This post by Mark Bittman (more on his review of Michael Pollan’s new book on cooking below) finally brought in to focus something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, namely, why I dislike all those shows like Chopped, etc, on television.
Now, I love cooking shows, shows with recipes and instructions and ingredients. I even prefer Rachel Ray’s 30 Minute Meals to all those semi-homemade, professional, and industrial looks at cooking. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, or maybe it’s the scholar, but either way, regardless of the celebrity chef du jour (your Boy Meets Grill, your Molto Mario, your Naked Chef), I really enjoy cooking shows.
Which makes my disdain for most* all the more jarring. When the Cooking Channel, launched I was ecstatic. First, because it gave me the satisfaction of being right. It fulfilled a prediction, which I would tell to all and sundry, that Food TV was going to alienate the initial audience that earned it a devoted following, and that another channel would step in and fill that void and steal their audience. Second, because it started with a lot of actual cooking shows. (I was also hopeful that, since it was Food TV doing this, that they realized precisely what I thought was wrong with their programming and would keep it cooking-oriented. Alas and alack, that did not last very long at all, to my great disappointment.)
And Bittman’s comment gets at the thing that really bugs me: the programming that slowly seeps in has an entirely different idea of the subject watching it. Cooking shows imagine producers, people who care about the details and are trying to increase their capacities for living in and engaging with the world around them**; shows about restaurants and cake’s that look like animated characters imagine the opposite, consumers, slowly persuading*** us to “outsource all our cooking to corporations” (as Pollan says).
Bittman notes the extremely cynical argument that some make, that it is “a waste of time for anyone making more than, say, $20 an hour.” Talk about life stripped of all the living. I really like Pollan’s writing (and hope to incorporate it into future intro to college writing courses), and I’m glad he’s now covered pretty much the whole food chain. I am also particularly attuned to both Bittman’s and Pollan’s argument that we need “to create a gender-agnostic cooking culture.” It’s high time for that statement to be obvious.
*I do like Iron Chef, though for a long time I didn’t like the American version. The original was just so far out there, like the Bob Ross of cooking shows.
**Though my appreciation is not quite so naive as above, simplified as it is for this topic. There are many perfectly justifiable and important critiques of both cooking shows and Michael Pollan … for another time.
***In the sense of the term John Berger uses it, in his excellent book Ways of Seeing.