Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Watching Other People Brown
I missed this, but over the weekend Michael Pollan had a feature in New York Times Magazine, his thoughts on our current relationship to cooking after watching the new Julia Child-related film starring Meryl Streep.
That learning to cook could lead an American woman to success of any kind would have seemed utterly implausible in 1949; that it is so thoroughly plausible 60 years later owes everything to Julia Child’s legacy. Julie Powell operates in a world that Julia Child helped to create, one where food is taken seriously, where chefs have been welcomed into the repertory company of American celebrity and where cooking has become a broadly appealing mise-en-scène in which success stories can plausibly be set and played out. How amazing is it that we live today in a culture that has not only something called the Food Network but now a hit show on that network called “The Next Food Network Star,” which thousands of 20- and 30-somethings compete eagerly to become? It would seem we have come a long way from Swanson TV dinners.
But here’s what I don’t get: How is it that we are so eager to watch other people browning beef cubes on screen but so much less eager to brown them ourselves? For the rise of Julia Child as a figure of cultural consequence — along with Alice Waters and Mario Batali and Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse and whoever is crowned the next Food Network star — has, paradoxically, coincided with the rise of fast food, home-meal replacements and the decline and fall of everyday home cooking.
Don't be fooled, by the way. He does get many of the reasons why we are keen to watch others cook but no so much into doing it ourselves. Much of the piece is spent delving into exactly those factors that explain perfectly well the reasons behind this loss, which he suggests may be far more damaging than even sympathetic readers would have thought. That the reasons for this cultural change may be perfectly understandable though, and the prospect of turning back essentially impossible, doesn't undo or lessen that damage.

No comments: