Photo-Illustration: Vox Media
At the Smithsonian Museum of American History, there’s an entire exhibition dedicated to the American table and how the country eats — everything from an exact replica of Julia Child’s kitchen to a Krispy Kreme donut machine and one of those industrial slicers that turns carrots into baby carrots. And then there’s a 1970s avocado-green Crock-Pot embellished with frilly gold illustrations of foodstuffs, the humble slow cooker that’s been stylistically updated time and again over the years, but has remained a steadfast symbol of a specific logic that’s governed American home cooking since the 1950s: that devices hold the key to making a meal that is delicious, nourishing, easy. And in this worldview, there’s no reason for anyone not to be a good cook, regardless of how much time or skill they have.
While the postwar image of the happy housewife surrounded by cooking appliances is now wildly outdated, the aspirations embodied in that kitchen still affect the culture of home cooking — even if the recipes and who’s doing the cooking have changed. Episode three of Nice Try! Interior heads into the kitchen and explores the anxiety-absolving promise of home-cooking equipment and how these inventions embody a battleground over what and how we eat. Featuring interviews with Paula Johnson, a curator of food history at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History; Lenore Naxon, the daughter of engineer Irving Naxon; Ashley Fetters Maloy, features reporter for the Washington Post; author Melissa Clark; historian Ruth Schwartz Cowan; chef and author Chandra Ram; Sharon Franke, a professional kitchen-equipment tester and director of Good Housekeeping’s Kitchen Appliances and Technology Lab; and author Menachem Kaiser.