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Back in Time for Dinner – Family Life in the Kitchen

Sometimes, you find yourself sitting on your sofa at home, watching a TV programme that you had not intended to watch, while waiting for your chosen show to start. Very occasionally you find that accidental TV programme so interesting that you decide to add it into your “reminders” on your smart TV.  I hope I am making sense because this is just what happened to me, when I stumbled upon a BBC2 programme called “Back in Time for Dinner” – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05nc7ph.

In essence it is a time-travel programme. A family of 5 go back to 1950 to discover what life was like in that era and use food as their guide to family life. The programme moves through the decades and to give the programme a touch of reality the whole of the lower floor of their house is redecorated to match the style and equipment of that era.

When it began, in the 1950s, of course there was rationing. However, what was a surprise was just how small and utilitarian the kitchens were. Definitely not the heart of the home, more of a house wives’ prison cell. No appliances, not even a washing machine or fridge, just a mangle bolted to the kitchen sink with a scrubbing board. I actually remember an old mangle in my grandma’s back garden, although it hadn’t been used in earnest for decades by then, to me it was a novelty toy!

In the 50’s the food was horrific but healthy, however without the appliances, the lady spent 7 hours per day there, on her own. The children didn’t enter and the man of the house did not even put the kettle on.

In the 60s life improved, appliances arrived, including the fridge and the kitchen table began to come into play. Foreign food arrived too, like our family’s staple, spaghetti. The kitchens were brighter and a warmer happier place to be.

By the 70s women were beginning to work part time and convenience food arrived.  Does anyone remember “Angel Delight” or Vesta Curries? Food became more processed and designed to cut cooking times. Our sugar intake began to increase, but there were no labels on the food to tell us how much our diet was changing by.

In the 80s women began to work more and the food became more synthetic. The family became more disjointed with the arrival of the microwave with all the family members’ eating different dishes at different times of the day, the life around the kitchen table was dying. Yet kitchens grew somewhat bigger to accommodate all the appliances.

The 1990s became the decade of the mega meal. As women were beginning to work full time, they stopped cooking real meals for the family. The mother in the programme became a nervous wreck in this decade as men did not really start to help out in the kitchens till the next decade. Having fought for equality and women’s lib, the only solution left to her seemed to be the arrival of the oven ready meal culture.

Rolling onto the 2000s and men begin to come into the kitchen in force. As the work times of both men and women balance out, the idea that it was just a woman’s role to create the family meals becomes a distant memory. However the advantage of this is that meal times have become a more communal experience, team work between all the members of the house.

The kitchen has become the hub of the home and morphed into a kitchen/dining/living space – https://idealmagazine.co.uk/4-ideal-benefits-of-open-plan-living/. A social environment where everyone is welcome. One member of the family can prepare a snack for themselves or everyone in the house without being isolated.  We are learning to cook from scratch again, which can only be a good thing as the food of the 80’s onwards became increasingly laden with salt and sugar, causing a spiralling detrimental effect on the nation’s health.

It was very interesting to see the changing fashions in terms of home furnishing too, from the threadbare 50s, the loud floral prints of the 60s, the primary colours of the 70s, the psychedelic 80s, the shiny show-off 90s and the stark bright whites of the ‘00s. In this decade we have opened up our worlds to let in the light with bi-fold doors and hygienic elegant shutters; we have restfully painted walls with accent colours. Our kitchen spaces are more welcoming than before, with more emphasis on communal spaces.

When our parents hark back to the “good old days”, they may remember the bike rides, picnics and board games they played. They may look at our children with dizzying irritation as they absorb the world around them on a hand held screen; using it for everything from reading a book, watching a film, communicating with friends and general entertainment.

However, this TV series showed that in most eras there were significant pros and cons.  Yes, early on the food was healthy if bland and almost unpalatable, but it was a lonely existence for the mother. The children may have played outside more, and the family connection was more authoritarian rather than encouraging and nurturing.  There was a definite generational disconnect between parents and children, they did not even eat together during the week.

For all the irritations of modern life, I think our large family kitchens spaces have created a special bond between all the members of the family, a community feel in the home. Everyone is welcome in the kitchen. Communication between members of the family has increased as a result. We do sit around the kitchen table to chat, work, eat and play. If anything, the idea of a formal dining room has gone, as we celebrate our family being together, happily engrossed in their own activities, all in the same space.

It was a great documentary, which I whole heartedly recommend, however, would I like to go back in time? Not on your nelly! Hectic as my life may be as a working mum of 2 wild ones, I love the fact that my kitchen is the heart of the home, a space where we all fortify the body and soul.

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