Future Kitchen

Future Kitchen

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Why does the kitchen loom so large in Future Past?  Why not equal space for the drawing room of the future, or the alcove of tomorrow, or the crawl space of the next century? The answer is that the development of kitchen appliances did for the homemaker what automation did for the factory worker–and in some ways the changes were even more revolutionary.  These were changes that liberated women from a task that had been theirs since Og dragged the first mastodon back to the cave.  It turned cooking from a chore to a pleasure and gave gainful employment to a generation of annoying celebrity chefs.

These changes are so great that today that we often don't appreciate just what a tremendous boon things like electric cookers, toasters, dishwashers and mixers were for families, and women in particular, in the last century.  In fact, if one makes a study of how people of today look back on predictions of the kitchen of the future, one is struck by how condescending, even sneering, many commentators are about the whole thing.  It generally can be summed up as something like, "Okay, they got the microwave and the frozen food right, but these silly people missed out on feminism."  Or the welfare state, or gay rights, or the EU directive on bananas, or the Spice Girls reunion. 

Kitchen of 1999 A.D. from 1967

It's easy to laugh at past predictions, but it is also a bit prejudiced if we damn them for being insufficiently feminist or whatever and arrogant to claim that they fall short if they fail to foresee "us."  There is something absurd in condemning the designers of these kitchens for not preemptively embracing the prejudices of a load of left-wing 21st century academicians who imply that the designs embrace "patriarchy, the nuclear family, and capitalism" and are therefore suspect. 

Bear in mind that these amenities were aimed at middle and working class women who took several back-breaking hours to do what their granddaughters do in minutes, if at all.  We easily forget that there was a time without freezer to microwave meals, boxed convenience dinners, fast foods, takeaways, or pizza delivery.  A husband who bought his wife a state-of-the-art cooker wasn't a lout; he was a man who wanted to get his wife out of the kitchen, not be tied to it. These devices  weren't shackles of some hateful (why hateful?) family, but rather liberators from a job that had to be done and someone had to do them.  If you couldn't afford servants, that meant Mum. Although even more devices have been invented to help reduce Mum's duties to keep the home in order, there is still the option for cleaning services, the new version of servants.

In this context, these labour saving devices were a revolution.  It meant that women of modest means could now enjoy freedoms that hitherto could only be enjoyed by the upper classes.  It meant leisure and choices of occupation.  It meant not a world where women merely should be equal, but one where they could be equal.

Not a bad job for a crock pot.

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