The Food Channel fetishization of cooking has made it look intimidating …

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.

You are not enough people…

When a couple has an argument nowadays, they may think it’s about money or power or sex or how to raise the kids or whatever. What they’re really saying to each other, though without realizing it, is this: “You are not enough people!”

A husband, a wife and some kids is not a family. It’s a terribly vulnerable survival unit.

I met a man in Nigeria one time, an Ibo who had six hundred relatives he knew quite well. His wife had just had a baby, the best possible news in any extended family.

They were going to take it to meet all its relatives, Ibos of all ages and sizes and shapes. It would even meet other babies, cousins not much older than it was. Everybody who was big enough and steady enough was going to get to hold it, cuddle it, gurgle to it, and say how pretty or how handsome it was.

Wouldn’t you have loved to be that baby?

I sure wish I could wave a wand, and give every one of you an extended family, make you an Ibo or a Navaho—or a Kennedy.

Someone read this passage from Vonnegut to me a while back. Today, it made me think of something my dad said once (actually, it made me think about television, but more on that in a second).

When a child in either the fifties or early sixties, my father moved, and this gave him an interesting perpsective on social atomization a la suburbia. They moved from a poorer, more working class neighborhood to a more affluent one, so if you ask him today, he can tell you with relative certainty that affluent, suburban atomization has one cause: air conditioning.

See, you couldn’t keep all your windows closed in the summer time without air conditioning, you couldn’t even really stay in the house all of the time. So people would talk from house to house (the houses were closer together, too, of course) to their neighbors, or out on the porch, or underneath a tree, etc.

When he moved to the more affluent neighborhood, where the houses had conditioned air, it was like night and day. Totally different social structure to the community. Which bring’s me back to television (which I was thinking of in a fair amount of depth because hours of infomercials on public television is a violation of the commons and the public mission of television, but I digress).

Maybe television has become regnant not because it was a superior communication technology, but because it fit so well with the advent of a new kind of community (or maybe just because of the invention of air conditioning). Suburbia is lonely; televisions fill homes with more voices, more personalities, more plot lines and intrigue, more of that substance that we need to construct our lives. How many voices does one need, before one can dwell some where, before a space can become a home?

Thus, suburbia needs television, a sort of technological collusion that has artificially sustained an untenable form of life, sprawling coccoons of pure boredom. Television lessens the median quotient of loneliness just enough to keep it from all falling apart.

You are not enough people, indeed.

There is one more ugly, more wicked, more filthy!
Although he makes neither great gestures nor great cries,
He would willingly make of the earth a shambles
And, in a yawn, swallow the world;

He is Ennui! — His eye watery as though with tears,
He dreams of scaffolds as he smokes his hookah pipe.
You know him reader, that refined monster,
— Hypocritish reader, — my fellow, — my brother!