Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Kitchen to Couch

In the last six months since it was published in The New York Times, Michael Pollan's article, Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch, has stayed with me, acting like a small voice, a call to action. In it, he reports on and explains our society's move away from time in the kitchen actually cooking to instead watching, discussing, and writing about food. If you didn't read it, you should, especially since you're reading this blog and probably have some interest in food writing:

Winter weather stimulates my appetite for slow-cooked, lovingly prepared foods. But am I making them? Nope. Sure, I will host a dinner party (or New Year's brunch), but when it comes to my daily food needs, I am far more likely to defrost a frozen meal or eat out rather than come anywhere near "cooking." Yet I write a food blog, watch cooking shows, discuss food and restaurants with my friends, and generally think about food.

It's apparent I'm not alone. Pollan ponders the disconnect. He reports that our food preparation time has halved since the time Julia Child was on television to about twenty-seven minutes a day, roughly half the time of an episode of Top Chef. (My ratio is more pronounced, with about five minutes of preparation to a full hour of Top Chef watching). When did we trade time in the kitchen for, as Pollan eloquently puts it, "hyperexuberant, even fetishized images of cooking that are presented on screen"?

In case it's escaped you, let me underline one of Pollan's points: today's cooking shows teach you nothing about how to actually prepare the dishes. I've certainly been sucked into Food Network's "Challenge" series about building the largest structure out of sugar or the cake that looks most like a cartoon character. Um, learning about cooking? Not so much. Pollan suggests that what used to be education has now become more about selling -- a brand of chef, a prepared sauce, and whatever else fills the content of the commercials.

Pollan closes on two notes that smack of hard truth. Pollan points out that cooking strikes "a deep emotional chord" in us, an anthropologically identifiable part of our culture, and then throws in this doozy: "obesity rates are inversely correlated with the amount of time spent on food preparation." And cites the studies, admonishing us in the end that the diet to embrace is to "cook it yourself."

So, in January, in this time of acknowledgements and resolutions, I confess that I watch more food television and eat out more than I cook, that I cannot cook a meal without following a recipe, that I cannot remember the last time I cooked for myself after work, and that I want to change. I resolve in 2010 to "cook it myself," not to stop eating out, but to perfect a routine of home cooking that works into my life and is healthy and workable long term. Wish me luck.


Anonymous said...

I find myself in the same position - food is such a huge part of my life, but I feel that my lack of a lot of the basic skills is impeding my enjoyment of it. I've been thinking about tackling and, most importantly, mastering some of the recipes in Ratio so as to not to feel like some sort of weekend hobbyist all the time.

Kate said...

Thanks so much for your comment, I just googled Ratio. I had no idea that Michael Ruhlman, one of my favorite authors, had written a new (possibly old now?) book that looks fabulous. I will definitely have to obtain. Thanks for the tip!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I could pass along the suggestion! I love it because it combines two of my favorite things, food and nerdery.