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.