In search of healthy and fun meals to feed my family, with an eye toward sustainable living.

Here you'll find recipes & ramblings about keeping my family fed with what's available in Alaska between local produce, a little bit of wild harvest, and the modern grocery store.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Home Cooking vs. TV Food Shows

It was in 2001 that I first saw an episode of "Iron Chef" on TV: I couldn't believe what I was seeing on the screen (we don't have TV) cooking as entertainment!
It was New Year's Eve, and we had been invited to a party where most of the people attending worked in the food business (the food was SUPERB, and the kitchen a mess)-- during the previous year we had become good friends with a professional in the "Food Service Business", and were first granted behind-the-scenes looks (and tastes) of the Restaurant world -- what an eye opener!

I have to admit that I'm a real sucker for European-style desserts -- so I LOVED visiting our friend at his job. Just imagine going to work every day at a fine bakery, such where he was a manager -- aaaah, the tortes and pastries were a feast for the eyes, and I longed to taste them! My young children who came with me into the bakery declared "when I grow up, I'm going to bake the best birthday cakes, all day long!"
But I soon learned that it was not just tortes and petit-foit all day long-- I naively thought it would be "fun", but that line of work is really is stressful, and our friend (who has since gotten out of the food business) will advise any youngster, who may ask his opinion, against choosing this career.

Now we like to eat gourmet food, and sometimes enjoy an evening eating at a fine restaurant, but it is a rare treat! Most of our meals are home-cooked, from scratch, and I thought that's how most people eat -- but that seems to be disappearing in America. Cooking one's own food a skill that's getting lost -- HOW CAN THAT BE?

I'm lucky that I grew up in a culture that valued cooking at home -- to my family eating a meal out (or even heating up pre-packaged "convenience" food) was just not normal -- it's a rare exception to, well, cooking in your own kitchen-- doesn't everybody? I mean, how difficult is it to learn how to cook rice, potatoes, or chicken?
I've learned to cook and bake from my mother at first, but more so after I was on my own, "self-taught by trial and error". I became a vegetarian early on in college (in the Deep South where most everything was fried in bacon grease) -- so by necessity I had to teach myself, and I became a decent cook along the way.

Cooking for my family is a central part of my life -- I don't at all feel like a slave at the stove (the laundryroom, yes). It really is too bad that feminism cast a negative light on home tasks such as cooking -- NO, I feel proud of feeding my guys good home-cooked meals!

In a wonderful article this week in the New York Times entitled "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch", writer Michael Pollan explores the American public’s growing love of televised cooking shows, even as people lose interest in cooking for themselves. He starts out with a wonderful description of the Julia Child's THE FRENCH CHEF shows he watched along with his mother in the 1960's, who, according to his mother " took the fear out of cooking". Pollan writes:
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.

The Food Network has helped to transform cooking from something you do into something you watch... 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.
They found that when we don’t have to cook meals, we eat more of them: as the amount of time Americans spend cooking has dropped by about half, the number of meals Americans eat in a day has climbed... In fact, the amount of time spent cooking predicts obesity rates more reliably than female participation in the labor force or income.
At the end of his article, Pollen wonders if we can put the genie back in the bottle, i.e. American willing to make cooking part of their daily lives again. But talking to veteran food-marketing researcher, Harry Balzer, he was told "that's not going to happen":
“Why? Because we’re basically cheap and lazy. And besides, the skills are already lost. Who is going to teach the next generation to cook? I don’t see it." But then Balzer says "You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.”
Get the kids involved -- let them cook with you, for you -- it's one of the best skill you can give them: being able to fend for themselves, and feed themselves (not out of a package or drive-up window)! It's easy -- start them with making their own PB&J sandwiches from scratch, with the best ingredients at hand... Before you know it, they'll be baking bread with you, and helping with the berry harvest & canning your own jams (that's what Youngest and I did today!) -- but hey, still working on a local source of peanuts here in AK!

Photo credits:
Iron Chefs by
Pastry by
1950's housewife by Getty Images,
Julia Child by

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