Hothouse Foodies

I’ve mentioned in the past that I don’t watch television very much, outside of live sporting events. I have nothing against television, I just never developed the habit of following a show every week. I forget to watch and lose track of what’s happening. Then I lose interest. Binge watching works for me and I have binge watched some popular series, but years after they were on the air. The advantage with this is you can abandon the show if it sucks after a few episodes.

The one type of show that has always worked on me is the cooking show. I’m a good cook and I like seeing new stuff, but I think what really works for me is that the shows are all bullshit. The cooking contests are hilarious because the judges have on their serious face and make up all sorts of idiotic reasons for liking one dish over another. My favorite is when they say “umami” as they do that thing with their mouth to indicate they are trying to figure out the taste. Umami seems to mean “I don’t know what this is.”

Food tasting, like wine tasting, is mostly bullshit. The cooking shows make this clear as they have contestants make dishes with all sorts of wacky ingredients they would never normally use. The judges then taste the dish and talk about how something made with Velveeta has a floral notes and umami. The show Cutthroat Kitchen is the best example of this. It is an unintentional send up of the foodie rackets.

The truth is, “foodie” culture is just signalling. If you are a droll sophisticated urbanite you pretend to like food made from exotic ingredients,served on plates the size of a car door. If you are a suburban square, you eat food out of a can that you heat up over a hotplate. That’s not too much of an exaggeration. This article in Slate points out that most people are still making food at home that is similar to what you would associate with 1950’s suburbia.

And at a time when readers of aspirational food websites are used to images of impossibly perfect dishes—each microgreen artfully placed by some tweezer-wielding stylist—Allrecipes offers amateur snaps of amateur meals. The site is awash with close-ups of sludgy-looking soups; photos of stuffed peppers that look like they’ve been captured in the harsh, unforgiving light of a public washroom; and shot after shot documenting the myriad ways that melted cheese can congeal. It is all, Kimball and his ilk would agree, extremely disappointing. It’s also perhaps the most accurate, democratic snapshot of American culinary desires.

Allrecipes is the most popular English-language food website in the world. According to ComScore, last December the site got almost 50 million visits, the biggest month by any food site ever. Thanks to its mastery of search engine optimization, the site’s recipes constantly appear near the top of Google search results. If you look for “lasagna recipes,” as I did the other day, you’ll immediately find “World’s Best Lasagna,” a recipe that has been one of the website’s most popular dishes for 15 years. The recipe (which makes a perfectly tasty lasagna) was viewed more than 6 million times last year alone and has received more than 11,000 five-star ratings. In an era of celebrity chefs and recipe-kit delivery services developed by experts, a pasta dish by a Dallas dad who describes his heritage as “entirely Anglo-Saxon” is quite possibly America’s most-cooked meal.

This reminds me of something from the dark ages. In the early 90’s newspapers were struggling so they brought in experts to figure out what was wrong. A newspaper in Ohio, it was reported, discovered that their readers never looked at the food section. The reason for that was the stuff covered in the food section was all haute cuisine, while the readers were eating Hamburger Helper and mushroom soup casserole. Put another way, the paper was trying to serve an audience that did not exist.

The food rackets are a good example of the great divide in America. People watch TV to escape and be entertained. I’ll watch the cooking shows because they make me laugh. Once in a blue moon I’ll learn something useful or interesting, but mostly is is a goof. Similarly, people are not watching Game of Thrones for deep, philosophic insights into the human condition. People like boobies, midgets and sword play. Throw in some corny drama and cool costumes and you have a hit show.

On the other side of the screen, the little people inside the box, that’s where things get weird. They actually believe their bullshit. The “foodies” on the cooking shows are starting to think they are leading a food revolution, when they are just a different type of clown, entertaining the masses. Our news media for a long time has be operating under the delusion that they are a secular priesthood, sent here to guard the truth for the masses. In reality, they are just paid spokesman for their bosses.

One way to understand why Trump was able to vanquish his enemies so easily is to think about that newspaper in Ohio I mentioned. At some point, they stumbled into a monopoly. They were the only newspaper in town. That meant they were no longer subject to the normal market forces that come with competition and the result was a slow decay in their quality as they indulged in one fad after another. The newspaper became a weird hothouse growing things that could never live outside.

A similar thing has happened to our entertainment rackets and our politics. Cable is essentially a monopoly. ESPN gets $8 a month from 150 million homes in America whether they watch or not and about 80% do not watch. That lets ESPN engage in deranged jackassery like tranny rights campaigns. The Food Network is on basic and gets a buck a month from cable fees. You can put on all sorts of weird food shows when you start with a guaranteed billion dollar revenue stream.

That’s what has happened with our politics, I think. For the last three decades, at least, it has been a closed system with no real competition. Both sides debated how much socialism and cultural Marxism they would inflict on the country. The Left would open the debate at 10 and the Right would offer 5 and they would settle in between. That’s how we went from telling AIDS jokes to jailing Christian bakers in the blink of eye. There was never a competition.

Nature abhors the lack of competition. The newspaper monopolies collapsed as soon as the hothouse doors were swung open. The inevitable break up of cable bundling will vaporize much of what we currently have on our television systems. Our politics, of course, is facing a similar threat. The hothouse doors have been flung open and many of the prettiest flowers on display have wilted. The Titum Arum opposing Trump is suddenly facing conditions for which it was not designed.

33 thoughts on “Hothouse Foodies

  1. Not to comment on the politics of it but I’ve always been a big fan of Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” because he doesn’t go nutsnutsnuts. The shows are usually about the how and whys of cooking (i.e. the science) and then the recipes show you how to cook a good dish well. I learned how to dry age steak in my fridge from that show and for that alone I will be an Alton fan.

  2. Pingback: Saturday morning links - Maggie's Farm

  3. I miss the old Cajun, Justin Wilson. I can still remember him telling those crazy stories while making up some feast, ” Now les see, how bout we make us some of this hear roux, I think I need another taste of dis wine, Now,, need jus this much salt{ while using his hand to measure kit} for the roux, folks le me tell you about the time me and Bobby was down fishin on the bayou, Jounny, he say, got a big bite, and I say Jounny, that aint nothin but an old gar, and he say….}” and on it would go like that thru the lesson.
    he was unique

    • And “Moderation in everything….including moderation.”

      I once saw her at my then supermarket in Montecito, CA, barreling into the parking lot, packed into the tiniest red car with her little husband. She was a very large woman. She more than filled the driver seat side of the car. Paul Child got what was left. A sweetly comical sight.

  4. CS Lewis spoke of the sin of “delicacy” and this foodie business would fit right in. He explained that the person who imagines themselves far too delicate or far too enlightened to eat the food before them, will make everyone around them revolve around his private preferences. My vegan boss does this to all of us. We cannot go out to lunch at a great burger joint unless it has vegan options. Barbeque is never an option for us. Luckily we all like Asian food. It’s a small thing… we can each eat what we want when he’s not around, but still, it’s the assumption that we must bow to his virtue-signalling.

  5. Agree (mostly) on the wine comments. I like dry reds, and when people ask me advice, and they do, though I don’t know why, I tell them a good wine is one YOU like, regardless of cost or other people’s opinions. My wife likes sweet wines. Pretty much if she likes a wine, I don’t, and vice versa, though there are quite a few we both detest.

    As for food in our house, it usually tastes a little different then the same food in other people’s houses. A lot of it has to do with having kids. Something I discovered is that the more a food tastes like dessert, the more likely it will be eaten. Ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, and/or allspice get added to a lot of recipes.

  6. Food artistry seems like a first-world indulgence to me. I enjoy a tasty steak with the best of them, but generally consider food as fuel & not something to spend a lot of time preparing. 5 mins a side over a hot grill = dinner.

    On the other hand, I thought this was a great description of how we got here:
    “The Left would open the debate at 10 and the Right would offer 5 and they would settle in between. That’s how we went from telling AIDS jokes to jailing Christian bakers in the blink of eye.”
    That’s exactly how it happened.
    Legislation (or is it politics?) is the art of compromise, I think someone said. Unfortunately, when all was said and done, the compromising tended to slope in only one direction.
    …and here we are.

  7. I seriously loathe the word “foodie”. So pretentious. My 9 year old daughter loves cooking shows, especially the ones with kids, like Rachel Ray Kids’ Cook-Off and Master Chef Junior. The kids on these shows range from 8-12 years old. Who knows if they’re really doing all that cooking? We laugh about the manufactured drama. I miss Julia Child; now that was a cooking show!

  8. “I call this “turf and turf”, a sixteen ounce t-bone and a 24 ounce Porterhouse, also whisky and a cigar. I am going to consume all of this because I am a free American”

    Nuf sed.

  9. “……..Food tasting, like wine tasting is mostly bullshit…….”
    Some time ago a university professor examined the wine testing results of competitions in California. He found, surprise, surprise, that the “best” wines in one competition would not even place near the top in subsequent competitions, even if held only a week apart.
    There was zero consistency of results in testing wines.
    A really great movie that deals with wine testing is BOTTLE SHOCK, which is based on a true story.

    There is no doubt that really crappy wines would be judged crap but almost anybody – even me, and I have zero wine knowledge. But above, say, 10 bucks a bottle, they all taste just fine (with the exception of Pennsylvania wines; they taste really bad).
    My wife buys the wine we drink and I cannot for the life of me tell the difference betwixt a 10 buck bottle vs a 25 buck bottle.

    • When I was a young man just starting out, I was given some number crunching tasks that resulted in me getting invited to a company dinner with all the big shots. I guess they were feeling good about things because the boss ordered a $1500 bottle of wine. It tasted like every other wine to me, but I was a kid and just assumed I lacked the sophistication to know good wine. Later, the boss asked me how I liked the wine and I told him that he probably paid $1500 for ten dollar wine. He laughed and said, “But everyone at the table will talk about that bottle of wine like it was the greatest thing they every tasted. That’s why you spend the money.”

      I always liked that guy.

      • I loved the little informal “wine tasting” that my then roommate-by-marriage and wine aficionado (this was the late 70s) set up for a visiting wine “expert”. In with the paper wrapped Haut Brion and other upmarket wines was a a bottle of red I’d picked up from a 98 cent sale bin at our wine store.

        Guess which one the expert liked best?

        Those were interesting times.

  10. I know nothing about foodies, but you’ve nailed academia, Zman. I remember sitting through my first graduate school seminar. I was first amused, then perturbed, then horrified, by the realization that they actually believe this stuff. They think we’re actually on the frontlines of The Revolution here, and we’re no-foolin’ Bringing Down Capitalism by making bored undergraduates write words like “cisgender” all over their midterms. I remember hearing a feminist going on about how men’s supposedly superior strength is an artifact of the Patriarchy… when the campus gym was not five minutes away. I spent the rest of the seminar trying to calculate, to the nearest gigawatt, how much energy they have to expend daily to avoid encountering reality. It takes more advanced math than I have at my command, but it’s surely a hell of a lot.

    • That trend you witnessed is especially bad in the most prestigious US law schools where every professor wants to be the coolest guy with radical theories or the femNazi with a cause. 99% of the law students all feel the need to parrot their professors, if only to get good grades but a surprising number actually believe in the nonsense preached.

  11. The only cooking show I’ve ever watched and truly enjoyed was the original Japanese version of Iron Chef – part surreal manga and part blood sport:

    My favorite character is Chairman Kaga, a megalomaniacal Bond villain (if Mao was a foodie and had Prince’s fashion sense) who presides over culinary battles at his Colosseum of gastronomy, aka Kitchen Stadium.

    The US version is just celebrity chefs exposed for the wankers they are. As The Donald would say: “Sad.”

    • The Japanese have great game shows. They make the desire to be on TV a reason to punish.

      • If you can find it, try out “MXE (Most Extreme Elimination)”, a Japanese game show with fake English narration. Hilarious.

      • Parodied years ago on The Simpsons, when they went to Japan and ended up on a sadistic game show. The host introduced the rules by telling them [insert George Takei doing mock Japanese accent], “American game shows reward knowledge. In Japan, we punish ignorance!”

  12. The most entertaining cooking show ever? “Two Fat Ladies”.Hilariously irreverent. Always ended up plopped down somewhere with a drink. And then off on their motor/sidecar.

    • That was one of the more authentic cooking shows. Their food looked like what you would make in your kitchen.

  13. i generally agrees as to the pretentious nature of most cooking shows. They are, however, moments worthy of your interest but, perhaps, not for the reason intended by the maker.

    in this regard, I highly recommend an obscure PBS program called “Modern Scandinavian Cooking”. As I have watched the few episodes I’ve came across, I’ve often found myself wondering is the whole thing was a very deep parody of cooking shows. To begin with, it is set in a region with possibly the worst ethnic food in the world, rivaling even the British. The ingredients and preparations are revolting. (i.e. , One episode visited an island with no trees, yet it was famous for it’s smoked meat. Smoked with dung. As the host noted, “That does give it a unique, pungent taste.”). Also, quite often it looks like the host, an Englishman of course, will grimace upon tasting such treats a Icelandic scyr, a spoiled milk product (“My, that is bitter.”). Round that all off with delicacies such as Norwegian lutefisk (dried cod marinated in lye) and you clearly have a hit on your hands.

    • Every time I see it I think it should be given a new, Southern Gothic pronunciation, something like “Kwaaaiii-nooah”.

      As in, “Please pass the kwaaaiiinooah, Miss Scarlett”.

      • It’s pronounced “kwin-owe-ah”. If you wanted it pronounced “keenwah” you should’ve damn well spelled it that way.

  14. People eat in the direction they would one day like to be. Kale, sushi, quinoa (pronounced KWin-Noah) and any other gastronomic horse shit is just virtue signalling. The same as craft beer. It is a way to sound more clever than mum and dad. The great ironies are that young people are cooking lees than ever despite watching shows on TV. Why? Because they don’t have time to cook. They have an hour to watch MKR though. Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the public.

  15. The pithy posters will show up later. I’ll just say that you have the most uncanny knack for hitting right on the things we’re all thinking and then giving them your own little twist. Nailing them. So good! (as they say on the foodie sites). You’ve become a daily habit.

Comments are closed.