tvSmarter – Life in a TV Nation

Vicarious Cooking


Driving home, I happened to catch part of Michael Pollan’s interview on NPR. He was talking about an article he wrote for The New York Times called “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch”.

His article is about how TV cooking shows have become a big hit in the United States, but that this doesn’t seem to have lead to more cooking, instead Americans are cooking less than ever.

He also contrasts Julia Child’s original cooking show from the 1960’s with today’s much more frenetic shows that emphasize cooking as a spectator sport.

To the question of why people enjoy cooking shows so much, he answered that they provided a “vicarious experience of cooking”, but without the effort and mess.

I really enjoyed his article and interview, here is a quote that, that I think, very much hits the target:

“The historical drift of cooking programs — from a genuine interest in producing food yourself to the spectacle of merely consuming it — surely owes a lot to the decline of cooking in our culture, but it also has something to do with the gravitational field that eventually overtakes anything in television’s orbit. It’s no accident that Julia Child appeared on public television — or educational television, as it used to be called. On a commercial network, a program that actually inspired viewers to get off the couch and spend an hour cooking a meal would be a commercial disaster, for it would mean they were turning off the television to do something else. The ads on the Food Network, at least in prime time, strongly suggest its viewers do no such thing: the food-related ads hardly ever hawk kitchen appliances or ingredients (unless you count A.1. steak sauce) but rather push the usual supermarket cart of edible foodlike substances, including Manwich sloppy joe in a can, Special K protein shakes and Ore-Ida frozen French fries, along with fast-casual eateries like Olive Garden and Red Lobster.”

2 thoughts on “Vicarious Cooking

  1. Thank you for this posting. I appreciate it. Such a core reality.

    Also a core reality of TV commercials that are pushing products to encourage us to let the corporations do the cooking, because we believe that we do not have the time, energy and imagination to do our own cooking… And we do not especially have the “Time” to clean the (ugg) dishes, pans and counters, so places and products that offer us dish free cuisines, they are our patron saints of work reduction and life style efficiency so we can have more time to: ” ___________ ” [fill in the blank]. Hint: A passive watching of others entertain us…

    Perhaps, we should have some TV Shows dedicated to “Vicarious Dish Washing, Food Shopping and Food Growing…”

    I will be back on this subject, as it has made me consider the same connection to growing some of our own food, and the lack of inspiration, and or understanding to actually do so. And people wonder why America has confusing issues with all the foreign workers filling the workplace doing the “Menial” work…

    This is extremely important these days (FOOD), as I have just moved to a community that is struggling with coming up with enough food for the regional food banks, for the growing numbers of non-employed people that cannot even afford to purchase food anymore…

    Hmmm, maybe an even better food tv show that could be turned into a more real than reality show could be called: Reality Food Bank Show.


    • Hi Chris

      It’s pretty sad that a country as rich as the
      U.S. still even needs food banks, let alone
      straining their capacity.

      Is there much interest in gardening and community
      gardening where you are living? My dad is expert
      gardener, for years and years he grew fruits and
      veggies, much of which he donated to the local
      food bank. And growing up, he helped look after the
      family vegetable garden which provided an important
      part of their diet.

      Anyway I do hope that you are enjoying your new
      place and finding some interesting fellow-travelers.


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