By Andrea Lillo
Everyone is cooking and entertaining more at home, according to most.
The Food Network and the plethora of cooking shows on other channels are now part of our daily lives. Surely these shows, along with the economy, are causing people to eat more home-cooked meals, right?
Nope, said food author Michael Pollan.
In his recent New York Times Magazine article “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch: How American Cooking Became a Spectator Sport ... ,” Pollan countered that though the adoration of cooking shows—“or perhaps I should say food shows”—has gone up, fast-food sales, home-meal replacements—and obesity—have also climbed. Meanwhile, everyday home cooking has fallen, as people spend less time doing it. (Though outdoor grilling, he was told, was one area that has grown.)
People may learn things from such shows as Chopped or Iron Chef America, but they are not about cooking, Pollan said. “For anyone hoping to pick up a few dinnertime tips, the implicit message of today’s prime-time cooking shows is, Don’t try this at home.If you really want to eat this way, go to a restaurant.”
We glean more about the “culinary fashion” of food—how to order, taste and talk the talk—from these shows, he said, rather than about the cooking of it.
This is shown by the commercials as well: Instead of ads for ingredients or kitchen appliances during prime time on the Food Network, eateries like Olive Garden or foods like Manwich Sloppy Joe fill break time, he added. During an episode of my recent addiction, Top Chef Masters, commercials touted the “Julie & Julia” movie along with companies such as hotels.com and Stella Artois.
But we are not ready to abandon the cooking idea altogether, Pollan said, as it “strikes a deep emotional chord in us, one that might even go to the heart of our identity as human beings.” In other words, cooking separates us from the animals.
Manufacturers have certainly developed the products to fill a consumer’s every cooking need. Hopefully, consumers will be inspired to move from the couch to the kitchen more often to use their equipment and gadgets.
And there could be another benefit to putting the cooking equipment to good use. Cooking at home may be the key to reversing all of this weight gain and addictions to prepared and fast food after all, according to food-marketing researcher Harry Balzer. “You want Americans to eat less?” he told Pollan. Cook it yourself.That’s it. Eat anything you want—just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.”
They certainly make it look easy to do on television.