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  • Cold War Kitchen: Americanization, Technology, and European Users
  • Finn Arne Jørgensen (bio)
Cold War Kitchen: Americanization, Technology, and European Users. Edited by Ruth Oldenziel and Karin Zachmann. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2009. Pp. viii+415. $36.

In July 1959, Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev faced off in the famous Moscow "kitchen debate," arguing the virtues of their respective political systems in a high-tech American kitchen. This debate, which the editors of Cold War Kitchen call "a transatlantic clash between American corporate and European welfare-state visions of technological development" (p. 8) is featured throughout their book, but it seldom feels repetitive. Instead, each retelling adds to our understanding of the event.

Why did the kitchen take such a central position in the cold-war conflict? The first essay, by Greg Castillo, points to some explanations through his exploration of "the fat kitchen" and "the lean kitchen," two metaphors developed by a German writer in the 1940s to signify the abundance of the United States versus the spartan German culture. Many Europeans were concerned about the dangers of Americanization yet were unwilling to fall under the influence of communism, thereby creating the tensions visible in the kitchen debate.

Many exhibitions involving kitchens took place during the cold war. Set up as East-West cultural exchange arenas, they served as rhetorical and symbolic battlegrounds. Americans were particularly interested in moving the discussion of technological progress and superiority to their home field, measuring progress in terms of consumer goods rather than space exploration and nuclear technology. Cristina Carbone looks at the American side of the kitchen debate through an analysis of "model homes," arguing that these were inherently constructed and controversial, since such homes were beyond the means of the average American worker. Susan E. Reid follows the kitchen debate from the Soviet side. While the Soviet audience accepted the American ideal far from uncritically, it had a definite effect on Soviet production of kitchen appliances.

Irene Cieraad considers how the modern kitchen appeared in a Dutch exhibit dedicated to the atom. Here, General Motors's Kitchen of Tomorrow made a much bigger splash than the exhibit's operating nuclear reactor. While the kitchen was clearly a publicity stunt intended to "tame" the idea of nuclear energy, it also represented the American dream of the future. Shane Hamilton's excellent essay examines a failed attempt to transfer American-style supermarkets and industrialized food-distribution chains into cold-war Yugoslavia. While the 1957 Supermarket U.S.A. exhibit awed Yugoslav visitors, the country simply did not have the necessary infrastructure to build such a chain from producer to consumer. Hamilton demonstrates how the politics of capitalist and socialist kitchens were tightly linked to the economies of food production and consumption. [End Page 515]

The American kitchen was not simply exported; there were specific kitchen development and appropriation processes in different European countries. Martina Heßler gives a solid analysis of the history of the so-called Frankfurt kitchen, designed by Margaret Schütte-Lihotzky on the basis of functionalist principles. This hugely influential kitchen preceded the American kitchen and challenged domestic traditions. Esra Akcan follows the career of Schütte-Lihotzky in more detail, particularly focusing on her work between 1938 and 1940 and the translation of the modern rational kitchen in Turkey. Liesbeth Bervoets examines a similar appropriation process of the modern kitchen in the Netherlands between 1920 and 1970, looking at the relationship between housewives' organizations and kitchen producers. Julian Holder argues that British consumers welcomed the technological comforts of wartime state-designed kitchens, mistakenly believing them to be American. Coeditor Karin Zachmann studies the creation of East German model kitchens, reminding us how socialist kitchen politics were shaped by a diverse group of stakeholders with differing interests. Kirsi Saarikangas examines Finland's mediating position in the cold-war kitchen debate, integrating influences from and exporting kitchens to the East andWest alike.

In the final two essays, coeditor Ruth Oldenziel and Matthew Hilton discuss the historiography of the kitchen debate. Oldenziel points out that the United States had multiple kitchen traditions and that these were appropriated in various ways in Europe. Hilton, on the other hand, seeks to...


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pp. 515-516
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