Michael Pollan, acclaimed author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food (which I reviewed), offers a thought-provoking critique of TV food culture in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine. There are many different components to Pollan’s argument (I wouldn’t be surprised if a book on the subject is forthcoming) but the gist of it is that the Food Network and TV food programs generally encourage a culture of eating and spectating, as opposed to actually cooking at home, and that this cultural shift is—on the whole—harmful. I will argue that TV food programs are not only valuable as a form of diversionary entertainment but also that they have the potential to be inspirational.
Let me first present Pollan’s own words:
“We learn things watching these cooking competitions, but they’re not things about how to cook. There are no recipes to follow; the contests fly by too much too fast for viewers to take in any practical tips; and the kind of cooking practices in prime time is far more spectacular than anything you would ever try at home. No, for anyone hoping to pick up a few dinnertime tips, the implicit message of today’s prime-time cooking shows is, Don’t try this at home. If you really want to eat this way, go to a restaurant. Or as a chef friend put it when I asked him if he thought I could learn anything about cooking by watching the Food Network, ‘How much could you learn about playing basketball by watching the NBA?’”