Over the last decade, cooking shows have become the culinary equivalent of professional wrestling. Once the Food Network discovered that America’s love affair with “Reality TV” extended into the kitchen, their mission changed from one of teaching to one of entertaining. And sadly, their ratings have soared. Now the Network’s transition is nearly complete, with Alton Brown being their sole prime-time show that actually teaches cooking skills.
But the new hit movie “Julie and Julia” suggests that perhaps there is a counter-cultural movement afoot. At least, that’s my hope, despite Michael Pollan’s cheerful (not) piece in Sunday’s (8/2/09) New York Times Magazine “No One Cooks Here Anymore” (image, right). Pollan’s typically well-researched article suggests there’s at least a portion of our great nation who thinks of cooking as a spectator sport. Which means we think of cooking pretty much like we think of sports – something to be left to the professionals.
Julia oh Julia, Wherefore Art Thou Julia?
Pollan may have his finger on the pulse of America’s eating habits. His thought-provoking article even references panel research from the NPD Group, a national survey company employed for decades by the nation’s largest food companies to monitor America’s food habits.
So perhaps I’m holding out naive hope that Pollan and the NPD study are missing a large portion of culinary America, the Culinaria I live in and hope that you do too. The one portrayed in the new movie Julie & Julia, which I’m sure you’ve read so much about by now that I don’t need to add to the hubbub (except to say I can’t imagine a venue more perfect for Meryl Streep’s considerable talents – MAN, she must have had fun with that role!) The movie is destined for cult status among foodies – it was #2 in box office receipts during its opening weekend, and I suspect its success will continue on DVD/Netflix, and in long-tail perpetuity on late night pay-per-view. The movie is not really about food as much as it is about how great food, and the ability to prepare it, can transform a rudderless soul.
But I am more hopeful about America’s potential food habits than Pollan’s article says is justified. At the same time we’ve seen distressing levels of food intake and fewer meals made from scratch, we’ve also seen steady increases for all of the following over the last FIFTEEN YEARS, a long-term trend that co-exists with Pollan’s and NPD’s frightening statistics about fewer in-home meals are being prepared during the same time period:
- The “Organic” food category has been the fastest-growing category in most grocery stores (though the recession may have taken a toll on this, I believe it is short-lived)
- Farmer’s Markets and Community Gardens are on the rise in all cities across America
- Urban gardens, and
- Urban chicken coops are likewise rising
- A growth in sales at heirloom Seed companies, and
- Premium Artisanal cheeses and breads, while not “home cooked”, have become staples at gourmet shops and grocery stores, and correlate with a rise in America’s food standards
- U.S. premium wine sales have increased steadily for 15 years (for the first time since records have been kept) – a fact I believe correlates with a growth in meals prepared and eaten at home.
So I challenge all those reading this (and especially any of those who participate in the NPD panel!) to just make ONE more home-made meal each week. Apply heat to raw ingredients. Follow a recipe using fresh ingredients you’ve purchased yourself. And pair your meal with a well-chosen bottle of wine. Just once a week, that’s all I ask. Your waistline will thank you for it. And so will I.
Quote of the Day
“If you don’t want to use so much butter, you can always substitute fresh cream!”
~ Julia Child, August 15, 1912 – August 13, 2004 (Happy Birthday, Julia!)
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