Last week, The NY Times ran an article by Michael Pollan, Mr. “Omnivore’s Dilemma” himself. I’m not a fan of Pollan, I think his writing can be a little long-winded and condescending, but he does make some good points about the production of food in most of his writing. However, I have a bone to pick about his latest piece: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/02/magazine/02cooking-t.html?pagewanted=8&_r=1
His article last week was a strange mix of praise and finger-wagging about food television, focusing on everything from the heights, Julia Child’s fine dining made at home recipes, to the depths (Sandra “Kwanzaa Cake” Lee). However, the major point was that today’s kitchen dwellers can barely work a microwave, but revel in who will have to pack their knives and go home on “Top Chef.” Instead of being inspire to cook along with Julia, Pollan protests that we live vicariously through our TV chefs instead of picking up a knife ourselves.
I won’t argue that I used to be that way. Growing up, my mom cooked everything at dinnertime and I never showed any interest in learning what she was doing. I could justify that nuking a Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese was cooking because it took more than one step (take out of box, lift corner of plasti-wrap, put into microwave). I psyched myself out, thinking that I didn’t know how or even wanted to cook. It’s not a surprise that under a steady diet of pre-made freezer food and canned soups, I wasn’t exactly at my healthiest.
That started to change when I started reading and then watching Anthony Bourdain on “No Reservations.” It got me actually excited about food (it didn’t hurt that Bourdain is geeky girl eye candy), I realized there was a world outside of Burger King and Circle K. Once I moved into a place with an actual kitchen, “Top Chef” became one of my favorite shows. I would get inspired by the competitions and I even participated in a Top Chef-inspired Dinner Party.
I can see why Pollan may hate Food TV (I want to scissor-kick Rachael Ray each time she says “evoo”), but it helped make me start to cook. I looked beyond canned food and started picking up a knife alongside Hung and Casey on “Top Chef.” Alton Brown made me appreciate the science behind my food. Mario Batali made me less scared of hooves and snouts. I got how good a simple crusty piece of bread, fresh tomato, and roasted garlic could be from Giada. Yeah, it was entertaining, but it made me want to do it myself as well. If Bobby Flay can cook up some ribs, then so can I!
When I moved to Raleigh with Tony, we had to give up Cable, and with it my food television. I love reading about cooking and looking up recipes, but Food on television was my gateway drug. Without it, I would never change the way I eat and the way I live now. Who would have ever thought that being a couch potato could be a good thing?