Do Houses Need Kitchens? A Hundred-Year-Old Opinion

Source: Ladies Home Journal (March, 1919)

Sometimes I come across hundred-year-old magazine articles which absolutely stun me. They take positions which in some ways seem very forward thinking (or perhaps forward mis-thinking) – even by today’s standards.

Here’s some excerpts from a 1919 article which argues that there is no need for kitchens – and that cooking should be done in centralized locations:

Shall the private kitchen be abolished? It has a revolutionary sound, just as once upon a time there were revolutionary sounds in such propositions as these: Shall private wells be abolished? Shall private kerosene lamps be abolished? Shall we use ready-to-wear garments and factory-canned vegetables?

There must have been thousands upon thousands of men and women who said that these changes could never come to pass. But now we are not only reconciled to these, but delighted with city water, gas and electricity, and factory products.

And now why not get rid of the private kitchen?

The one who has not thought about it will almost invariably give the reply: “Oh, that will never be practicable.”

So now, when these very objections present themselves one after another before the proposition to abolish cooking in the home, it may be that we know how to meet them.

In a small town, it means the establishment of a central kitchen, or in a city the opening of many neighborhood kitchens. It means the preparation there of breakfast, lunch and dinner just as in a hotel or cafe. But the main industry would be the taking of telephone orders and the delivery of cooked food, hot, at the doors. Delivery would be made by auto; and, closed vans, with openings at the sides and filled with small electric ovens, heated by the power which supplies the car, are not such a far cry.

In the kitchen alone the primitive, solitary, unorganized labor of our ancestors continues to be maintained. When one thinks in terms of a whole town of, say, a thousand homes, a thousand stoves going, and the unpaid labor of wives and mothers who are themselves cooks, it is to be seen that the centralized system is exactly as logical in its certainty of economy as the centralized system any other business.

Source: Ladies Home Journal (March, 1919)

45 thoughts on “Do Houses Need Kitchens? A Hundred-Year-Old Opinion

  1. I think it’s a grand idea. If we could do that, just on my street, we’d have fewer ovens using fuel and I’d only have to cook once every 20 days. That alone would be awesome.

    We all might get tired of spaghetti, though, as that seems the most common crowd pleasing entree that’s easily made.

    1. Oh can you imagine what the grousing would be like. Somebody would be a vegan and demand all vegan meals. Somebody would be on the Keto diet and demand all Keto diet meals. Somebody would be gluten intolerant.
      It’d be impossible, actually.
      In 1919, when this was written, probably ever single family in the entire city district you lived in, if you lived in a large city, was of the exact same demographic as you were, and ate the exact same things. In some districts of New York or Chicago, entire city blocks probably smelled like an Italian restaurant from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. every day.
      Now the primary feature of the communal dinner would be a raging argument over what other people should be allowed to eat.

      1. Ha ha! You’re right about the grousing. We have become more particular about what we eat. And you’re spot on about the ethnicity of communities back then. I was just hoping not to have to cook.

        1. One odd thought I’ve had about all of this is that we live now in an era in which we have televised food programs showing us how to make every gourmet and very ethnic dish ever thought of, at the same time that we have all that fast food we’re packing away all the time.
          We’ve even coined the term “Foodies”.
          It’s like we really want to eat well, or maybe really want to eat like our ancestors. But we aren’t.
          Maybe we just lack the time.

          1. A hundred years ago many women (and it was generally women back then) put three meals a day on the table 365 days a year. Even though I strongly believe that most of those meals were tasty and nutritious, I think that many cooks relied on routine, simple recipes that were easy to make. Today when many people only cook occasionally, I think that there is more interest in cooking really special, epicurean foods.

      2. Individual preferences and diet needs are definitely considered more now than they were in days gone by. Even then I was young, it seemed like we were expected to eat what was served.

    2. hmm. . . If a group of neighbors rotated cooking meals, and we each got to choose the menu on the day we cooked, I wonder whether my neighbors would enjoy eating the hundred-year-old recipes that I make for this blog. 🙂

  2. We are doing that now with fast food and telephone orders and home delivery of hot pizza and other meals. Wow! So interesting. Thanks for this look-back-and-wonder post.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. Although I think it is wonderful we have a choice – either cook at home or use the community kitchen of a take out restaurant. We modern women have the best of both worlds. 🙂

  3. I’m going to argue that they are not too far off. We have many more restaurants, fast food and food delivery services. They are all private and not communal. I think many more people eat out, especially with working Moms.

    1. For good or ill, that’s really true.
      Even married couples eat out a lot more than they used to, including married couples with kids, including my family.
      When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s going out was a real treat and I’d certainly have never suggested it to my folks. We eat out here a lot more often than back then, and even for one of the kids to suggest “let’s go to. . . ” isn’t all that unusual.

    2. I agree – relatively few meals are prepared in the home today. Even the deli section of supermarkets have morphed into large take-out centers with a wide range of food offerings.

  4. Wow, it’s like the Bolshevism that was raging in the Russian Civil War, the Hungarian revolution, and in Germany in that year (1919) had made it all the way to Ladies Home Journal.
    Give up my kitchen for a collective kitchen. No thank you.

  5. In 1887, Edward Bellamy, a journalist and writer from Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, wrote a popular novel titled, Looking Backwards. It was a socialist fantasy where everything made perfect sense, including communal cafeterias where food was served by polite and thoughtful teenagers.

    I won’t get into the ‘Does Socialism Work?’ debate, but before we try it, can we master the polite and thoughtful teenager thing?

    1. I’ve heard many positive things about the meals served at some retirement residences. I think that there are a lot of people like your mother who really enjoy not having to cook.

  6. I remember learning in world history class that in Roman culture there were communal kitchens and that everyone ate together at the same time. It sounded like hell to me, an introvert who loves her private kitchen.

    1. I have to admit that I’d find that a horrific thought as well. At the end of the day having to sit down with a big group of people at that time that introverts, like me as well, really want some down time, isn’t pleasant at all.

    2. Wow, I learned something new. I had no idea that meals were prepared in communal kitchens during the Roman Empire. Some ideas that seem new are really very old.

  7. Interesting, but no thank you. My last stand against the Nanny State will be my own kitchen, my own recipes, and my own food. I don’t need someone else urging to me “Try it! You’ll like it!” The first time Brussels sprouts came out of that communal kitchen, I’d be eating tree bark. Besides, the increasing movement toward “communalism” is making me nervous. It’s awfully close to another word that begins with “C.”

  8. Noooo. I love my kitchen. It’s my playground, the place where I go to relax and create. Sure, I’m grateful for the odd take-away, but in the main, family meals suit us just fine.

    1. Your comment expressed my sentiments exactly- and you expressed them much better than I could. I love how you describe the kitchen as your playground where you go to relax and create.

    1. A house just doesn’t seem like it would be a home without a kitchen. In our family, the kitchen has always been the spot where we’ve tended to congregate.

  9. And now, 100 years later, we have the best of both worlds. Most of us have nice kitchens and access to pick up at the curb meals and even home delivery. This one made me smile!

  10. It’s so interesting that some of the ideas we consider new now have actually been around for a long time. Your blog has taught me that for sure! Not sure if I would care for a communal kitchen, though.

  11. I once cooked a Mexican fiesta for just over 200 people in my own 4 by 8-feet kitchen, and it was still far better supplied (sharp knives, cutting boards, and everything else) than the communal kitchen we transported things to for the fiesta; fortunately, I had the foresight to take my own utensils for last-minute prep! And I’ve lived with a communal kitchen; things were forever being eaten by someone else, whether you labelled them or not… so nope, I’m keepin’ my own! 🙂

  12. What a load of rubbish and hogwash! I had thought that only a “professional bachelor” would have written this silly article but NO! It’s written by Zona Gale, who became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1921. I can certainly testify to the ‘drama” she incited in her OpEd piece!

    I work with the public every day, sometimes hundreds of people! The VERY LAST THING THAT I WOULD WANT is to be forced to stand in a high brow “soup line” and eat my meal with people that I have no desire to be around! And, what if what they are serving isn’t to your fancy? Tough luck, Charlie!

    I can understand this concept at Senior Centers but for now, I want the luxury of making what I darn well please: whether that be Beans on Toast, Pasta, or Lobster Soup!

    1. I like my own kitchen, too. I learned something new. I had no idea that the author of the hundred-year-old articles was someone well-known. Thanks for researching this.

  13. “the main industry would be the taking of telephone orders and the delivery of cooked food, hot, at the doors”, it sounds like we have done it. That seems to be the case if you ask my grandson. He says they only need a small refrigerator and microwave to heat up leftovers from restaurants. 😀

    1. I have several friends who really like the large servings that are typical of many restaurants. The bring the left-overs home, and then eat them for the next meal or two.

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