Challenges to cooking while living through a home renovation and two food stories in the news this month

kitchen with old cabinets, tile, drop ceiling and separating wall
The kitchen before any renovation (note a wall separating the kitchen from the front door)

It was not something we really wanted to put ourselves through, but our kitchen was small and cramped. There were two drawers missing doors. Besides, the carpeting in the living room and bedrooms was looking seedy and the white tiles in the kitchen and halls were off color. We were being told by friends and relatives that we really should do some renovation. Little did we know how much it would change our lives for almost a year and how much a functional kitchen contributes to health and peace of mind. I finally agreed to the remodeling as long as we would not have to tear down a wall.

storage shed for many things moved out of the house
Temporary storage of our goods allowed restoration of the floor in the house

The first thing to come up was the carpet; then the tile. Home renovation is one of those activities that a married couple goes through that can put great strain on a relationship. This renovation was no exception. One of the first decisions that must be made is whether to live in the house while it is being remodeled or to seek shelter elsewhere. We decided to move everything we could into an outside storage unit. The refrigerator was moved from the kitchen to the garage as the last thing before the wall between the kitchen and the front hallway came down. The house was built in the 60s and the original floor was terrazzo. That meant that we lived in one room and ate in the garage for most of this time.

refrigerator kitchen table and cabinets in the garage
Our kitchen arrangement in the garage

Cooking in the garage is an altogether unique experience. Some background here. First, I am retired, and my wife works a 40-hour week. Thus, I do almost all the food preparation for our family. Second, we have a two-car garage, but, except when fleeing from Hurricane Irma, we have not kept a car in the garage. Third, we had aceess to one electrical outlet augmented by a power strip. Off that power strip we plugged in cords for the refrigerator, microwave oven, countertop convection oven, coffee pot, and occasional other countertop appliances. The refrigerator/freezer was plugged in all the time, but only one other appliance could be operated at a time without breaking the circuit. I had no stovetop, not realizing how often I normally use one to prepare meals. There were sinks in the two bathrooms that were many steps away and not a great substitute for a kitchen sink.

Despite having a reasonably good setup, I found that my food-prep options were limited. I generally cooked two or three meals a week with fresh foods. Baked fish with fresh salads was one of those meals most weeks. We quickly learned that one of the local grocery stores has an excellent service for takeaway meals. Their specialty on Wednesdays is chicken cordon bleu and on Thursdays, lasagna. I learned that both entreés tend to run out early, so I was frequently there before the last serving was sold. We also enjoyed many frozen dinners—not nearly as delicious as the meals I would prepare, but much more convenient under the circumstances. A convenient and special treat was a peanut butter burrito! And then there were the evenings when we went to the ice cream shoppe for supper!

dishpan and dishcloth in a bathroom sink next to dishes in a drainer with clean bowls
The inconvenience of washing dishes in a bathroom sink is not something I thought about before renovation

Washing dishes in the bathroom sink. Believe it or not, I don’t mind washing dishes, even the ones that are not appropriate for the dishwasher. It is quiet time allowing me to reflect on my day. What is the pits, however, is having to wash dishes in the bathroom sink. Of all my kitchen duties during renovation, this one was the worst. Many days it was tempting to use as many disposable items as possible.

Another downside was that I gained seven pounds over seven months. My BMI rose from 23.8 to 25.0. The weight gain was not intentional, but it was apparently due to eating more takeaway food. I did not noticeably increase or decrease the amount of processed foods that I ate. It was so great to get back to a real kitchen after the renovation work was finished. After I resumed cooking in the new kitchen I lost the seven pounds I had gained during renovation to return to a BMI of 23.8. I actually hoped to lose another 5 pounds, but that didn’t happen.

a renovated kitchen with new cabinets and appliances
The finished kitchen with a functional sink and one less wall

Lessons learned included that life without a fully equipped kitchen is a challenge. I cooked different types of food, we fell into an over-reliance on take-away and eating out, and we both gained weight. I am very fortunate to live in a nice home and to be able to prepare as many meals in our newly renovated kitchen as I want to. Many families across the country and around the world are not nearly as fortunate as we are. They don’t have the income to buy frequent meals out or to prepare food in a fully equipped kitchen. Too many families don’t have access to a supermarket close by and thus don’t have access to fresh foods. The home renovation helped give me some perspective on what it is like to try to prepare meals in less than ideal circumstances. I have a better appreciation for the families introduced to us in Pressure Cooker and Why Home Cooking Won’t Solve Our Problems. I’m still not sure What We Can Do About It.

Two food stories in the news this month. Once again there were some intriguing stories about food recently that proclaimed the deterioration of Western food culture. I am not a nutritionist or a dietitian, but there seems to be a lack of nutritional perspective in many of these stories I read about these days.

Going deaf and blind by eating processed food. Yikes, a boy lost his sight and hearing because he ate nothing but chips, fries, processed meats and white bread. How toxic can one’s diet get? No, he didn’t get fat, but his diet was clearly unhealthy. The problem I had with the stories I read on this topic was that most of them attributed his condition to the negative impact of what he ate rather than the lack of vitamins and minerals missing from his diet. The orientation of many articles on nutrition these days emphasize the negative aspects of what we eat rather than the positive aspects of what we could be eating. Nutrients matter.  Whatever happened to the concept of a balanced diet?

Are chemicals making us fat? This question comes back to what is and what isn’t a chemical. Now we are learning chemicals are causing obesity. For anyone who happens to believe in the importance of calories, it is obvious that chemicals are making us fat—particularly those that contain calories. Those classes of chemical compounds are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. And then there is alcohol. Those chemicals, however, don’t seem to be the ones everybody is talking and writing about. Now writers are blaming antidepressants. Soon we will be back to the same old pattern of blaming food additives, particularly those ingredients with names that sound like chemicals.

Next week: Can Americans live in a world without plastic?

5 thoughts on “Challenges to cooking while living through a home renovation and two food stories in the news this month

  1. Rob and Betty, I love the new kitchen. The garage kitchen was actually quite nice, too! Wishing you many happy meals. Cynthia


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