I'm a little late this week in catching up with my NYT food articles, but imagine my pleasure when I saw a new article by Michael Pollan: "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch." It ties into the release of the Julie & Julia movie, arguing that Julia Child taught us how to cook from scratch ("real scratch cooking") in the days of "educational television," as opposed to the Food Network today, which teaches us how to cook fast and quick, only partially making any of it from scratch.
As expected, Pollan is rather alarmist about it all, some would argue rightfully so. I got caught up in it: halfway through reading the article, I vowed to boycott Food Network forever and everything it stood for. Not that I watch it that much, anyway, but still... What I do appreciate about Michael Pollan is that he doesn't really point a broad, sweeping finger at Food Network as a whole. He pinpoints the marketers and the advertisers specifically, those who stand to profit by keeping Americans out of the kitchen. Even so, Food Network certainly profits from its viewers sitting on the couch, watching them, rather than in the kitchen and away from the TV.
The article explores the many reasons why we 1.) left the kitchen, and 2.) keep going back to it vicariously in the form of Food Network shows. Pollan suggests, among other hypotheses, that perhaps part of the reason we watch so much food TV is because humans actually miss cooking, and we don't want to see it gone from our lives forever. He also mentions that, while cooking in the kitchen is down, grilling outside is actually happening more regularly (perhaps because we miss the primal slab-of-meat-on-a-fire feeling)...but he gets in a tizzy because that activity is happening almost exclusively on the weekends, "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."
But to bring this back to Julia Child, I particularly liked this point Pollan makes, talking about Child actually glistening with sweat at the end of the show from wrestling together her meal from scratch:
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 television.
There was definitely lots of food for thought (god, I know...I'm sorry) in this article and Pollan is certainly as provocative as ever. I urge you to take a look.
Eat, drink, and get off the couch.