Michael Pollan wrote the wonderful cover story in the New York Times Magazine this week. He talked about some my favorite things: Julia Child, cooking from scratch and remembering the food from his mother’s hand. (I was remembering MY mother’s food, not his, but you know what I mean.)
He also introduced an interesting and fairly startling concept – that the explosion of food television has not only NOT resulted in MORE cooking, it’s actually resulted in LESS cooking, where the shows are more spectator sport than how-to’s of cooking.
He tells us that Julia’s early The French Chef shows materially changed the meals in the Pollan household. He mentions her Bœuf Bourguignon becoming part of the “food rotation” and stopping whatever he was doing to watch his mother make Julia’s Chicken Kiev.
My mother didn’t embrace Julia Child, but I did, but not so much through her television show as through her books. (More about that, after I see Julie and Julia).
But I think that food bloggers, and the people that read them, DO take what we see being presented on television by our favorite chefs, and RUN with it.
When the Food Network had the sense to feature Michael, Giada and Ina on Saturday mornings, without a lot of the clutter currently on (
Pollan does draw a contrast between those “dump and stir” shows and the more event-oriented spectacles in prime time. NO ONE is going to watch Iron Chef and then gallop into the kitchen and sous vide everything in sight. Having said that, I will be posting a recipe (one of these days) inspired by the genius of Michael Chiarello on Top Chef Masters.
I do absolutely love Pollan’s point that "the skills celebrated on the Food Network in prime time are precisely the skills necessary to succeed on the Food Network in prime time. They will come in handy nowhere else on God’s green earth."
That is what makes so many of these shows so frustrating to watch...for a cook. Of course, as a spectator, ridiculous challenges and mean-spirited exchanges is the stuff of high ratings. But for someone on the quest of kitchen-related enlightenment, many times commercial food television falls short. That’s one reason that I like to highlight it when it doesn’t.
He reports a fascinating finding that "a great many Americans are spending considerably more time watching images of cooking on television than they are cooking themselves." Again, I know THAT is simply not the case for myself and, I strenuously believe, for my blogging buddies and readers.
But, paradoxically, I think it is true that "The Food Network has helped to transform cooking from something you do into something you watch — into yet another confection of spectacle and celebrity that keeps us pinned to the couch." For me, it has become both - a true time-consumer (I don’t want to say waster), as well as an inspiration to action.
At the end of the day, 2 thoughts are clear: That we are better off eating as our great grandparents ate (Pollan’s conclusion in his latest book) and to quote the food marketing researcher, Harry Balzer, on whom he relies heavily for this article, "Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself."