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.- From Pollen’s article, “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch”
Amen, Mr. Pollen! It seems that everywhere you go people are talking about food; that is to say, how much they love eating it, seeing it on TV, paying for it, reading about it, dreaming about it, etc. However, what folks aren’t actually doing these days is making, from scratch, food.
Recently, I had a two day Facebook comment thread discussion with offthebroiler.com food writer, Jason Perlow. Jason and I have never met but I have great respect for his knowledge of food and, of course, the great content on his site. Our discussion on Facebook centered on pizza, specifically, the value and quality of buying pizza from a high end pizzeria (viz., Pepe’s Pizzeria in New Haven, CT). Jason was arguing that Pepe’s achieves ethereal pizza status (given “char” and “pliability”) because of several factors, the most important being the wood burning oven the pizzeria uses (wood burning ovens can get very hot, to the tune of 800 degrees and I’ve had the pleasure of standing next to my Aunt Giovanna’s olive and chestnut wood feed oven in southern Italy). My position was/is that, as Pollen states, good food is about the making and not just the eating and that you can achieve great results by making food at home (including pizza).
Eating out at restaurants, other than the occasional splurge, is in my view a royal waste of money (not to mention the health effects). Now, don’t get me wrong, I do consider myself a foodie (as much as I hate the word), but I take great pride in making my own food (using great ingredients and knowing where they come from), saving money, and spending a evening enjoying the end product with our family.
Much of what Pollen is referencing above puts food consumers in the US in a mindset that believes, “I must eat at that famous restaurant” or I could never do what the Iron Chef on the Food Network is doing because I lack a restaurant style stove or truffles from northen Italy. This type of thinking has led to a huge decline in how much time we spend “preparing” our own meals; as Pollen states:
Today the average American spends a mere 27 minutes a day on food preparation (another four minutes cleaning up); that’s less than half the time that we spent cooking and cleaning up when Julia arrived on our television screens. It’s also less than half the time it takes to watch a single episode of “Top Chef” or “Chopped” or “The Next Food Network Star.” What this suggests is that a great many Americans are spending considerably more time watching images of cooking on television than they are cooking themselves — an increasingly archaic activity they will tell you they no longer have the time for.
You need time to cook good food and there’s no way around it (not massive amounts of time in the long run because most home chefs become very efficient at prep and cooking over time). You don’t need fancy equipment to make great food at home, but you do need good ingredients and plenty of variety (this is why many individuals turn to high fat foods and restaurant eating). You also need to experiment with different types of cuisine and see preparing food at home as a long term investment in both your health and general happiness/quality of life.
So, become a true foodie and start cooking at home and eating out less. Take the money you would use for a mediocre meal out and buy fresh, high quality, ingredients and prepare a meal at home (I swear you’ll be impressed). I also promise your quality of life will improve and, yes, if you have a Pepe’s Pizzera around the corner from you you can order a large pie on occasion!
Here are some related links from Scordo.com that will help you make your own food: