Update from Italy: The Sink and the Virus

Photo by BHAVYA LAKHLANI on Unsplash

Our kitchen sink in Italy is a handsome slab of solid grey marble at least three feet long, with an indentation chiseled smoothly into it. From the wall of the kitchen above the marble sink slab a very garden-industrial tap juts out. The tap handles are labelled C and F for caldo (hot) and freddo (cold). I stil forget sometimes that caldo means hot and not cold. What a terrible faux ami. The sink resembles a repurposed tombstone. It’s Italy; there’s a lot of marble around.

The indentation in the sink is not graded. The simple drain is in the top left corner of the sink, covered by a loose strainer. The right third of the sink is tough to empty since it is level with the drain. And if you’ve left a greasy pan in the sink overnight, or a stack of pans, forget about it. You’ve just left yourself a nice, twenty-minute chore for the next morning, waiting for hot water to run. Find a sponge or a brush. And start sweeping the food refuse and grease down toward the sucking drain. This is ideal with a square plastic lid, passable with a sponge, worst with your hand. Slippery noodles, slimy vegetables. Starter discard or other sludge that was making tributaries over the marble, running in thin rivulets toward the drain until they dried and hardened. Farm Wife cleans this sink almost daily, rescuing it from bacterial squalor in the most efficient way possible. All our kitchen food waste, waterlogged and otherwise, go into our aluminium trash can with a lid that looks like the wastrel son of Oscar the Grouch might live there.

It is hard to not remember the In-Sink Erator, that omnipresent American appliance, installed in almost every stateside kitchen. We called it a garbage disposal but I now find the brand name so much more poetic. I have a dimming, surprised memory of tossing food scraps into various In-Sink Erators, and often. When I was a little girl, I was terrified of the sound it made, convinced an alligator lived under our sink. It also frequently ate spoons and forks, mangling them irrecognizably. But this seemed a small price to pay for the task, unknown now to many, of cleaning out a cold, greasy sink with your bare hands and a harsh cleaning product. In Italy this product is called sgrassatore, degreaser, but it could also be called spelletore for what it does to your hands. Sgrassatore is the foe of grease, but also the skin. Come to think of it, nonne probably wear kitchen gloves to do this task. I will soon look into procuring heavy-duty gloves to de-grease our repurposed kitchen tombstone.

The American reliance on the In-Sink Erator does relieve cooks from the tedious task of de-greasing a sink. However, the tendency to toss all manner of food into it for the sheer pleasure of the eration creates other issues. Kitchen sinks host more bacteria than the toilet. This is nasty. Is this really worth the convenience of tossing food into the under-sink alligator?

As Farm Wife rolled up her sleeves to spend twenty minutes this morning to de-grease the tombstone, rain began pelting the window even though the sky was bright blue, with fluffy cloud tufts lazily floating west to east with the inbound Mediterranean breeze. I scrubbed the three greasy pots, then got to work on the greasy tombstone. It’s quite literally a chore. The definition of chore. The Platonic definition of a chore.

But what is the alternative? An In-Sink Erator that encourages the harmful bacteria and promotes lazy kitchen disinfecting? I remember when we lived in the US our sink might have been bleached and scrubbed once a week. I hope we did it more often, but I doubt it.

What want to say here is that this is a metaphor where we find ourselves with the pandemic. There are really no great choices here. We give up, we lose on on side; we give up, we lose on another side. Health, freedom, civil rights, the economy, income, careers, livelihood, and education at all levels. De-grease a tombstone sink; put in the time. It’ll be very clean, until you cook the next meal, and then you have to really scrub it again, and again and again and again. Live in another country where you have In-Sink Erators, and throw food scraps to the kitchengator, and it’s easier in the moment (and that sound eventually becomes very satisfying, interesting even), but microbes will grow and multiply, and when you need to disinfect it, it will be worse than scrubbing a toilet.