Central Kitchen Buildings

04-03-2022 14:32

At the beginning of the 20th Century, most dwellings in Finland didn't have a separate kitchen. Things that impacted the introduction of individual kitchens:

  • Self-sufficiency replaced by buying of most food products
  • Importance of pravate nuclear family grew as collective family of rural-type houses dissapeared
  • New requirements concerning cleanliness and hygiene
  • 'Family' and 'Home' became important signifiers of the middle class

At the beginning of the 20th century there were two alternatives to reorganising households and their management:

  • Rationalising household work within indivudual households
  • Organising household work collectively

A big influence to the move to the former was Salme Setala's book Keittion Sisustus (Kitchen decor). An extract from it:

'The World War, with its lack of food, changed wealth relations, rises in the price of land, dizzily increased building costs, women’s independent position, to name just a few aspects, caused a revolution in the kitchen, forced to plan “modern” kitchens, the aim of which are: tasks need to be performed as quickly as possible, wasting as little power as possible.'

A similar movement at the time, Cooperative Kitchens, did not have people living in the same building, so meals were delivered to members or were collected.

Proponents of central kitchens argued that it would make housework simpler, more practical, cheaper and more comfortable. The argument was based on efficiency and savings.

In reality, during the early 20th century it became harder to find a good servant who stayed in her post. New jobs were more lucrative and had better conditions. Servants demanded more time off and higher wages. Thus, the central kichen offered a way to maintain a middle class lifestyle.

At the same time new housing requirements in terms of hygeine meant it was no longer acceptable for servants to sleep in the kitchen. Building a separate room was too expensive for many.

Central Kitchens were not meant to create a form of communal living, but were simply an efficient way of maintaining a middle class lifestyle. Each kichen had a strict timetable, often with only one option per meal. Meals were sent using a food lift. Dishes had to be sent back down within an hour of the end of mealtime. Households could use their own dishes, but these were stored in the kichen.

#Failure of Central Kitchens

Some only lasted a few years, the rest gradually shut following the second world war. They failed because:

  • Failed to make the promised economic savings. Suffered from managerial issues.
  • Hard to find good staff
  • Centralization didn't reach high enough levels because of small building sizes
  • Not a large enough percentage of residents ordered food from the central kitchen
  • Residents didn't follow rules like sending dishes back within an hour, adding costs
  • People didn't like the food, inflexibility and monotony.
  • The Central Kitchen System required residents to change their personal routines, tastes and preferences too much
  • Men found it imasculating. In Finland a home cooked meal prepared by a mans wife was a part of adult masculinity. This has also been pointed out as an important part of the rejection of Central Kitchens in America.
  • Critics of the system presented it as a threat to families and the homeliness of homes, which had become a central social ideal to strive for. Some equited Central Kitchens with living in a hotel.