Results 1 to 2 of 2

Thread: Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch

  1. #1
    Ubiquitous Guest

    Default Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch



    I was only 8 when “The French Chef” first appeared on American
    television in 1963, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that this
    Julia Child had improved the quality of life around our house. My mother
    began cooking dishes she’d watched Julia cook on TV: boeuf bourguignon
    (the subject of the show’s first episode), French onion soup gratinée,
    duck à l’orange, coq au vin, mousse au chocolat. Some of the more
    ambitious dishes, like the duck or the mousse, were pointed toward
    weekend company, but my mother would usually test these out on me and my
    sisters earlier in the week, and a few of the others — including the
    boeuf bourguignon, which I especially loved — actually made it into
    heavy weeknight rotation. So whenever people talk about how Julia Child
    upgraded the culture of food in America, I nod appreciatively. I owe
    her. Not that I didn’t also owe Swanson, because we also ate TV dinners,
    and those were pretty good, too.

    Every so often I would watch “The French Chef” with my mother in the
    den. On WNET in New York, it came on late in the afternoon, after
    school, and because we had only one television back then, if Mom wanted
    to watch her program, you watched it, too. The show felt less like TV
    than like hanging around the kitchen, which is to say, not terribly
    exciting to a kid (except when Child dropped something on the floor,
    which my mother promised would happen if we stuck around long enough)
    but comforting in its familiarity: the clanking of pots and pans, the
    squeal of an oven door in need of WD-40, all the kitchen-chemistry-set
    spectacles of transformation. The show was taped live and broadcast
    uncut and unedited, so it had a vérité feel completely unlike anything
    you might see today on the Food Network, with its A.D.H.D. editing and
    hyperkinetic soundtracks of rock music and clashing knives. While Julia
    waited for the butter foam to subside in the sauté pan, you waited, too,
    precisely as long, listening to Julia’s improvised patter over the hiss
    of her pan, as she filled the desultory minutes with kitchen tips and
    lore. It all felt more like life than TV, though Julia’s voice was like
    nothing I ever heard before or would hear again until Monty Python came
    to America: vaguely European, breathy and singsongy, and weirdly
    suggestive of a man doing a falsetto impression of a woman. The BBC
    supposedly took “The French Chef” off the air because viewers wrote in
    complaining that Julia Child seemed either drunk or demented.

    Meryl Streep, who brings Julia Child vividly back to the screen in Nora
    Ephron’s charming new comedy, “Julie & Julia,” has the voice down, and
    with the help of some clever set design and cinematography, she manages
    to evoke too Child’s big-girl ungainliness — the woman was 6 foot 2 and
    had arms like a longshoreman. Streep also captures the deep sensual
    delight that Julia Child took in food — not just the eating of it (her
    virgin bite of sole meunière at La Couronne in Rouen recalls Meg Ryan’s
    deli orgasm in “When Harry Met Sally”) but the fondling and affectionate
    slapping of ingredients in their raw state and the magic of their
    kitchen transformations.

    But “Julie & Julia” is more than an exercise in nostalgia. As the title
    suggests, the film has a second, more contemporary heroine. The Julie
    character (played by Amy Adams) is based on Julie Powell, a 29-year-old
    aspiring writer living in Queens who, casting about for a blog conceit
    in 2002, hit on a cool one: she would cook her way through all 524
    recipes in Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in 365 days and
    blog about her adventures. The movie shuttles back and forth between
    Julie’s year of compulsive cooking and blogging in Queens in 2002 and
    Julia’s decade in Paris and Provence a half-century earlier, as
    recounted in “My Life in France,” the memoir published a few years after
    her death in 2004. Julia Child in 1949 was in some ways in the same boat
    in which Julie Powell found herself in 2002: happily married to a really
    nice guy but feeling, acutely, the lack of a life project. Living in
    Paris, where her husband, Paul Child, was posted in the diplomatic
    corps, Julia (who like Julie had worked as a secretary) was at a loss as
    to what to do with her life until she realized that what she liked to do
    best was eat. So she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu and learned how to cook.
    As with Julia, so with Julie: cooking saved her life, giving her a
    project and, eventually, a path to literary success.

    That learning to cook could lead an American woman to success of any
    kind would have seemed utterly implausible in 1949; that it is so
    thoroughly plausible 60 years later owes everything to Julia Child’s
    legacy. Julie Powell operates in a world that Julia Child helped to
    create, one where food is taken seriously, where chefs have been
    welcomed into the repertory company of American celebrity and where
    cooking has become a broadly appealing mise-en-scène in which success
    stories can plausibly be set and played out. How amazing is it that we
    live today in a culture that has not only something called the Food
    Network but now a hit show on that network called “The Next Food Network
    Star,” which thousands of 20- and 30-somethings compete eagerly to
    become? It would seem we have come a long way from Swanson TV dinners.

    The Food Network can now be seen in nearly 100 million American homes
    and on most nights commands more viewers than any of the cable news
    channels. Millions of Americans, including my 16-year-old son, can tell
    you months after the finale which contestant emerged victorious in
    Season 5 of “Top Chef” (Hosea Rosenberg, followed by Stefan Richter, his
    favorite, and Carla Hall). The popularity of cooking shows — or perhaps
    I should say food shows — has spread beyond the precincts of public or
    cable television to the broadcast networks, where Gordon Ramsay
    terrorizes newbie chefs on “Hell’s Kitchen” on Fox and Jamie Oliver is
    preparing a reality show on ABC in which he takes aim at an American
    city with an obesity problem and tries to teach the population how to
    cook. It’s no wonder that a Hollywood studio would conclude that
    American audiences had an appetite for a movie in which the road to
    personal fulfillment and public success passes through the kitchen and
    turns, crucially, on a recipe for boeuf bourguignon. (The secret is to
    pat dry your beef before you brown it.)

    But here’s what I don’t get: How is it that we are so eager to watch
    other people browning beef cubes on screen but so much less eager to
    brown them ourselves? For the rise of Julia Child as a figure of
    cultural consequence — along with Alice Waters and Mario Batali and
    Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse and whoever is crowned the next Food
    Network star — has, paradoxically, coincided with the rise of fast food,
    home-meal replacements and the decline and fall of everyday home

    That decline has several causes: women working outside the home; food
    companies persuading Americans to let them do the cooking; and advances
    in technology that made it easier for them to do so. Cooking is no
    longer obligatory, and for many people, women especially, that has been
    a blessing. But perhaps a mixed blessing, to judge by the culture’s
    continuing, if not deepening, fascination with the subject. It has been
    easier for us to give up cooking than it has been to give up talking
    about it — and watching it.

    Today the average American spends a mere 27 minutes a day on food
    preparation (another four minutes cleaning up); that’s less than half
    the time that we spent cooking and cleaning up when Julia arrived on our
    television screens. It’s also less than half the time it takes to watch
    a single episode of “Top Chef” or “Chopped” or “The Next Food Network
    Star.” What this suggests is that a great many Americans are spending
    considerably more time watching images of cooking on television than
    they are cooking themselves — an increasingly archaic activity they will
    tell you they no longer have the time for.

    What is wrong with this picture?


    When I asked my mother recently what exactly endeared Julia Child to
    her, she explained that “for so many of us she took the fear out of
    cooking” and, to illustrate the point, brought up the famous potato show
    (or, as Julia pronounced it, “the poh-TAY-toh show!”), one of the
    episodes that Meryl Streep recreates brilliantly on screen. Millions of
    Americans of a certain age claim to remember Julia Child dropping a
    chicken or a goose on the floor, but the memory is apocryphal: what she
    dropped was a potato pancake, and it didn’t quite make it to the floor.
    Still, this was a classic live-television moment, inconceivable on any
    modern cooking show: Martha Stewart would sooner commit seppuku than let
    such an outtake ever see the light of day.

    The episode has Julia making a plate-size potato pancake, sautéing a big
    disc of mashed potato into which she has folded impressive quantities of
    cream and butter. Then the fateful moment arrives:

    “When you flip anything, you just have to have the courage of your
    convictions,” she declares, clearly a tad nervous at the prospect, and
    then gives the big pancake a flip. On the way down, half of it catches
    the lip of the pan and splats onto the stovetop. Undaunted, Julia scoops
    the thing up and roughly patches the pancake back together, explaining:
    “When I flipped it, I didn’t have the courage to do it the way I should
    have. You can always pick it up.” And then, looking right through the
    camera as if taking us into her confidence, she utters the line that did
    so much to lift the fear of failure from my mother and her
    contemporaries: “If you’re alone in the kitchen, WHOOOO” — the pronoun
    is sung — “is going to see?” For a generation of women eager to
    transcend their mothers’ recipe box (and perhaps, too, their mothers’
    social standing), Julia’s little kitchen catastrophe was a liberation
    and a lesson: “The only way you learn to flip things is just to flip

    It was a kind of courage — not only to cook but to cook the world’s most
    glamorous and intimidating cuisine — that Julia Child gave my mother and
    so many other women like her, and to watch her empower viewers in
    episode after episode is to appreciate just how much about cooking on
    television — not to mention cooking itself — has changed in the years
    since “The French Chef” was on the air.

    There are still cooking programs that will teach you how to cook. Public
    television offers the eminently useful “America’s Test Kitchen.” The
    Food Network carries a whole slate of so-called dump-and-stir shows
    during the day, and the network’s research suggests that at least some
    viewers are following along. But many of these programs — I’m thinking
    of Rachael Ray, Paula Deen, Sandra Lee — tend to be aimed at
    stay-at-home moms who are in a hurry and eager to please. (“How good are
    you going to look when you serve this?” asks Paula Deen, a Southern gal
    of the old school.) These shows stress quick results, shortcuts and
    superconvenience but never the sort of pleasure — physical and mental —
    that Julia Child took in the work of cooking: the tomahawking of a fish
    skeleton or the chopping of an onion, the Rolfing of butter into the
    breast of a raw chicken or the vigorous whisking of heavy cream. By the
    end of the potato show, Julia was out of breath and had broken a sweat,
    which she mopped from her brow with a paper towel. (Have you ever seen
    Martha Stewart break a sweat? Pant? If so, you know her a lot better
    than the rest of us.) Child was less interested in making it fast or
    easy than making it right, because cooking for her was so much more than
    a means to a meal. It was a gratifying, even ennobling sort of work,
    engaging both the mind and the muscles. You didn’t do it to please a
    husband or impress guests; you did it to please yourself. No one cooking
    on television today gives the impression that they enjoy the actual work
    quite as much as Julia Child did. In this, she strikes me as a more
    liberated figure than many of the women who have followed her on

    Curiously, the year Julia Child went on the air — 1963 — was the same
    year Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique,” the book that
    taught millions of American women to regard housework, cooking included,
    as drudgery, indeed as a form of oppression. You may think of these two
    figures as antagonists, but that wouldn’t be quite right. They actually
    had a great deal in common, as Child’s biographer, Laura Shapiro, points
    out, and addressed the aspirations of many of the same women. Julia
    never referred to her viewers as “housewives” — a word she detested —
    and never condescended to them. She tried to show the sort of women who
    read “The Feminine Mystique” that, far from oppressing them, the work of
    cooking approached in the proper spirit offered a kind of fulfillment
    and deserved an intelligent woman’s attention. (A man’s too.)
    Second-wave feminists were often ambivalent on the gender politics of
    cooking. Simone de Beauvoir wrote in “The Second Sex” that though
    cooking could be oppressive, it could also be a form of “revelation and
    creation; and a woman can find special satisfaction in a successful cake
    or a flaky pastry, for not everyone can do it: one must have the gift.”
    This can be read either as a special Frenchie exemption for the culinary
    arts (féminisme, c’est bon, but we must not jeopardize those flaky
    pastries!) or as a bit of wisdom that some American feminists
    thoughtlessly trampled in their rush to get women out of the kitchen.


    Whichever, kitchen work itself has changed considerably since 1963,
    judging from its depiction on today’s how-to shows. Take the concept of
    cooking from scratch. Many of today’s cooking programs rely
    unapologetically on ingredients that themselves contain lots of
    ingredients: canned soups, jarred mayonnaise, frozen vegetables,
    powdered sauces, vanilla wafers, limeade concentrate, Marshmallow Fluff.
    This probably shouldn’t surprise us: processed foods have so thoroughly
    colonized the American kitchen and diet that they have redefined what
    passes today for cooking, not to mention food. Many of these convenience
    foods have been sold to women as tools of liberation; the rhetoric of
    kitchen oppression has been cleverly hijacked by food marketers and the
    cooking shows they sponsor to sell more stuff. So the shows encourage
    home cooks to take all manner of shortcuts, each of which involves
    buying another product, and all of which taken together have succeeded
    in redefining what is commonly meant by the verb “to cook.”

    I spent an enlightening if somewhat depressing hour on the phone with a
    veteran food-marketing researcher, Harry Balzer, who explained that
    “people call things ‘cooking’ today that would roll their grandmother in
    her grave — heating up a can of soup or microwaving a frozen pizza.”
    Balzer has been studying American eating habits since 1978; the NPD
    Group, the firm he works for, collects data from a pool of 2,000 food
    diaries to track American eating habits. Years ago Balzer noticed that
    the definition of cooking held by his respondents had grown so broad as
    to be meaningless, so the firm tightened up the meaning of “to cook” at
    least slightly to capture what was really going on in American kitchens.
    To cook from scratch, they decreed, means to prepare a main dish that
    requires some degree of “assembly of elements.” So microwaving a pizza
    doesn’t count as cooking, though washing a head of lettuce and pouring
    bottled dressing over it does. Under this dispensation, you’re also
    cooking when you spread mayonnaise on a slice of bread and pile on some
    cold cuts or a hamburger patty. (Currently the most popular meal in
    America, at both lunch and dinner, is a sandwich; the No. 1 accompanying
    beverage is a soda.) At least by Balzer’s none-too-exacting standard,
    Americans are still cooking up a storm — 58 percent of our evening meals
    qualify, though even that figure has been falling steadily since the

    Like most people who study consumer behavior, Balzer has developed a
    somewhat cynical view of human nature, which his research suggests is
    ever driven by the quest to save time or money or, optimally, both. I
    kept asking him what his research had to say about the prevalence of the
    activity I referred to as “real scratch cooking,” but he wouldn’t touch
    the term. Why? Apparently the activity has become so rarefied as to
    elude his tools of measurement.

    “Here’s an analogy,” Balzer said. “A hundred years ago, chicken for
    dinner meant going out and catching, killing, plucking and gutting a
    chicken. Do you know anybody who still does that? It would be considered
    crazy! Well, that’s exactly how cooking will seem to your grandchildren:
    something people used to do when they had no other choice. Get over it.”

    After my discouraging hour on the phone with Balzer, I settled in for a
    couple more with the Food Network, trying to square his dismal view of
    our interest in cooking with the hyperexuberant, even fetishized images
    of cooking that are presented on the screen. The Food Network undergoes
    a complete change of personality at night, when it trades the cozy
    precincts of the home kitchen and chirpy softball coaching of Rachael
    Ray or Sandra Lee for something markedly less feminine and less
    practical. Erica Gruen, the cable executive often credited with putting
    the Food Network on the map in the late ’90s, recognized early on that,
    as she told a journalist, “people don’t watch television to learn
    things.” So she shifted the network’s target audience from people who
    love to cook to people who love to eat, a considerably larger universe
    and one that — important for a cable network — happens to contain a
    great many more men.

    In prime time, the Food Network’s mise-en-scène shifts to masculine
    arenas like the Kitchen Stadium on “Iron Chef,” where famous restaurant
    chefs wage gladiatorial combat to see who can, in 60 minutes, concoct
    the most spectacular meal from a secret ingredient ceremoniously
    unveiled just as the clock starts: an octopus or a bunch of bananas or a
    whole school of daurade. Whether in the Kitchen Stadium or on “Chopped”
    or “The Next Food Network Star” or, over on Bravo, “Top Chef,” cooking
    in prime time is a form of athletic competition, drawing its visual and
    even aural vocabulary from “Monday Night Football.” On “Iron Chef
    America,” one of the Food Network’s biggest hits, the cookingcaster
    Alton Brown delivers a breathless (though always gently tongue-in-cheek)
    play by play and color commentary, as the iron chefs and their team of
    iron sous-chefs race the clock to peel, chop, slice, dice, mince,
    Cuisinart, mandoline, boil, double-boil, pan-sear, sauté, sous vide,
    deep-fry, pressure-cook, grill, deglaze, reduce and plate — this last a
    word I’m old enough to remember when it was a mere noun. A particularly
    dazzling display of chefly “knife skills” — a term bandied as freely on
    the Food Network as “passing game” or “slugging percentage” is on ESPN —
    will earn an instant replay: an onion minced in slo-mo. Can we get a
    camera on this, Alton Brown will ask in a hushed, this-must-be-golf tone
    of voice. It looks like Chef Flay’s going to try for a last-minute
    garnish grab before the clock runs out! Will he make it? [The buzzer
    sounds.] Yes!

    These shows move so fast, in such a blur of flashing knives, frantic
    pantry raids and more sheer fire than you would ever want to see in your
    own kitchen, that I honestly can’t tell you whether that “last-minute
    garnish grab” happened on “Iron Chef America” or “Chopped” or “The Next
    Food Network Star” or whether it was Chef Flay or Chef Batali who
    snagged the sprig of foliage at the buzzer. But impressive it surely
    was, in the same way it’s impressive to watch a handful of eager young
    chefs on “Chopped” figure out how to make a passable appetizer from
    chicken wings, celery, soba noodles and a package of string cheese in
    just 20 minutes, said starter to be judged by a panel of professional
    chefs on the basis of “taste, creativity and presentation.” (If you ask
    me, the key to victory on any of these shows comes down to one factor:
    bacon. Whichever contestant puts bacon in the dish invariably seems to

    But you do have to wonder how easily so specialized a set of skills
    might translate to the home kitchen — or anywhere else for that matter.
    For when in real life are even professional chefs required to conceive
    and execute dishes in 20 minutes from ingredients selected by a third
    party exhibiting obvious sadistic tendencies? (String cheese?) Never, is
    when. 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.

    We learn things watching these cooking competitions, but they’re not
    things about how to cook. There are no recipes to follow; the contests
    fly by much too fast for viewers to take in any practical tips; and the
    kind of cooking practiced in prime time is far more spectacular than
    anything you would ever try at home. No, for anyone hoping to pick up a
    few dinnertime tips, the implicit message of today’s prime-time cooking
    shows is, Don’t try this at home. If you really want to eat this way, go
    to a restaurant. Or as a chef friend put it when I asked him if he
    thought I could learn anything about cooking by watching the Food
    Network, “How much do you learn about playing basketball by watching the

    What we mainly learn about on the Food Network in prime time is culinary
    fashion, which is no small thing: if Julia took the fear out of cooking,
    these shows take the fear — the social anxiety — out of ordering in
    restaurants. (Hey, now I know what a shiso leaf is and what “crudo”
    means!) Then, at the judges’ table, we learn how to taste and how to
    talk about food. For viewers, these shows have become less about the
    production of high-end food than about its consumption — including its
    conspicuous consumption. (I think I’ll start with the sawfish crudo
    wrapped in shiso leaves. . . .)

    Surely it’s no accident that so many Food Network stars have themselves
    found a way to transcend barriers of social class in the kitchen —
    beginning with Emeril Lagasse, the working-class guy from Fall River,
    Mass., who, though he may not be able to sound the ‘r’ in “garlic,” can
    still cook like a dream. Once upon a time Julia made the same promise in
    reverse: she showed you how you, too, could cook like someone who could
    not only prepare but properly pronounce a béarnaise. So-called fancy
    food has always served as a form of cultural capital, and cooking
    programs help you acquire it, now without so much as lifting a spatula.
    The glamour of food has made it something of a class leveler in America,
    a fact that many of these shows implicitly celebrate. Television likes
    nothing better than to serve up elitism to the masses, paradoxical as
    that might sound. How wonderful is it that something like arugula can at
    the same time be a mark of sophistication and be found in almost every
    salad bar in America? Everybody wins!

    But the shift from producing food on television to consuming it strikes
    me as a far-less-salubrious development. Traditionally, the recipe for
    the typical dump-and-stir program comprises about 80 percent cooking
    followed by 20 percent eating, but in prime time you now find a raft of
    shows that flip that ratio on its head, like “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”
    and “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” which are about nothing but eating.
    Sure, Guy Fieri, the tattooed and spiky-coiffed chowhound who hosts
    “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” ducks into the kitchen whenever he visits
    one of these roadside joints to do a little speed-bonding with the
    startled short-order cooks in back, but most of the time he’s wrapping
    his mouth around their supersize creations: a 16-ounce Oh Gawd! burger
    (with the works); battered and deep-fried anything (clams, pickles,
    cinnamon buns, stuffed peppers, you name it); or a buttermilk burrito
    approximately the size of his head, stuffed with bacon, eggs and cheese.
    What Fieri’s critical vocabulary lacks in analytical rigor, it more than
    makes up for in tailgate enthusiasm: “Man, oh man, now this is what I’m
    talkin’ about!” What can possibly be the appeal of watching Guy Fieri
    bite, masticate and swallow all this chow?

    The historical drift of cooking programs — from a genuine interest in
    producing food yourself to the spectacle of merely consuming it — surely
    owes a lot to the decline of cooking in our culture, but it also has
    something to do with the gravitational field that eventually overtakes
    anything in television’s orbit. It’s no accident that Julia Child
    appeared on public television — or educational television, as it used to
    be called. On a commercial network, a program that actually inspired
    viewers to get off the couch and spend an hour cooking a meal would be a
    commercial disaster, for it would mean they were turning off the
    television to do something else. The ads on the Food Network, at least
    in prime time, strongly suggest its viewers do no such thing: the
    food-related ads hardly ever hawk kitchen appliances or ingredients
    (unless you count A.1. steak sauce) but rather push the usual
    supermarket cart of edible foodlike substances, including Manwich sloppy
    joe in a can, Special K protein shakes and Ore-Ida frozen French fries,
    along with fast-casual eateries like Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

    Buying, not making, is what cooking shows are mostly now about — that
    and, increasingly, cooking shows themselves: the whole self-perpetuating
    spectacle of competition, success and celebrity that, with “The Next
    Food Network Star,” appears to have entered its baroque phase. The Food
    Network has figured out that we care much less about what’s cooking than
    who’s cooking. A few years ago, Mario Batali neatly summed up the
    network’s formula to a reporter: “Look, it’s TV! Everyone has to fall
    into a niche. I’m the Italian guy. Emeril’s the exuberant New Orleans
    guy with the big eyebrows who yells a lot. Bobby’s the grilling guy.
    Rachael Ray is the cheerleader-type girl who makes things at home the
    way a regular person would. Giada’s the beautiful girl with the nice
    rack who does simple Italian food. As silly as the whole Food Network
    is, it gives us all a soapbox to talk about the things we care about.”
    Not to mention a platform from which to sell all their stuff.

    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. The formula is as circular
    and self-reinforcing as a TV dinner: a simulacrum of home cooking that
    is sold on TV and designed to be eaten in front of the TV. True, in the
    case of the Swanson rendition, at least you get something that will fill
    you up; by comparison, the Food Network leaves you hungry, a condition
    its advertisers must love. But in neither case is there much risk that
    you will get off the couch and actually cook a meal. Both kinds of TV
    dinner plant us exactly where television always wants us: in front of
    the set, watching.


    To point out that television has succeeded in turning cooking into a
    spectator sport raises the question of why anyone would want to watch
    other people cook in the first place. There are plenty of things we’ve
    stopped doing for ourselves that we have no desire to watch other people
    do on TV: you don’t see shows about changing the oil in your car or
    ironing shirts or reading newspapers. So what is it about cooking,
    specifically, that makes it such good television just now?

    It’s worth keeping in mind that watching other people cook is not
    exactly a new behavior for us humans. Even when “everyone” still cooked,
    there were plenty of us who mainly watched: men, for the most part, and
    children. Most of us have happy memories of watching our mothers in the
    kitchen, performing feats that sometimes looked very much like sorcery
    and typically resulted in something tasty to eat. Watching my mother
    transform the raw materials of nature — a handful of plants, an animal’s
    flesh — into a favorite dinner was always a pretty good show, but on the
    afternoons when she tackled a complex marvel like chicken Kiev, I
    happily stopped whatever I was doing to watch. (I told you we had it
    pretty good, thanks partly to Julia.) My mother would hammer the
    boneless chicken breasts into flat pink slabs, roll them tightly around
    chunks of ice-cold herbed butter, glue the cylinders shut with egg, then
    fry the little logs until they turned golden brown, in what qualified as
    a minor miracle of transubstantiation. When the dish turned out right,
    knifing through the crust into the snowy white meat within would uncork
    a fragrant ooze of melted butter that seeped across the plate to merge
    with the Minute Rice. (If the instant rice sounds all wrong, remember
    that in the 1960s, Julia Child and modern food science were both tokens
    of sophistication.)

    Yet even the most ordinary dish follows a similar arc of transformation,
    magically becoming something greater than the sum of its parts. Every
    dish contains not just culinary ingredients but also the ingredients of
    narrative: a beginning, a middle and an end. Bring in the element of
    fire — cooking’s deus ex machina — and you’ve got a tasty little drama
    right there, the whole thing unfolding in a TV-friendly span of time: 30
    minutes (at 350 degrees) will usually do it.

    Cooking shows also benefit from the fact that food itself is — by
    definition — attractive to the humans who eat it, and that attraction
    can be enhanced by food styling, an art at which the Food Network so
    excels as to make Julia Child look like a piker. You’ll be flipping
    aimlessly through the cable channels when a slow-motion cascade of
    glistening red cherries or a tongue of flame lapping at a slab of meat
    on the grill will catch your eye, and your reptilian brain will paralyze
    your thumb on the remote, forcing you to stop to see what’s cooking.
    Food shows are the campfires in the deep cable forest, drawing us like
    hungry wanderers to their flames. (And on the Food Network there are
    plenty of flames to catch your eye, compensating, no doubt, for the
    unfortunate absence of aromas.)

    No matter how well produced, a televised oil change and lube offers no
    such satisfactions.

    I suspect we’re drawn to the textures and rhythms of kitchen work, too,
    which seem so much more direct and satisfying than the more abstract and
    formless tasks most of us perform in our jobs nowadays. The chefs on TV
    get to put their hands on real stuff, not keyboards and screens but
    fundamental things like plants and animals and fungi; they get to work
    with fire and ice and perform feats of alchemy. By way of explaining why
    in the world she wants to cook her way through “Mastering the Art of
    French Cooking,” all Julie Powell has to do in the film is show us her
    cubicle at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, where she spends
    her days on the phone mollifying callers with problems that she lacks
    the power to fix.

    “You know what I love about cooking?” Julie tells us in a voice-over as
    we watch her field yet another inconclusive call on her headset. “I love
    that after a day where nothing is sure — and when I say nothing, I mean
    nothing — you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg
    yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. It’s such a
    comfort.” How many of us still do work that engages us in a dialogue
    with the material world and ends — assuming the soufflé doesn’t collapse
    — with such a gratifying and tasty sense of closure? Come to think of
    it, even the collapse of the soufflé is at least definitive, which is
    more than you can say about most of what you will do at work tomorrow.


    If cooking really offers all these satisfactions, then why don’t we do
    more of it? Well, ask Julie Powell: for most of us it doesn’t pay the
    rent, and very often our work doesn’t leave us the time; during the year
    of Julia, dinner at the Powell apartment seldom arrived at the table
    before 10 p.m. For many years now, Americans have been putting in longer
    hours at work and enjoying less time at home. Since 1967, we’ve added
    167 hours — the equivalent of a month’s full-time labor — to the total
    amount of time we spend at work each year, and in households where both
    parents work, the figure is more like 400 hours. Americans today spend
    more time working than people in any other industrialized nation — an
    extra two weeks or more a year. Not surprisingly, in those countries
    where people still take cooking seriously, they also have more time to
    devote to it.

    It’s generally assumed that the entrance of women into the work force is
    responsible for the collapse of home cooking, but that turns out to be
    only part of the story. Yes, women with jobs outside the home spend less
    time cooking — but so do women without jobs. The amount of time spent on
    food preparation in America has fallen at the same precipitous rate
    among women who don’t work outside the home as it has among women who
    do: in both cases, a decline of about 40 percent since 1965. (Though for
    married women who don’t have jobs, the amount of time spent cooking
    remains greater: 58 minutes a day, as compared with 36 for married women
    who do have jobs.) In general, spending on restaurants or takeout food
    rises with income. Women with jobs have more money to pay corporations
    to do their cooking, yet all American women now allow corporations to
    cook for them when they can.

    Those corporations have been trying to persuade Americans to let them do
    the cooking since long before large numbers of women entered the work
    force. After World War II, the food industry labored mightily to sell
    American women on all the processed-food wonders it had invented to feed
    the troops: canned meals, freeze-dried foods, dehydrated potatoes,
    powdered orange juice and coffee, instant everything. As Laura Shapiro
    recounts in “Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s
    America,” the food industry strived to “persuade millions of Americans
    to develop a lasting taste for meals that were a lot like field
    rations.” The same process of peacetime conversion that industrialized
    our farming, giving us synthetic fertilizers made from munitions and new
    pesticides developed from nerve gas, also industrialized our eating.

    Shapiro shows that the shift toward industrial cookery began not in
    response to a demand from women entering the work force but as a
    supply-driven phenomenon. In fact, for many years American women,
    whether they worked or not, resisted processed foods, regarding them as
    a dereliction of their “moral obligation to cook,” something they
    believed to be a parental responsibility on par with child care. It took
    years of clever, dedicated marketing to break down this resistance and
    persuade Americans that opening a can or cooking from a mix really was
    cooking. Honest. In the 1950s, just-add-water cake mixes languished in
    the supermarket until the marketers figured out that if you left at
    least something for the “baker” to do — specifically, crack open an egg
    — she could take ownership of the cake. Over the years, the food
    scientists have gotten better and better at simulating real food,
    keeping it looking attractive and seemingly fresh, and the rapid
    acceptance of microwave ovens — which went from being in only 8 percent
    of American households in 1978 to 90 percent today — opened up vast new
    horizons of home-meal replacement.

    Harry Balzer’s research suggests that the corporate project of
    redefining what it means to cook and serve a meal has succeeded beyond
    the industry’s wildest expectations. People think nothing of buying
    frozen peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for their children’s
    lunchboxes. (Now how much of a timesaver can that be?) “We’ve had a
    hundred years of packaged foods,” Balzer told me, “and now we’re going
    to have a hundred years of packaged meals.” Already today, 80 percent of
    the cost of food eaten in the home goes to someone other than a farmer,
    which is to say to industrial cooking and packaging and marketing.
    Balzer is unsentimental about this development: “Do you miss sewing or
    darning socks? I don’t think so.”

    So what are we doing with the time we save by outsourcing our food
    preparation to corporations and 16-year-old burger flippers? Working,
    commuting to work, surfing the Internet and, perhaps most curiously of
    all, watching other people cook on television.

    But this may not be quite the paradox it seems. Maybe the reason we like
    to watch cooking on TV is that there are things about cooking we miss.
    We might not feel we have the time or the energy to do it ourselves
    every day, yet we’re not prepared to see it disappear from our lives
    entirely. Why? Perhaps because cooking — unlike sewing or darning socks
    — is an activity that strikes a deep emotional chord in us, one that
    might even go to the heart of our identity as human beings.

    What?! You’re telling me Bobby Flay strikes deep emotional chords?

    Bear with me. Consider for a moment the proposition that as a human
    activity, cooking is far more important — to our happiness and to our
    health — than its current role in our lives, not to mention its
    depiction on TV, might lead you to believe. Let’s see what happens when
    we take cooking seriously.


    The idea that cooking is a defining human activity is not a new one. In
    1773, the Scottish writer James Boswell, noting that “no beast is a
    cook,” called Homo sapiens “the cooking animal,” though he might have
    reconsidered that definition had he been able to gaze upon the
    frozen-food cases at Wal-Mart. Fifty years later, in “The Physiology of
    Taste,” the French gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin claimed that
    cooking made us who we are; by teaching men to use fire, it had “done
    the most to advance the cause of civilization.” More recently, the
    anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, writing in 1964 in “The Raw and the
    Cooked,” found that many cultures entertained a similar view, regarding
    cooking as a symbolic way of distinguishing ourselves from the animals.

    For Lévi-Strauss, cooking is a metaphor for the human transformation of
    nature into culture, but in the years since “The Raw and the Cooked,”
    other anthropologists have begun to take quite literally the idea that
    cooking is the key to our humanity. Earlier this year, Richard Wrangham,
    a Harvard anthropologist, published a fascinating book called “Catching
    Fire,” in which he argues that it was the discovery of cooking by our
    early ancestors — not tool-making or language or meat-eating — that made
    us human. By providing our primate forebears with a more energy-dense
    and easy-to-digest diet, cooked food altered the course of human
    evolution, allowing our brains to grow bigger (brains are notorious
    energy guzzlers) and our guts to shrink. It seems that raw food takes
    much more time and energy to chew and digest, which is why other
    primates of our size carry around substantially larger digestive tracts
    and spend many more of their waking hours chewing: up to six hours a
    day. (That’s nearly as much time as Guy Fieri devotes to the activity.)
    Also, since cooking detoxifies many foods, it cracked open a treasure
    trove of nutritious calories unavailable to other animals. Freed from
    the need to spend our days gathering large quantities of raw food and
    then chewing (and chewing) it, humans could now devote their time, and
    their metabolic resources, to other purposes, like creating a culture.

    Cooking gave us not just the meal but also the occasion: the practice of
    eating together at an appointed time and place. This was something new
    under the sun, for the forager of raw food would likely have fed himself
    on the go and alone, like the animals. (Or, come to think of it, like
    the industrial eaters we’ve become, grazing at gas stations and skipping
    meals.) But sitting down to common meals, making eye contact, sharing
    food, all served to civilize us; “around that fire,” Wrangham says, “we
    became tamer.”

    If cooking is as central to human identity and culture as Wrangham
    believes, it stands to reason that the decline of cooking in our time
    would have a profound effect on modern life. At the very least, you
    would expect that its rapid disappearance from everyday life might leave
    us feeling nostalgic for the sights and smells and the sociality of the
    cook-fire. Bobby Flay and Rachael Ray may be pushing precisely that
    emotional button. Interestingly, the one kind of home cooking that is
    actually on the rise today (according to Harry Balzer) is outdoor
    grilling. Chunks of animal flesh seared over an open fire: grilling is
    cooking at its most fundamental and explicit, the transformation of the
    raw into the cooked right before our eyes. It makes a certain sense that
    the grill would be gaining adherents at the very moment when cooking
    meals and eating them together is fading from the culture. (While men
    have hardly become equal partners in the kitchen, they are cooking more
    today than ever before: about 13 percent of all meals, many of them on
    the grill.)

    Yet we don’t crank up the barbecue every day; grilling for most people
    is more ceremony than routine. We seem to be well on our way to turning
    cooking into a form of weekend recreation, a backyard sport for which we
    outfit ourselves at Williams-Sonoma, or a televised spectator sport we
    watch from the couch. Cooking’s fate may be to join some of our other
    weekend exercises in recreational atavism: camping and gardening and
    hunting and riding on horseback. Something in us apparently likes to be
    reminded of our distant origins every now and then and to celebrate
    whatever rough skills for contending with the natural world might
    survive in us, beneath the thin crust of 21st-century civilization.

    To play at farming or foraging for food strikes us as harmless enough,
    perhaps because the delegating of those activities to other people in
    real life is something most of us are generally O.K. with. But to
    relegate the activity of cooking to a form of play, something that
    happens just on weekends or mostly on television, seems much more
    consequential. The fact is that not cooking may well be deleterious to
    our health, and there is reason to believe that the outsourcing of food
    preparation to corporations and 16-year-olds has already taken a toll on
    our physical and psychological well-being.

    Consider some recent research on the links between cooking and dietary
    health. A 2003 study by a group of Harvard economists led by David
    Cutler found that the rise of food preparation outside the home could
    explain most of the increase in obesity in America. Mass production has
    driven down the cost of many foods, not only in terms of price but also
    in the amount of time required to obtain them. The French fry did not
    become the most popular “vegetable” in America until industry relieved
    us of the considerable effort needed to prepare French fries ourselves.
    Similarly, the mass production of cream-filled cakes, fried chicken
    wings and taquitos, exotically flavored chips or cheesy puffs of refined
    flour, has transformed all these hard-to-make-at-home foods into the
    sort of everyday fare you can pick up at the gas station on a whim and
    for less than a dollar. The fact that we no longer have to plan or even
    wait to enjoy these items, as we would if we were making them ourselves,
    makes us that much more likely to indulge impulsively.

    Cutler and his colleagues demonstrate that as the “time cost” of food
    preparation has fallen, calorie consumption has gone up, particularly
    consumption of the sort of snack and convenience foods that are
    typically cooked outside the home. They found that when we don’t have to
    cook meals, we eat more of them: as the amount of time Americans spend
    cooking has dropped by about half, the number of meals Americans eat in
    a day has climbed; since 1977, we’ve added approximately half a meal to
    our daily intake.

    Cutler and his colleagues also surveyed cooking patterns across several
    cultures and found that obesity rates are inversely correlated with the
    amount of time spent on food preparation. The more time a nation devotes
    to food preparation at home, the lower its rate of obesity. In fact, the
    amount of time spent cooking predicts obesity rates more reliably than
    female participation in the labor force or income. Other research
    supports the idea that cooking is a better predictor of a healthful diet
    than social class: a 1992 study in The Journal of the American Dietetic
    Association found that poor women who routinely cooked were more likely
    to eat a more healthful diet than well-to-do women who did not.

    So cooking matters — a lot. Which when you think about it, should come
    as no surprise. When we let corporations do the cooking, they’re bound
    to go heavy on sugar, fat and salt; these are three tastes we’re
    hard-wired to like, which happen to be dirt cheap to add and do a good
    job masking the shortcomings of processed food. And if you make
    special-occasion foods cheap and easy enough to eat every day, we will
    eat them every day. The time and work involved in cooking, as well as
    the delay in gratification built into the process, served as an
    important check on our appetite. Now that check is gone, and we’re
    struggling to deal with the consequences.

    The question is, Can we ever put the genie back into the bottle? Once it
    has been destroyed, can a culture of everyday cooking be rebuilt? One in
    which men share equally in the work? One in which the cooking shows on
    television once again teach people how to cook from scratch and, as
    Julia Child once did, actually empower them to do it?

    Let us hope so. Because it’s hard to imagine ever reforming the American
    way of eating or, for that matter, the American food system unless
    millions of Americans — women and men — are willing to make cooking a
    part of daily life. The path to a diet of fresher, unprocessed food, not
    to mention to a revitalized local-food economy, passes straight through
    the home kitchen.

    But if this is a dream you find appealing, you might not want to call
    Harry Balzer right away to discuss it.

    “Not going to happen,” he told me. “Why? Because we’re basically cheap
    and lazy. And besides, the skills are already lost. Who is going to
    teach the next generation to cook? I don’t see it.

    “We’re all looking for someone else to cook for us. The next American
    cook is going to be the supermarket. Takeout from the supermarket,
    that’s the future. All we need now is the drive-through supermarket.”

    Crusty as a fresh baguette, Harry Balzer insists on dealing with the
    world, and human nature, as it really is, or at least as he finds it in
    the survey data he has spent the past three decades poring over. But for
    a brief moment, I was able to engage him in the project of imagining a
    slightly different reality. This took a little doing. Many of his
    clients — which include many of the big chain restaurants and food
    manufacturers — profit handsomely from the decline and fall of cooking
    in America; indeed, their marketing has contributed to it. Yet Balzer
    himself made it clear that he recognizes all that the decline of
    everyday cooking has cost us. So I asked him how, in an ideal world,
    Americans might begin to undo the damage that the modern diet of
    industrially prepared food has done to our health.

    “Easy. You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It’s
    short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s
    it. Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it

    | Michael Pollan, a contributing writer, is the Knight Professor
    | of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. His most
    | recent book is “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.”

    It is simply breathtaking to watch the glee and abandon with which
    the liberal media and the Angry Left have been attempting to turn
    our military victory in Iraq into a second Vietnam quagmire. Too bad
    for them, it's failing.

  2. #2
    Pennyaline Guest

    Default Re: Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch

    Ubiquitous wrote:
    > I was only 8 when “The French Chef” first appeared on American
    > television in 1963, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that this


    Hey, Ubi, this article is more than a week old. Further, it's an uncool
    breach of copyright to post the whole thing. Next time, just the link
    will suffice.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32