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27 October 2021

What do our kitchens say about us?

This is the central question of Kitchens, a thought-provoking six-part mini-series by Lucy Dearlove, which forms part of her delightfully named food podcast Lecker.

By Ellen Peirson-Hagger

A fridge, a hob, an oven. Cupboards, drawers, a wipe-clean work surface. A sink, perhaps a microwave, less often a dining table and chairs. Why are our kitchens – more so than living rooms or bedrooms – so alike, when our needs and tastes are so different? This is the central question of Kitchens, a thought provoking six-part mini-series by Lucy Dearlove, which forms part of her delightfully named food podcast Lecker (“delicious” in German). Kitchens fills a gap in a media that is obsessed with recipe books and viral cooking trends but rarely addresses how, as our cooking routines change, our habitats must too.

Until the middle of the 20th century, it was deemed unbecoming for a guest at a respectable household to be able to smell or hear someone cooking; kitchens were ideally kept separate from living areas. Today, cooking is often a social activity, and an open-plan kitchen-diner is desirable. But is that still the ideal if you live in a flat-share, and what happens if you have a disability that means you can’t stand up to cook for a long time – can a fitted kitchen offer what you need?

[see also: BBC Radio 4’s God Squad has borrowed from Life of Brian – but left behind the laughs]

Kitchens is affectionate, a patchwork quilt of a podcast: we hear the click of a gas hob and the clatter of cutlery before Dearlove introduces her guests – experts in design history and sociology, as well as ordinary people whose kitchens are particularly important to them – to discuss her fascinating and quietly radical themes. So, the food writer Ruby Tandoh explores what it means to cook in shared, rented accommodation, where moving ingredients from one cupboard to another feels like “changing the world order”, while Alice Wilson, an activist and academic, explains the function of kitchens in “tiny houses” – converted vans, narrowboats – where space is at a premium. The fitted kitchen, which became commonplace in Britain in the 1960s, was designed to maximise efficiency. But, as Dearlove shows, one size will never fit all.

Lecker: Kitchens mini-series Podcasts

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This article appears in the 27 Oct 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Our Fragile Future