the kitchen is evolving in my mind.

The first house we looked at (and nearly bought) spoke to me because of the kitchen. The front door opened directly into it. There was no hallway, no foyer, no fancy sitting room. The door swung opened and you were standing smack in the middle of a beautifully large kitchen. There was an old, big wooden preparation table in the middle of the room, and counter space and storage space that would thrill any mother. I immediately thought of life a hundred years ago, when daily life seemed to revolve around the kitchen. Kids coming in and out, mom cooking, baking, mending, sewing. The kitchen used to be the hub of the house!

My Nana lived for a long time in a large house that had a kitchen add-on. She told me that they used to build kitchens separate to remove heat from the heat of cooking from the main house. Once again, the entrance we used for the house came right into this kitchen.

My uncle is a fabulous cook. "Uncle Baden" dinners are famous in our family, and people will travel hours to partake of Christmas or Thanksgiving or Easter dinner at his house. We always arrive in early afternoon, and so are able to help in preparation, and visit with family while the delectable aromas waft in and out of the rooms. There was never less than three kinds of meat, two or three types of potatoes, three or four other vegetables, fresh rolls, and a whole host of desserts.

A television show I used to watch showed an episode where the mother took her teenage daughter along grocery shopping for a class project. The mother described how much she enjoyed grocery shopping, because it was a process that began with planning out her family's favourite meals, and then carried into the store as she thought about each family member and how much they would appreciate the things she bought and made.

As these and other memories have converged upon me lately, I am beginning to discover my love for the kitchen. Food preparation is becoming much more than simply getting a meal on the table. I am currently clearing out a space for a vegetable garden to start next year. And I'm reading a book about building a root cellar to store my crops through the winter.

I have always been fascinated with farming, seeing it as the career that is at the very heart of humanity. Food is the basic necessity of life, and therefore farming is the basic work of life. Although I don't see farming in our future, I do imagine our next house being one out of the town, with enough property in the back to grow a substantial garden, providing most of our vegetables myself. I see my children working alongside me, learning the true meaning of self-reliance. I see our kitchen as the hub of our house (as opposed to a play room or computer room or tv room), where my boys come to scour the corners for snacks and meals, and engage in a little conversation as they munch.

Why, you might ask, in this age of convenience, would I picture such a rustic image of the future? First, because I think self-reliance is not only important, but crucial in this day and age of uncertain markets, natural disasters, and world-wide unrest. Second, because I think it is an inherent drive for men and women to grow and farm through some hard work. I may not be packing up to living in an Amish community, but there is a simplicity and happiness to that life that burns naturally inside me.

"Slowly we are carving a new lifestyle. To some it might seem to be one that is looking backward, for it cherishes the homely, the rude, the unpackaged, the unmechanized, the careful. We do not think of it as a blind shutting out of any visions of the future, but rather, for us, the right way to face the future. The carving is not easy. It is often painful. But in it are the seeds of sanity, of joy." - Mara Cary, Basic Baskets.

3 comments:

belowatime said...

Yahoo! Wish we lived closer :)

Kevin H. said...

Interestingly, this post reflects certain parts of the worldview evinced in Pixar's latest film, WALL•E. Not the love for the kitchen as the central hub of the home, of course, but rather the belief that the increasing mechanization of our daily lives is removing us further and further from our basic humanity, which is founded upon reaping the natural fruits of our labour to secure survival and find meaning in our everyday lives.

Basically, we value our lives more when we take responsibility for providing for ourselves the necessities of food, shelter, art and entertainment (and anyone who says the latter two aren't necessities is lying, though they might be categorized as one-and-the-same thing in a healthy, balanced lifestyle). I don't mean "labour" as in working somewhere for money, or "providing" as in buying food from the grocery store with that money, but actually providing for oneself these basic necessities by the labour of one's own hand.

What do we value more, the item we bought and paid for with the money we earned at the jobs where we work (and with which we are perhaps dissatisfied or disillusioned), or the item we created or built or grew using your our hands, our own labour? I bet that home-made fence offers more satisfaction than any store-bought job put up by hired professionals ever will; and I bet those home-grown vegetables will taste better than their grocery store counterparts, and not just because they're "more fresh", but also because they came from your own garden -- the fruit of your own labour.

There's an almost unavoidable sense of value and satisfaction in providing life's necessities for ourselves, with our own hands and hard work, instead of exchanging our labour for money, and then exchanging that money for product, keeping the "work" and the "reward" always at a layer of remove from each other. This "alienation of our labour", and its ill effects on our personal and social lives (pretty much the standard in modern Western life), is one of the central ideas in Karl Marx's social theory, which remains powerfully relevant in this industrial age of collapsing economies and increasing globalization (bet you didn't think you were re-inforcing Marxist notions, eh Terri-Ann!): he lamented the growing gulf between humankind and its labour, sure that it could only lead to an eventual social collapse due to rebellion and uprising on the part of the disenfranchised workers ... but perhaps that's another conversation altogether.

One final thought: the last Book of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina similarly deals with precisely this issue (how to find meaning and satisfaction in a life that seems bereft of satisfactory answers), and Levin ultimately concludes that it is precisely by doing, by actively pursuing "the good" in our day-to-day lives, by reaping the fruits of our own labour that we find meaning and wholeness in ourselves.


(P.S. If you guys get the chance -- an unlikely proposition, I know -- get out and see WALL•E. I'm sure you won't regret it.)

Terri-Ann said...

Bonnie,

I agree!