Julia Child being filmed, circa 1963
Michael Pollan wonders in the New York Times why there has been such a proliferation of shows on food, even a whole food network, not to mention Emeril and others on Planet Green. But Pollan notes that in fact fewer people are cooking than ever before:
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.
He is a bit discouraged after talking to food researcher Harry Balzer, who explains why people are turning more and more to prepared food:
"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."
So food shows are no longer about cooking, they are about eating, about watching a sport no different than Monday Night Football. And it isn't healthy; it is probably bad for you.
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.
Anyone interested in food should read this article in the New York Times.:Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch