About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Once Were Cooks
Has anyone noticed lately, the scarcity of television cooking programs that actually teach cooking? Furthermore, how is everyone going with programs like Iron Chef, Come Dine With Me, Great British Menu, Chopping Block and others of this ultra-competitive ilk?

Personally, I've had my fill of their incessant theme that one dish or cook is better than another. For heaven's sake, there is even a commercial that pits a man against a women in the kitchen just in case one missed the gladiatorial aspect suffusing all things food.

Where have all the teaching presenters gone, how have we come to this winner-takes-all cook-off mania?

Apparently, according to Michael Pollan, it's my fault.

If you're a bloke reading this, it's your fault too.

In a recent article in The Age, Pollan writes about Erica Gruen, who is credited with putting the Food Network on the map with her observation that "people don't watch television to learn things", switching the target audience from those who love to cook to those who love to eat, a far bigger market and, importantly for a cable network, one that contained a much larger number of men.

Men that like the thrill of competition.

So what happens to those of us who like to cook?

It would seem we are on the way out. In the same article, Harry Balzer, a food marketing researcher, gave this chilling analogy.

"A hundred years ago, chicken for dinner meant going out and catching, killing, plucking and gutting a chicken. Do you know anyone 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."

The clear implication is that food manufacturers will take over as the providers of all family meals and the only skill we'll need is the ability to switch on the microwave. If you look in any supermarket, there is a huge array of ready-to-eat meals or products for the time poor, the fresh food section is now just a tiny corner in comparison, seemingly there to give an illusion of healthy eating.

Melbourne writer and food critic John Lethlean, some time ago bemoaned the launching of a new cook-in-the-bag rice and wondered how anyone couldn't cook something as simple as rice from scratch.

The answer is, a great many of us just can't be bothered.
  posted at 9:15 pm

At 2:09 am, Anonymous Jess said...

Even at my age, I remember having chickens in the backyard, feeding, catching, killing and cooking them, let along growing a vegetable (which I find difficult). Thankfully, my father grew up in rural HK and tried to teach me the simpler things in Australia. I do miss those rituals and the feeling of bringing everything to the table from beginning to end and being washed with the satisfaction that something so small(literally and fiuratively) could sustain a whole family and satisfy them as well.
Unfortunately, sometimes I am overwhelmed by the task of cooking for myself (as one) at the end of the day, but would rather starve than have pre-made meals or have rice in a bag (ack).
Perhaps there should be a shift away from competition in the kitchen and just plain education and awareness.

At 8:03 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good but scary points Neil. I have noted for a while that there might be a sense of Foodie fatigue settling in. Being preached at to eat ethically, sustainably etc by zillionaire celebrity chefs might seem a bit rich for people more concerned with feeding themselves as economically as possible.

Unfortunately our obsession with food reflects a mighty class distinction & its preoccupations are decidely seeming more & more elitist.

It saddens me to think though that we will be viewed as dinosaurs or Yuppies simply because we like to know eher our food comes from & how to do it justice in the kitchen.

Maybe when that Foodie Armageddon occurs & the giant food multis take over all of our eating decisions, an underground guerilla movement will spawn-El Foodinista, to keep the traditions alive?

At 1:40 pm, Anonymous Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Here in the US, cooking shows (Julia Child was the first) began on public television, and today the shows that teach cooking are still on public television. The Food Network is an outgrowth of that, geared towards eaters more than learners. And geared toward entertainment more than enlightenment. Thank goodness for the great shows on public television!

At 3:38 pm, Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

Ditto to everything Lydia said above. I'm completely bored with every type of competitive reality TV period, and if that just shows that I've turned into an old fogey, so be it. (Kalyn tottering off into the sunset now.)

At 5:56 pm, Blogger Gigi said...

I have to admit I enjoy some of the competitive cooking shows, although I am often frustrated by the inherent assumptions that you so aptly point out ~ that one cook is better than another, usually based on the last dish prepared and generally under preposterous circumstances (use only things that are yellow and can fly! And are visible from space! And can be eaten by vegans! You have 20 minutes; GO!) As Lydia says, here in the US all the teaching shows are on PBS, and they are the ones I watch when actually in the kitchen.

But it's a grim future indeed if Harry Blazer is correct in his prophesy of an entire people attempting to nourish themselves on a diet of prepackaged, over-processed, corporate foodstuffs. But I guarantee you one thing ~ the person who can still roast a chicken, braise a lamb or bake a cake from scratch will never lack for company around the table. I know where I'll be eating. Your place! :)


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