11.13.2009

The New Celebrity

Thumbing through the latest issue of TV Guide I see celebrity chef Giada DeLaurentiis and am reminded of the great popularity of cooking shows and the emergence of the chef as the new celebrity. It may not be time to dismiss Britney Spears and George Clooney but they sure have to make room for Bobby Flay, Rachel Ray, Paula Dean, Guy Fieri, Sandra Lee, Alton Brown, Ina Garten, Emeril Lagasse, and a host of others. What’s so surprising about this is that the chef has achieved celebrity status in a society that doesn’t cook! It reminds me of what Lazarsfeld and Merton (writing in 1948) called the narcotizing function of the mass media: “The individual reads accounts of issues and problems [or watches television cooking shows] and may even discuss alternative lines of action. But this rather intellectualized, rather remote connection with organized social action is not activity. The interested and informed citizen can congratulate himself on his lofty state of interest and information [for example, knowing the difference between a shiitake and chanterelle or bordelaise from Bolognese] and neglect to see that he has abstained from decision and action [say, buying uncooked food and actually cooking it].”
In short, it seems that watching television cooking shows (or subscribing to Everyday with Rachel Ray or buying a cookbook) and knowing the celebrity chefs (parasocially, of course) is an adequate substitute for cooking.

2 comments:

maestra said...

I was originally going to take issue with the notions that we live in a society that doesn’t cook, and that watching cooking shows and knowing celebrity chefs, are adequate substitutes for cooking. I know many people who still do a lot of their own home cooking. They are of the belief that home cooking is the only way to insure that they and their families eat foods, which are high in nutritional value. Then there are those who claim that they eat out infrequently because of the poor economy, but when my husband and I look at the number of people eating out regularly in eastern TN, where we are now retired, we have to say that the poor economy is not stopping them. Most restaurants here are crowded regardless of the day of the week, which is probably why there are so many grossly overweight individuals here, but that is a separate issue.

Some people watch cooking shows (I myself never do), drive up their ratings by doing so, and download recipes from websites like foodnetwork.com to try on their families, relatives, and friends. Some watch just to be entertained, but I believe that there are many who actually learn a great deal about cooking itself from such shows and celebrity chefs, although it is my understanding that many of these same chefs do not have any formal culinary training. The people I know, who still do their own home cooking, are also the ones who love to go to potluck dinners and picnics just to show off their culinary creations-some of which are recreations of what these chefs have cooked on television. Others, like myself, stopped cooking on a daily basis a number of years ago for various reasons. I still, however, own many cookbooks and bake all kinds of cookies from scratch for the holidays as, in my eyes, store bought cookies simply cannot compete with my own.

I used to enjoy cooking, and trying new recipes, when I first got married and had frequent dinner parties and large family gatherings. These eventually ceased as my own children, and niece and nephews, got older and became more and more involved in various extracurricular activities and part-time jobs. Then, even daily family dinners became difficult to prepare. I was working while my sons were in school and, after school, was chauffeuring them all over the place, so I no longer had time to prepare daily meals from scratch. Even my husband was then working long hours and getting home very late most evenings. So daily family dinners, at a specified time, were replaced by microwaveable, or already prepared packaged meals, and everyone in the house pretty much was eating at different times. Then came retirement for my husband and myself, and we discovered that it just does not pay to make meals from scratch for only two people. So we started eating out a minimum of twice a week, but occasionally eat out as much as four days a week. We also know people who eat out everyday, and have even heard about one couple who built a home in our village, which does not have a kitchen. Maybe this was not a good idea in terms of the resale value of the home, but maybe it was, especially if it is true that we live in a society which amuses itself by watching cooking shows and celebrity chefs on television but which itself does not cook.

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