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Saturday, December 01, 2012

Beyond the Gastronomic Universe as We Know It

We are witnessing the Big Bang of culinary television.  Emerging out of the primordial soup of early broadcasting, the rise of popular food culture was geologically sluggish at first.  It started with recipes read over the radio, and then came television with Julia Child's horrible, pterodactyl-like squawking in black and white on public stations which was even less appealing than staring at the radio. With the advent of cable the evolutionary pace quickened and soon after there was an entire network devoted to eating.  Then there were two. Americans have advanced from eating partially-frozen chicken pot pies and Hostess® products to getting into fist-fights over whether or not a garnish is conceptually relevant to the dish.

It won’t be long before television will be nothing but stuff about cooking and eating and everything related to those tasks.  There’s even a new series where people sit around in the kitchen cooking and watching food shows in M.C. Escher fashion (if there isn’t a show like that there should be).  It makes you dizzy just thinking about it, dizzy and hungry.  What’s next?

Who needs schools when we could teach kids everything they need to know through cooking videos? About all this economy is producing are food service jobs so this sort of programming seems perfect. What better way to learn Spanish than a tutorial on paella or Italian taught via the fine art of making gnocchi?  If you don’t know a single word of a language—like Norwegian or Canadian—it’s probably because you’ve never seen anything from those places on the Food Channel. Teenagers only mock sex education as it's currently taught in schools so there’s no reason to spend good money on life-like human models when there are lots of fruits and vegetables that can serve the same purpose.

Perhaps our promised 15 minutes of fame will be on our own cooking show. If this is the case then the shortened, quarter of an hour format will mean that either the appetizer or the dessert has to go.  The truth is that I can’t even think of a main course I can pull off in 15 minutes. Great, my one chance at stardom and I have to microwave a bag of popcorn. Can anyone suggest a good wine pairing?

Or maybe heaven will be a cooking show for each and every one of us, sort of like a dreamy, fluffy cloud but with more appliances and 20 different kinds of pasta.  But what good is that? If everyone is busy with their own program there won’t be anyone to watch. I think it’s safe to say that an eternity of bad ratings isn’t anyone’s idea of nirvana and hardly an adequate reward for a life on earth spent adhering faithfully to God’s unimaginative recipes. I need to start sinning more…immediately. And by sin I mean fun stuff like coveting wives and goods and not sins that don’t seem fun at all like killing and having a false god. One god seems more trouble than he’s worth most of the time so why would anyone want two? That’s like going to the driver’s license bureau twice. 
Or even worse, hell could be a food show but without the luxuries we all take for granted, like self-cleaning ovens and expensive French cookware. A program where all you make are grilled cheese sandwiches and soup from cans and most of the time is dedicated to washing the dishes by hand . If this is Dante’s inferno then I think I’ve already been there.  It sounds suspiciously like the America of my childhood.  Just because I lived through this once before doesn’t mean it’ll be any easier the second time around. They don't even have extra virgin olive oil. Who would have guessed hell would be this awful? Note to self: stop sinning immediately, or maybe wait until after tonight's dinner party that I’m hoping will break out into an orgy, although at a certain age unbridled bacchanalia is more likely to burst into a heated discussion about recipes.


  1. Several years ago when I was working for Colorado Public Radio, I had an idea for a cooking show -- an idea that I presented to our on-air staff. I called it "Food Fight." The idea was for people to cook and argue about politics (and to a lesser extent, about politics). I thought that advantages of this format were many, especially if it meant not having to hear one more idiotic war or sports metaphor applied to politics. My idea went nowhere of course. And to this day, NPR's "The Splendid Table," with its "Schweddy Balls," style delivery, remains.

  2. Here in Spain the cooking shows often tell you a lot about where food comes from and thus most people here know that meat doesn't originate at the supermarket.

  3. In the U.S. every retail outlet is tied to some celebrity (hack) chef. Target latest acquisition is Giada De Laurentiis. Her useless cookware and kitchen do-dads are everywhere. I can think of one thing that I'd let Giada "prepare" for me. Can you guess what it is?


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