Is your modern open eat-in kitchen making you fat?

Porsche kitchen
Promo image Porsche Kitchen

It has been a TreeHugger mantra for years that Small fridges make good cities. Recently in an MNN post I added "and healthier people" to the statement, particularly after reading about nutritionist Brian Wansink's book Slim by Design, where he notes that "In general, the larger the refrigerator, the more we tend to keep in it. And the more food options there are, the more likely something is to catch your eye as being tasty."

Ellen Himelfarb picks up the story in the Globe and Mail with Is your sleek new kitchen making you fat? Here’s what to do. There is a lot of TreeHugger in this article as she interviewed me at length. She starts with Wansink, who makes a plea for uncomfortable working kitchens.

Dr. Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, argues that our eating habits are much more influenced by our surroundings than our appetite, and some modern kitchen comforts are the biggest culprits. Families with comfortable seating and TVs in the kitchen tend to snack more...“The first thing I suggest if you’re giving your kitchen a makeover – make it less loungeable,” he says. “Recent research shows that one of the biggest determinants of low BMI in children is sitting at a table with the TV off.”

Lloyd Alter/ Kelly Rossiter's canning/CC BY 2.0

Himelfarb then interviews me, attributing to me the work of TreeHugger emeritus Kelly Rossiter, who used to write about food here and really was responsible for all my good green eating habits, the 19th century Ontario diet and the extensive canning done in the summer and fall. But she does include my comments about size:

“Half the space in show kitchens is never used,” he says, arguing you can do more with much less – from the size of your plates to the breadth of your fridge. In Europe you have what is essentially a bar fridge. You go shopping every day at the local greengrocer. You tend to eat fresher, healthier food, and that’s a function of design.”

Himelfarb doesn't quite buy into that argument, noting that "most Canadian cities aren’t built to facilitate a daily run to the market by cargo bike." But she does agree with my point about dining rooms:

“Nobody eats in the dining room any more,” he rails. “I’ve had a lifelong war against the breakfast room. I think it creates a real problem for health. I have a separate dining room and it means sitting down to eat is a conscious decision. The family has meals together, no grazing.”

I was very happy that she talked to indoor-climate expert Robert Bean about exhaust hoods, in greater detail than I did in The most screwed up, badly designed, inappropriately used appliance in your home: the kitchen exhaust. This is a serious deficiency in almost all kitchens- they are not properly sized, they don't have makeup air, “They suck in the fumes, then whatever other particulate matter is lurking, then the bad outdoor stuff through cracks around your house.”

© Marni Wasserman's kitchen studio

She ends with Marni Wasserman, described as a Toronto chef and “health strategist,” and who has a very interesting kitchen studio indeed. Like Treehugger founder Graham Hill in his LifeEdited apartment, she uses portable induction burners that you can plug in anywhere. “They’re supersafe and maximize surface area so there’s no stove sitting in the middle of your countertop, making it a chore to chop.” I thought this was a brilliant idea for a small New York kitchen owned by a guy who doesn't cook, and it is actually even more interesting to see it used by someone who seriously cooks professionally.

Read the whole article in The Globe and Mail.

Tags: Kitchens | Less Is More


treehugger slideshows