02cover-395 Julia Child is back in the news as Nora Ephron’s new movie Julie & Julia is spread over more column inches than any movie I can remember.  Hundreds of news stories and even coverage on Sunday’s NYTimes Op-Ed page.  Enough already!  Great movie, but stop reading about it—wait to see the thing!  What’s the reason for this astonishing coverage of a story about two women cooking?

I think it's because we miss Julia, a force of nature who told us something new and valuable, qualities that are hard to come by in the sea of dump-and-stirs that fill our screens today.

Michael Pollan opens his long essay in the NYTimes magazine about the end of home cooking and what it means, with his memories of watching Julia and the positive impact she had on his dinner table thanks to a mom who liked to cook after watching Julia.  It’s a thoughtful piece sparked by the question “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?”  Much of the material will be familiar, the trajectory of food television from Julia to Giada and Iron Chef (Buford wrote a long story on the rise of food television in the New Yorker nearly three years ago).  Not till last quarter of Pollan's story does his real and salient point become clear.

The dire news that even as food television grows in popularity, researchers continue to find that fewer people cook at home than ever and what time they do spend preparing food at home, is more likely to be heating stuff that some other company cooked and packaged for them (the frozen PB & J sandwich is one of the more hilarious-if-it-weren’t-so-pathetic examples).  Pollan spends a lot of time describing his dispiriting conversation with “veteran food-marketing researcher, Harry Balzer,” who basically argues that the way we’re eating now—microwaving pizzas and Lean Cuisines, buying canned stock and boxed cake mix—will only, and inevitably, grow more entrenched.

Isn’t there any way we can bring America back to the days of Julia and the pleasures of cooking, Pollan asks?  Balzer says, “Not going to happen.  Why?  Because we’re cheap and lazy.  And besides, the skills are already lost.  Who’s going to teach the next generation to cook?  I don’t see it.

What he does see is who the next American cook will be: The Supermarket.  That’s who will be cooking our food.

Balzer is wrong, of course.  Many, many people are cooking.  Most of the people reading this, for instance, are committed cooks.  As are the gazillions of readers clicking on Simply Recipes and 101Cookbooks looking for honest home cooking.

I must here make a distinction that surely will be debated.  Since we are unlikely ever to get rid of the unfortunate term “foodie,” I would be grateful if we could separate people who like to cook from foodies.  I have nothing against foodies, I hope it's clear.  But we should recognize that they are a distinct species, and some people are both foodie and cook.  Foodies are the first to hit the newest restaurant, or to plan a trip based on restaurant destinations; they’re are the first to order the coolest new ingredient and make sure you know it.  Foodies love to talk about food and cooking. Foodies watch food television with their pants around their ankles and buy The French Laundry Cookbook for the pictures.  Foodie is a social distinction, not a judgement.  Cooks, on the other hand, cook; they like to cook, they enjoy the work and like feeding others and take pride in various successes in the kitchen, whether it’s their first mayonnaise or a Rachael Ray recipe, and they are not daunted by failure.  (There is a third species, someone who does not like to cook, but loves to eat.  This is called being human.)

More people are cooking now than in decades.  But Balzer says Pollan should get over it and accept it as progress, that what people call cooking is actually reheating.  “Do you miss sewing and darning socks?” he asks Pollan.

He has a  point.  I'm glad I don't have to make my own clothes.  Getting food used to be very hard.  I’d be bummed if every Monday night I had to catch, kill, de-feather and eviscerate the chicken I wanted to roast.

Happily, buying food in this bountiful country is very easy, so no one should be complaining about how hard it is to cook.  And that is all Julia was telling us, that it’s not that hard and the rewards are vast.  Ironically, because food is so plentiful, we’ve forgotten what a joy cooking can be.

The most important point of Pollan’s article comes from Richard Wrangham’s compelling book Catching Fire, which argues that we became who we are by cooking our food.  (I mentioned the book here, in a post about the “soulcraft” of cooking, also very much related to what Pollan is getting at.) 

It was the cooking of food that allowed our bodies to absorb more nutrients and our brains to get big.  It allowed culture to form and even social arrangements such as dinnertime where we all ate what one of us spent time cooking; it probably even resulted in marriage (a kind of primitive protection racket, in Wrangham’s words). We’re really the only animal that does it, that cooks.  That alone says a lot.

Pollan makes the humorous point that the way we eat today, on the go, in the car, walking between appointments, missing meals or simply eating alone, was exactly how our hunter ancestors ate before they figured out how to cook.  Progress, eh?

Interestingly, Balzer told Pollan that the only kind of cooking that’s on the rise is grilling.  So, we’re sort of starting over, charring animal flesh over fire.  I kept hearing in my head while writing Wooden Boats words from Dave Matthews that apply to planks-on-frames and cooking both: “Progress takes away what forever took to find.”

Finally, 6,000 words into his 7,000 word story, we get to Pollan’s real premise and real issue: “If cooking is central to human identity and culture as Wegman [and I and Pollan] believes, it stands to reason that the decline of cooking in our time would have a profound effect on modern life.

Indeed.  One of those effects is a society that is increasingly overweight and unhealthy.  “The more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower its rate of obesity,” Pollan writes.

But in addition to the health crisis our food has  there is the spiritual identity crisis we feel because we’ve stopped cooking, a disconnection to the things that matter most.

This is probably why foodies emerged.  One of the effects among a certain segment of the population who recognized that we were losing something essential to our nature became foodies, those who turn food, chefs, food-entertainers, and cooking equipment into fetishes—that is, they accord them some kind of magical power.  Another segment of our culture who also recognized that we were losing something essential to our humanity learned to cook, out of books, from their moms or grandmothers, from other cooks.  And more and more are learning every day.

Was it an accident of history that Julia Child appeared on the scene just as our food processing giants exploded onto the scene?   No: she was exactly what we needed and enough people recognized this to make her a meaningful star.

Julia was the person who told this latchkey 9-year-old that he could make a pie. I turned off the TV that afternoon, and made that pie and have been cooking since.  And she continues that work, not in the form of the dump-and-stir programs on the Food Network and PBS but in the multitude of food bloggers out there, who are actually cooking and sharing their stories and photographs and their recipes and most of all their passion.  We are not seeing the end of home cooking.  I believe we have just begun to cook, and not a moment too soon.

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122 Wonderful responses to “Julie & Julia, Foodie & Cook”

  • codfish

    I have nothing against foodies, I hope it’s clear.
    I’m not even sure I know what a foodie is, but it is not clear, given this passive-aggressive description:

    Foodies watch food television with their pants around their ankles and buy The French Laundry Cookbook for the pictures.

    compared to this exultant one:

    they enjoy the work and like feeding others and take pride in various successes in the kitchen, whether it’s their first mayonnaise or a Rachael Ray recipe, and they are not daunted by failure,

    that you have nothing against foodies.

  • CVB

    Thanks for a beautifully written essay on cooks. Despite having foodie in my blog title (had to go for alliteration), I’m a cook, and work had to make that distinction clear. I teach to that middle group – the group that wants to learn to make stocks, and pasta, and bake really great bread, and ease them into making their own dinners accessible and delicious. Those that want to do nothing more than talk about food and eat, but have no idea of the work that goes into a really amazing meal grow tiresome. Your commentary is dead-on (especially the “pants around the ankles” part), and I’m sure I’ll be quoting it often.

  • Elaine

    Michael, thank you for this post. I am a cook, not a chef, certainly not a “foodie”, I originally typed “doodie” Freudian, do you think? Anyway, I love to cook and most of my recipes these days come from some of the most wonderful women, and a few men, on the internet. They are food bloggers and I daily receive many posts, yours included, which I wait for, often with bated breathe, knowing that I will find at least one amazing recipe I MUST try.

    This Balzar guy is a complete asshole and I generally do not say that about someone I do not personally know, but from what I read, the word suits. Where does he get off calling us “cheap and lazy”? If he is a “veteran” food marketing researcher, just when does he pull his head out long enough to get a real picture of the new world of cooking? The first food blog I read was 101 Cookbooks and I was hooked. Came across Simply Recipes not too long after and found another friend. Thank you for mentioning all of the food bloggers out there, giving of their time and energy to give people like me a new way to learn how to cook, now that people like my grandma are gone and my mom, who is 80, soon will be. We are not all blessed with those women in our lives and thank the gods for the food bloggers who can do the best they can to take their places.

  • Kat D.

    Thank you so much for making the distinction between foodies and cooks! If it weren’t for copyright laws I think I would reprint it on a t-shirt so people could stop calling me a foodie. I have always loved food, cooking, eating, etc., and although foodies do have their place in society I am not one! Although I appreciate new restaurants, new ingredients, new cookbooks, I cook because I love food, love to eat, love to serve and nothing more. Thanks again!

  • LB

    The simple and sole reason” Julie and Julia” is splashed all over the media has nothing to do with our supposed fascination and longing for “real” cooking. It’s a function of Nora Ephron being personal friends with virtually every magazine and newspaper editor in New York.

  • S Carrico

    I was laid off from a boring office job in January, and in June finally took the 401(k)-less plunge I haven’t had the balls to take since I started my love affair with food 5 years ago [I'm 26] – I became a line cook. In a Basque restaurant. After I started work, a chef friend of mine sent me a note saying, “No one can call you a foodie anymore – you’re legit, now.” This isn’t to say I ever felt illegitimate before, but the first time I came home at 3:00 a.m. covered in 5 layers of God knows what and sank into bed, I certainly felt different.

    I would say it’s a good sign if college-educated food enthusiasts are switching careers at the quarter-life mark for the sake of feeding folk. Better yet, I still cook at home… as long as I make it there at a decent hour.

  • Jim-49

    I’m Sorta young,60 years,but thank the “Great Father Above”,for Julia Child,the Two Fat Ladies(loved them all my Life)!! Cooking Grandmothers,mothers,fathers,many real good foodpeople online!! I cook everyday,and teach two grandkids,until pushing up those daisy’s!! Someone,has to make food worth eating,not out of the can,and make memories!! Thank you for your sites,and work!!

  • Gabriela (gabrielaskitchen)

    Thank you Mr. Ruhlman. You just stated everything for which I could not find the words! I’m a home cook not a foodie, but I could never explain to myself or other (foodies/food bloggers) why that term bothered me. I refuse to fetishize food. Also, people have the misconception that from scratch non-dump-n-stir has to be time consuming and complicated…it doesn’t. I cook most everything from scratch and still have time to take a stroll in the park, watch a movie, entertain, blog and work 40 hours a week. Simple and fresh is the key to cooking, at leat for me!

  • Jim Wolper

    I watch very little TV, and most of what I watch is food. We draw a clear distinction between the cooking shows we watch for entertainment (either for a charismatic host or attractive hostess) and those we watch for instruction. Our household menu evolves because of the latter; the former is ephemeral entertainment. We refer to Food Network as “Boobs Network,” since breasts (and I don’t mean boneless skinless chicken breasts) seem to be a primary focus.

    There are TV shows that really show the textures and techniques and sights and sounds of cooking, better than the internet. I have adapted recipes from Rick Bayless, Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, and, of course, Julia Child (whom I watched from the very beginning) for our family meals. That’s what Pollan missed: some people really do cook this stuff!

    But Pollan has a point: take a look at what people are buying at the grocery store. The prepackaged meals are popular!

    This week I’m going back to Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art…” to make the chocolate cake at the end of volume one. I’ll make it with my daughter. Enough said?

  • mirinblue

    Sheeesh! I find it odd that something so very basic and nuturing has become such a highly debated issue! We grow, we cook, we eat, we teach.

    Teaching a son or daughter to cook should be part of the “basic training” of childhood. I mean, after all, we teach them to read, to tie shoes, to make beds when they are young. As they get a bit older, we teach them to clean, to do laundry, to cook. We teach them manners and respect. I don’t know-it’s just so obvious.

  • Brian

    I feel that the wholesale decline in cooking in America is from a lack of will and desire to wash dirty dishes. Did you ever notice that no one cleans dishes on cooking shows.

    And the motivation behind most packaged, take out, or super market deli and hot bar meals stems from disposable, dish washing free packaging. After all most of these foods are bad. Even the novice home cook could do better then more packaged meals.

    I say we need to get back into the kitchen and back into the dish sink as well.

  • Alex

    Brilliant points. I cook for all of the reasons you’ve written above, and because I am passionate about the creative enterprise. I’m also labeled a foodie (by others), usually knowing the what, where, and why of the top restaurants in town. Part of this is because I formerly worked in restaurants, and grew up in a family of servers and line cooks – it’s in my blood. But mostly I am a foodie so that I can learn, and use that learning to entertain myself and my loved ones. I can’t think of anything more human.

  • Tags

    Maybe things aren’t so bad out there?

    If you need an example of why cooking is going away, just look at what happened to farming. Good luck finding a fruit or vegetable tasty enough to even be called a shell of its former self. It’s hardy or it’s never planted.

    If we don’t act soon, it’ll be just as hard to find a good cooked meal as it is to find a tasty piece of fruit.

  • Sugar Apple

    I’m not sure I buy into the argument that cooking is a lost skill no one cares to learn any longer. My experience is that we aren’t in such dire straits.

    My father was visiting a few months ago and my daughter made a ragu from scratch. We’re now in the States visiting my family and my dad was so impressed that he’s asked her to make the pasta for the whole family – that’s an 11-year-old proudly cooking a meal from scratch for 13 people.

    My daughter’s fifth grade class went on a three-day camping trip and each tent had to buy and prepare their own food. Sure, some resorted to boxed mac-n-cheese and packages of luncheon meat. But most of them bought ingredients, not packages, and prepared meals for themselves. Simple ingredients, sure. But they cooked real food. I’ve seen one of her classmates catch, dress and grill a fish on the beach.

    Yes, my daughter has grown up in the kitchen with me (and my husband who is probably an even better cook than I am). But she’s not alone in her love for food and cooking. When her friends come for sleepovers they often end up making us their specialty for breakfast. One makes killer cheesy scrambled eggs. Another makes English pancakes, served with a sprinkling of lemon juice and sugar.

    And my most of grownup friends cook real food too. Maybe, just maybe, things aren’t so bad out there.

  • Kanani

    Jeannie is right.
    Julia would never make it through the first round in Food Network’s Next Star. Neither would Graham, the Frugal Gourmet, the Two Fat Ladies or that other guy from the UK (I can’t remember his name).

    As for being busy –none of those things are forced upon on us. The committee meetings, the driving kids to and fro, the this and the that. Those are of our own design, and unless we pay attention –we’re destined to instant meals and food bills that make our budgets shatter. Cooking is a priority in my house –though am increasingly shocked that most of the kids at daughter’s school seem to live off convenience food.

  • Michele Niesen

    Ah, I LOVE Foodies! They have feathered the nest I sit in now, overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains as the sun shall sink and I shall drink my single vineyard wine and partake of my heirloom vegetable garden and wait for the fireflies…maybe a lap in the pool…

    No, let’s not ground the foodies. They keep us chef people in business. There is a fantasy to the life of a chef, the magic of a REALLY great cook that transcends all of us. But this is America folks and our traditions stem from Vegas, Hollywood, NYC and people with money. It’s only been in the last few years of moving to a rural place that I have started to see the tradition of pickling, putting up, farming for dinner and survival not just because it sounds cool.

    And yea, I have a friend or two who like to talk a bunch of jive about first pressed this and heritage raised that…and I know that in my heart of hearts they don’t know a Johnson Brat from an Ossabaw chacuterie, but let them have their fun. We work for them! They pay us. Those who CAN, do. Those who CAN’T? Go out to dinner and watch movies about it. Let them! Let them!

  • luis

    Not really Diane… there are some up and coming businesses which provide folks with a prep kitchen and the pantry so they can make their dishes and take home to finish.
    This is waaaaaaaaaay more economical like 5:1 savings, HEY Rhulman another one for your next printing of RATIO.
    Obviously if you have spices and veggies and meats laying around you don’t have to vacuum freeze or watch spoil… the savings there is TREMENDOUS. Plus you get to trade notes with the other folks there… This is a GOOD THING.

  • Sugar Apple

    I’m not sure I buy into the argument that cooking is a lost skill no one cares to learn any longer. My experience is that we aren’t in such dire straits.

    My father was visiting a few months ago and my daughter made a ragu from scratch. We’re now in the States visiting my family and my dad was so impressed that he’s asked her to make the pasta for the whole family – that’s an 11-year-old proudly cooking a meal from scratch for 13 people.

    My daughter’s fifth grade class went on a three-day camping trip and each tent had to buy and prepare their own food. Sure, some resorted to boxed mac-n-cheese and packages of luncheon meat. But most of them bought ingredients, not packages, and prepared meals for themselves. Simple ingredients, sure. But they cooked real food. I’ve seen one of her classmates catch, dress and grill a fish on the beach.

    Yes, my daughter has grown up in the kitchen with me (and my husband who is probably an even better cook than I am). But she’s not alone in her love for food and cooking. When her friends come for sleepovers they often end up making us their specialty for breakfast. One makes killer cheesy scrambled eggs. Another makes English pancakes, served with a sprinkling of lemon juice and sugar.

    And my most of grownup friends cook real food too. Maybe, just maybe, things aren’t so bad out there.

  • Martha

    Michael – Thanks so much for this post, especially the last few paragraphs. Making food approachable and not intimidating is exactly what Julia did best and what we all love her for.

    I agree with the Julie/Julia over-saturation but as opposed to Virginia Willis’ rant from a few days ago, I appreciate your approach to the argument. In Virginia’s mind, those without culinary pedigree have no business discussing food. But how can we bring cooking back to the home if it’s phrased only as a subject fit for “experts” or food snobs? The larger the conversation, education aside, the greater the outcome.

  • Jeannie

    Julie and Julia opens today in Chicago so plan to see it this weekend. Did not read the NYT article.
    Yes, I did grow up with snippets of Julia on TV although I don’t remember much of it, just that she laughed at herself a lot. ANd I grew up with a mother who never let me move past chopping the carrots and she worked so was always pressed for time cooking dinner, but she did make her casseroles all the time. We were always in front of the TV, there just were not as many program alternatives.
    As usual, an insightful commentary and I most appreciate when you post, classic dishes or items, like quiche, mayonnaise, popcorn or popovers. I know, I have your other books, I do need to buy Ratio!!!
    2 quick thoughts, 1) Julia would not even make it to the first round of the Next Food Network Star, I think kind of sad but probably true. The networks are focused on viewership, so unfortunately they feed(No pun intended) the same demographic that could use some food enlightening with what they WANT to see not what might actually be useful. It is kind of like a meat industry guy at a conference who said he went with the turkey sausage but his customers didn’t like the taste, so he feeds them what tastes good.
    Secondly, TIME, with all the electronic media at our fingertips, and all the more people in the world, people are busy, horrendous commutes, traffic to go to the grocery store, pick up children, etc and just don’t allocate or see the value of committing time to cooking, And they are so exhausted they just want something quick and TV or computers allow them to zone out and not have to DO anything, I don’t mean to paint a bleak picture, it is not this way for everyone but for a lot.
    But I have noticed people making their own beer, maybe this has gone on for awhile but for some reason it has come up on my radar. Realize it is not Cook, cooking but it is related.

  • Kanani

    Oh! And how could I forget about The Two Fat Ladies? They were grand!

    As for cooking …3 squares a day are produced in my house. I’d like to go out more, but budget prohibits it… and I am really picky about what I eat.

  • Kanani

    Julia Child:
    When I was a kid I watched her, The Galloping Gourmet and later, The Frugal Gourmet. These were the 3 available on PBS, and when I think of the combination of personalities, I laugh. They were all so different. Graham had the most ingratiating smile, and would dance with a glass of wine. Julia seemed like a headmistress in a kitchen who leaned on her knife. And the Frugal Gourmet could get so pissy… it was worth seeing if he’d blow up from time to time.

    But does anyone else remember this old British guy who’d barrel around the country making snide remarks? I think he was the original Lyon in the kitchen –though I can’t be sure. He was divine and outrageous.

  • Carrie

    I think food blogs are changing the home cooking world. Any of you food bloggers who are worried that you see less readership, just take a look at the enormous number of food blogs out there right now. It’s not that there are fewer readers, just more blogs! Because there seems to be a huge demand for them right now.

    Never having seen Julia Child or Jacques Pepin on TV, I’ve gotten the majority of my useful food knowledge from blogs, and I have a feeling that the majority of my generation does too. Food porn on TV totally serves its purpose – if not for No Reservations and Iron Chef I would never have known who Ruhlman was. And thank goodness I found this blog, because otherwise I wouldn’t have Ratio and we would still be eating Totino’s pizza and Oscar Meyer bacon! LOL

    I don’t think it really matters what’s on TV anymore really – the internet is where we go now to learn something. It’s much more user friendly. So don’t despair old school cooks! There are plenty of newbies like myself who are learning to cook for ourselves thanks to your blog posts.

    I can’t speak to general trends in home cookery, and I don’t trust statistics. (Sorry to discount all your arithmeticing BdG – still don’t buy it! LOL) As poor and fat as everyone is getting the pendulum has to swing back the other way at some point. As I see new farmer’s markets popping up around me and add a new food blog per week to my favorites list, I can’t help but think the pendulum is swinging in a good, very tasty direction right now.

  • Jaim

    Julia had me baking young also. I do nearly everything from scratch now for my own kids. With half the trouble.

    Mom just -didn’t- cook.

  • Kate in the NW

    Okay this is a bit of a non sequitur, but I was just making dinner and I have more prosciutto than I know what to do with right now…since you’re such an advocate of charcuterie, how about a post sometime on creative ways to use all this stuff???!!!

    Tonight it’s “leftover pizza” – all homemade, natch (I don’t post about all the take-out food!) – - gluten-free crust frozen at a more productive time in my life and defrosted for tonight,
    - the last of the pesto,
    - half a walla-walla sweet onion left from last night,
    - half of an orange bell pepper (also left over,
    - the remains of a roast chicken,
    - odds and ends of hard, sharp cheeses, grated (no mozzarella, sorry…)
    - a bunch of prosciutto,
    - and the very last of an excellent balsamic reduction drizzled over the top.

    Not bad, BUT I STILL HAVE MORE PROSCIUTTO!!!

    HELP!

  • Blake

    Briefly, since so many have already written my exact thoughts… I’m a voracious home cook who is sometimes asked how I learned to cook. (My brother actually asked me this, so that goes to show that environment wasn’t necessarily the cause of my cooking interests…) Anyway, I thought about it, and I have to say that early, PBS-type cooking shows were so incredibly informative to me. I learned so much. Proper knife skills? Thank you, Jacques Pepin. What is a “proper” omelette (rather than the over-browned 8-egg monsters)? Merci, Julia Child. I could go on… but I have to say that not much on TV now does this for me — I have no use for watching someone else eat gargantuan fried monstrosities, while screaming rapturously into the camera. The only exceptions would, of course, be the professorial Alton Brown and –someone not mentioned here yet! — Jamie Oliver. His old shows used to bug the crap out of me (too much “bob’s your uncle” cuteness for my taste), but I have to say that, as a gardener and cook (not a foodie), I adore his “jamie at home” show, with its emphasis on the real pleasures of growing, cooking and eating your own meals at home. That’s real nourishment.

  • Tracey

    I got into food because I felt it deepened my connection with humanity – and yet I’ve never heard it described that way before. Food is one of the most basic parts of human existence. I also feel that cooking, kind of like they say in yoga, is a “practice”. That is, you can cook all your life and you will never master every aspect of every kind of cooking — it is something you can improve upon indefinitely. There is always something to learn. It’s fascinating.

  • Susan

    Foodies watch food television with their pants around their ankles

    How dirty, Michael – but how true, unfortunately. I can only speak for myself and say that while I am a bit of a restaurant whore, I just love food, and cooking, to me, is the best part of food. Like Pollan, I have memories of watching Julia Child, Jacques Pepin and the Frugal Gourmet on public television with my mother and then by myself. As a kid I loved reading my mother’s McCall’s cookbook as if it was a Judy Blume book, and to this day, I love experimenting in the kitchen. I had such high hopes when stores such as Whole Foods opened here in New York – to see them focus more and more on prepared foods (even NYC instituions such as Zabar’s are doing this!) saddens me. People have forgotten the joy of a simmering pot of soup, or the sense of anticipation of waiting all day while a pot of flanken braises on or in the oven for hours. Helping my mother bake, my aunt teaching me to make kreplach from scratch – and grinding the meat myself – were invaluable experiences that have shaped me as a cook.

  • Scordo.com

    Very good post Michael – it’s the same philosophy that has informed my way of looking at food (which ultimately comes from my southern Italian parents from Calabria).

    Cheers,
    Vince

  • Karlis

    I wanted to thank you for this post, Michael, particularly for the links to the two thoughtful essays about food television and eating. I live in Latvia, where the New York Times is not available. There is Amazon, however, and I have read and enjoyed all of your books. I blush to confess that I only found your blog this evening. I have repented and will come back often.

  • applehome

    Thanks, Michael – some great insights here. The distinction between foodies and cook is important – it’s not necessarily a judgment or placement on some sort of values scale, but simply an analysis, something that helps us understand the social issues better. In my mind, the judgment doesn’t come about foodies – people who simply like food, but about the hypocrisy of those who purport to cook, but are actually mindless followers of corporate, prepared foods. Although those who eat at corporate chains are no better.

    Unfortunately, I don’t agree that the real cooks are growing. I was a long time Chowhounder – having posted and read there for more than 7 years. While the site was initially a restaurant review site, they had to create a home cooking board several years ago because of the number of people discussing cooking – this was great news. But over the last few years, mainly since the CNN/CBS takeover, it has become a copy of the TVFN site, where people celebrate boxed mac’n cheese as wonderful childhood memories, and where they exchange tips on how to serve doctored frozen burritos to your guests and be proud of it.

    That last bit was so overwhelmingly negative to me, my commentary was getting so caustic – I had to leave. I mean – we all take short cuts when we have to, even eat at BK drive thrus. But do we have to write about it? Encourage it? Celebrate it?

    So going by that one site (and admittedly it is a very narrow perspective), I’d say that the corporations are winning – they continue to convince more and more Americans, not only of the value of factory prepared foods, but of the righteousness, rather than the shame of the people who eat this way and who say that they are “cooking” this way.

    CBS, Howard/Scripps, Wal-mart, ADM, Cargill – even Cheesecake Factory win, we lose.

    But I can’t help remembering the scene in the Fifth Element where she puts this tiny pellet in the microwave looking unit and instantly pulls out this gorgeous roasted bird. I’m not quite sure that the corporations should quit working to make that happen…

  • MikeV

    Thank you! Pollan’s article hurt, because I’m one of the multitude of food bloggers you mention. I started my blog because I’m passionate about cooking, and I want to share that enthusiasm with anyone who will listen. After reading that article, I was wondering if I was just fighting against the tide.

    It’s good to hear that it’s not just my perspective. From where I stand, the tide has turned, and that we’re moving towards MORE home cooking, not less.

  • Sarah S.

    I love this post, and loved reading the Pollan article you’ve linked to.

    I do have one quibble with Pollan, though. He seems to draw a direct equation between the amount of time spent cooking and other factors like the quality of what is produced, the likelihood that the food is made from scratch, the commitment of the cook, etc. I’m very doubtful that this ratio necessarily has to hold up.

    Last night, for example, I fed my kids (mea culpa) frozen taquitos. Fifteen minutes to heat the oven. Fifteen minutes to bake the frozen processed faux food. Total time, 30 minutes.

    Tonight, we’ll have burgers done on the grill, squash and tomatoes from the garden, and grilled potatoes. Total time, probably right about 30 minutes.

    To judge the quality, the “from scratchness”, and the commitment each of these meals requires simply by the amount of time they take to prepare seems to me, to miss the point. It suggests that these meals are somehow “the same.”

    It also seems unnecessarily discouraging to those of us with jobs and kids and so on–who get home at 5:30 and need to have dinner on the table by 6. Articles that suggest that good, real cooking has to involve a major investment of time might scare off people who would be thrilled to have someone tell them that they could have a pasta dinner on the table in 1/4 the time it takes to order a pizza, and at 1/5 the cost.

    I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. You post on this sort of thing. I just wish Pollan had given a nod to *that* sort of cooking in the article. Because I love Julia’s Boeuf too…I just don’t have time to make it on a weekday.

    But I *do* have time to not feed my kids taquitos.

  • S. Woody

    By the way, I don’t know from where Balzer is pulling his research, but I hardly ever see a customer buying boxed cake mixes these days. The boxed banalities were popular in my youth, not so favored now. For celebrations, people are far more likely to get a freshly baked cake from the store’s bakery, hand-decorated by our Nancy, who is justifiably proud of her work. This harkens back to the European ideal of having specialists making the pasteries and baking the breads (and charcuting the charcuterie).

    Do I see a dumbing-down of pre-made cookies from Pillsbury? I remember slicing the rolls of dough and placing them on the cookie sheet – now letting kids handle knives is too scary, and the dough is pre-sliced. But I’m also seeing people buying the ingredients for making their own cookies, especially during the holidays.

    I tend to be optimistic, but this is what I’m seeing at the register.

  • S. Woody

    As a supermarket checker, I can tell you that most of the people I see buying Lean Cuisine (stuffing themselves with Stouffer’s?) are the elderly, who seem to have given up on their taste buds. The younger people, especially the mothers, are trending more towards the organic, towards soy, towards fresh produce.

    Does this mean these younger eaters have the time to make their own bread, their own stock? Uh, no. They look at me with wonder when I mention my baking experiments. But they are aware of what they are eating. Are they susceptable to the latest crazy crazes, like everything having to be gluten free? Yep… some of them are. But by and large they are trying to take better care of themselves and their families. They are open to suggestions.

    There are also those out there who hate cooking, and I’m not sure they don’t also hate eating. I’m related by lack-of-legal-marriage to some of them, and they are frustrating as hell thanks to their smug arrogance, their insistance that store-bought is every bit as good as home-made. This doesn’t stop them from being very happy whenever I make dinner for the family (a leg of lamb is due on Saturday, as we celebrate my life partner’s (and their Dad’s) birthday). Or maybe Dad and I are beginning to gnaw at the edges of their resistance.

    Maybe, if I’ve got enough time (four hours minimum, if it’s to be done right at all), I’ll take home-made bread along with the lamb to the birthday feast. They’ll probably stare at me, and at the loaf, not quite daring to ask “Why would you do that.” And maybe, just maybe, if they actually taste the bread, some glimmering of the answer to why will occur to them.

    Or not.

    (And yes, Michael, you’re the one who got me interested in baking bread. An example of trickle-down intellect, I suppose.)

  • Allen

    Ruhlman, you magnificent bastard! I read your book!

    I can’t wait to see something worth while this summer at the movies and this looks like a good one about a ground breaking chef like you Michael.

  • Diane

    Another thing that hasn’t been touched on is that we currently have a choice – processed assembly, take-out, or cook at home. The fact is that cook-at-home, and cook from scratch is often way cheaper than other options. As times get tighter, people may be forced to develop some more kitchen skills, because frankly they may not have an option. My grocery bill is super low – under $40/wk – and I buy fresh whole foods. But I know how to roast a chicken, cook a whole fish, and other basic skills. So skills are important. But so is experience and judgement. I don’t buy that expensive pre-packaged stuff. And I don’t know about Cleveland, but in San Francisco you can get rock cod for <$6/lb, trout and sand dabs for $5/lb, and squid for $2/lb. I don’t think I’ve ever bought fish for $26/lb nor would I.

  • luis

    Well for what is worth… I finally put up that spice rack next to the spice rack I already had.
    Now days spices are cheaper and bigger than ever. I bought five or six huge containers of spices at the Publix from Spice World. ONE DOLLAR ea. and tomorrow I am on an all day seminar so again I stopped at the PUBLIX for ready made sandwiches and stuff….Now the Julia Child in me is telling me to make tuna calzone since I have all kinds of crusts laying around in various stages of processing…. Now I feel like cooking and throwing away all that store bought ready shit…Lunchables…are chokables…bros.
    No matter what I don’t use the ducks and iguanas and dogs and birds luuuuve..to eat.
    And so it goes like everything else these days… sideways!

  • Tags

    I still think the Food Network could make a positive impact by having one or more of their de facto chefs go around the country giving block parties where everybody cooks and showing them concepts like mis en place and esprit de corps.

    There’s a lot of opportunity for “teaching moments” that could be modeled after Alice Waters’s Edible Schoolyard program.

    http://www.edibleschoolyard.org

  • Tags

    Maybe Michael could get involved and integrate his books like “Ratio,” “Charcuterie,” and “Elements of Cooking” into the mix.

  • Deanna

    I was raised by cook from scratch women. Processed food and eating out were expensive. That stuck with me and I started cooking more after several bad eating out experiences at both high end and low end eating establishments. I now cook what I like to eat and work it until it is exactly how I like it. I didn’t see Julia much, but use her books a lot. I also try to get much of my food locally. I can’t wait to watch the movie but never watch food network. Drives me crazy.

  • Kimberly Belle

    I’m a foodie who cooks. A cross-breed if you will, and I am also a foodie who blogs. Check it out and Eat it Up: http://www.kimberlybelle.com.

    I think Michael makes an interesting distinction in defining foodies, cooks and people who just love eating, as three different animals, but I’m not sure how important this distinction really is. What strikes me about the Julia Child hubbub, Pollan’s piece and Michael’s thoughtful response, is that indeed there is a vivid food blogging community out there that is inclusive of all three breeds.

    I believe that the moment is ripe for food consciousness and that the public is hungry for more, both on their plates and their media screens (on TV and online). I think people digest what they’re given to eat, and thus, it is the artist’s opportunity and the citizen’s responsibility to create a platform across all media outlets that gives the public “real” food, knowledge and entertainment to inspire joy in and out of the kitchen.

    Cheers,
    Kimberly Belle
    http://www.kimberlybelle.com
    http://www.dinnerbellenyc.com

  • Dick Black

    Not sure why you take such exception to the word “foodie” . Used more as a term of affection more than anything just like we refer to some nerdy types as “techies” or voracious readers as “bookworms”.

    I think you will find a great deal of people who can cook and cook well as well as refer to themselves as “foodies”.

  • Barbara

    Speaking of SemiHomemade, you have to read Mr.Bourdain’s blog about running into Sandra Lee at
    the Julie & Julia premier,
    over at the Trave Channel

  • Bob delGrosso

    A Ratio

    Data from the Nielsen Company* (http://tinyurl.com/lwbtfy) and “Out of the Kitchen and Onto the Couch” by Michael Pollan, NYTimes; 8/2 #

    *Time spent by Americans watching TV per month 153:27 hours or ~5.1 hours per day

    #Average of time spent by Americans preparing food per day 27 minutes or ~0.5 hours

    If I’ve done the math correctly these data yield a an average time TV viewing to “food prep” ratio of

    5:0.5

    I’m not trying to suggest that rather than cook, people are watching TV. But it sure seems like some of us are spending more time staring at the boob tube than we are spending cooking.

    The ratio becomes even more lopsided when you add in av time per day for internet use, texting, etc.

  • Tags

    Gradually removing the “Homemade” from Semi Homemade until you’re left with Semi Semi.

    Two halves making a hole.

  • Chance Dahms

    I like this artical because it dose define how people like to view them selfs from the Hipster Foodie who has to be the first to be their and do that.
    I am a chef and have been most of my life, but to me Chef is not correct, I am a Cook. I like to prepare food for people , I enjoy the pleasure they get from food that takes time to make. People need to get back to the kitchen and cook, not dump and serve.

  • El

    Hear Hear! The argument that cooking is dead as a foregone conclusion is erroneous and simply designed to belittle Michael Pollan and force an agenda. The darning socks issue represents faulty logic. It’s not a valid comparison.

    Any art can be lost and any art can be revived.

    Baker and cook.

  • Gary Allen

    Elissa,

    As usual, you asked THE key question.

    When the network started, they hadn’t created much “content” yet, so they ran a lot of old cooking shows (Julia, Dione Lucas, etc.). Gradually they added new material, some of it pretty informative (Alton Brown was especially good)… but much of it, usually from celebrity chefs, was burdened by misinformation and the culinary equivalent of old wive’s tales.

    How many times did we hear about “caramelization,” when the process they described was the Maillard reaction?

    How many times did the TV chef tell us that searing meat “sealed in the juices”?

    Eventually, the network got around the problem. Not by becoming better-informed, mind you, but by eliminating as much of the real cooking as possible. They took the notion of “semi-homemade,” then ran with it to the point where virtually no one cooks on the food network anymore. It’s become the video equivalent of the recipes found on the back of ready-made sauces at the grocery store.

    No doubt the network’s analysts of demographics realized that there are far more non-cooks than foodies who cook, and recommended the wholesale deletion of meaningful content.

    The bitter irony is that the original content they aired (Julia, et.al.), that they got for practically nothing, was far better than the endless survivor-competitions they produce today.

    Really… does anyone really care “who is going to be the next food TV star?”

    Not me.

  • blotzphoto

    “MR, you have it right when you state that the importance of Julia Child was that she got you off into the couch and into the kitchen.”

    I can’t possibly be the only person here who has a TV in their kitchen, can i?

    I think wayyy too much invective is being heaped on the “dump and stir” cooking shows for no other reason than they present an easy target. Rachel ray and Giada are NOT part of the problem!
    Where the fck did this insult come from anyways. How else do you make puttanesca?

  • Bob delGrosso

    Now that I’ve had a little time to re-read Pollan’s article and think about this I am sure that

    1) the number of true cooks (people who, like myself and many of you, who grow, sometimes kill, and butcher their own food) is not growing faster than it is diminishing (attrition is higher than recruitment)

    2) the number of people who
    feed on processed and restaurant food while sating their desire for scratch-cooked food by reading about or watching it on TV and the web will continue to grow as it parallels the ascendancy of junk culture in all sectors of cultural life, and our species growing desire to experience life through virtual, rather than direct experience.

  • Elissa Altman

    Brilliant, Michael. Wonderful—But why isn’t anyone at all talking about what the Food Network was supposed to be when it was FIRST on air?

  • Ivete

    Hear hear! You’re preaching to the choir of course, as most of us who read your blog are foodies AND cooks, but I couldn’t agree with you more.

    I do think that people today are less likely to cook if they feel they’re not good at it though. Now that buying ready-made is so easy, I know plenty of “busy” people who can’t be bothered to cook poorly (or much less, learn to cook slightly better) and choose conveniently-tasty alternatives.

    I think it’ll be interesting to see how many people go back to cooking as the economy continues to suck . . .

  • deeba

    Oh dear I have SO MUCH to say, but a lot of water has already flowed under the bridge…just sayin’!Balzer is wrong, of course…we are a new generation of passionate cooks, call us foodie cooks or cooking foodies. We push our limits, we challenge ourselves & we are innovative. We are ready to spend 2 hours or more trying to bring the meal to perfection! We are a generation of Daring Bakers & Daring Cooks…& all this has moved beyond America!
    This is a great post! I loved reading it!

  • Pimenton

    Great food for thought, Ruhlman. I’d been struck by how much news this movie was making, and I think you and Pollan point to some of the big reasons. As far as the number of people cooking, I’m intrigued to see a demographic or age breakdown. I’m in my mid-20s, and the vast majority of my friends spend significant time in the kitchen, and most seem to have joined a CSA. Granted, none of us have children to take care of, a common reason for less time spent cooking, but from my unscientific polling, it would appear that this age group has seen a surge of home cooks in the last few years.

  • sara

    “…Getting food used to be very hard. I’d be bummed if every Monday night I had to catch, kill, de-feather and eviscerate the chicken I wanted to roast…”

    I can see the point that you’re making here, Michael, but would like to point out that part of the problem with our eating habits lies in the fact that some forms of food available in stores are more a convenience than food of opportunity and planning. If something is perceived as abundant we’ll eat more of it, usually to our detriment, as has happened with beef, for example.

    I am probably on the margins with this, but if we had to jump through more hoops in order to consume meat, we’d probably be better off, health-wise. And I am not even touching on the ‘vegetables are a better use of arable land than critters are’ argument, in saying that.

  • Sara

    I got the Julia Child DVDs for Christmas a few years back. I was shocked at how “real” they are compared to what food shows are typically like (as Pollan describes). But it is that realness that made me a fan (before then, Julia Child was known to me as the SNL sketch but I had never seen her actual shows). I find it funny that people refer to her offhandedly as making difficult food that “normal people” can’t make when she is exactly the opposite. No food star today would ever drop the potatoes on the floor, toss them back in the pan, and say “oh well, no one saw it” (except all your viewers!) I am thrilled to see all the press on Julia recently–I know it’s becasue of the movie, but am hopeful it can become a little more enduring than that.

  • Nekojita

    Maybe I’m just naive, but it seems that expectations of what cooking shows should offer their viewers is too simply dichotomized by Pollan’s article. He seems to convey that either a) you are learning technique and exact instructions on how to cook the specific dish being prepared on screen; or b) you are sitting and watching but not actually doing. I think that for most people, watching such a show merely inspires an appetite that is then fulfilled by cooking in one’s own style.

    MR, you have it right when you state that the importance of Julia Child was that she got you off into the couch and into the kitchen. You may not have followed her instructions and recipes, but you apparently had fun playing in the kitchen and making something good to eat.

    My mother has never followed a recipe in her life, but she had dozens of cookbooks. Why? Because she likes looking at the pictures and titles, imagining how they taste, and then making something according to her own style. They mostly turn out pretty well; in fact her “failure” rate is probably less than those who try to follow recipes.

    Here, I think that the food-porn analogy holds pretty darn well. There are those who use it as step-by-step manual (few and far between), and there are those who just watch without actually doing it (perhaps more). But there are a substantial number who see it, get turned on, and then go and make some fun of their own. Does porn prevent people from having sex because it substitutes for it? I seriously doubt it.

  • Fuji Mama

    Although I am looking forward to seeing Julie & Julia, I’m most excited about the fact that it is “resurrecting” our dear Julia for a segment of the population to which she might have been lost. So for that, I’m grateful for the continued hype. I wish there was another term besides “Foodie” and “Cook.” I have friends that cook a great deal for their families, but don’t really enjoy it. They do it so that healthy food gets on the table, not because they enjoy the process. I, on the other hand, also cook a great deal for my family, but love every moment of it. But yet we’re both cooks?

  • Natalie Sztern

    I am drunk with exhaustion after a 14hr move: Richard and Bob del is right PBS has always been about educating primarily and enjoyment of the learning process for their food shows. ANd learn we did.

    FN killed the profession of cooking and made it into another show requiring actors and show men. The internet took away our young from watching most tv educational or not.

    With the economy growing I believe so came the need for fast and faster cooking and prepared foods. Women went to work or the beauty parlor and bridge games, husbands worked and kids went to daycare so the home life consisted of dinner meals made quickly.

    Soon even the weekend picnics were bought at the store. I truly beleve this recession is scaring us back into a period of time where we are hoarding dollars and spending more family time AND we are back in the kitchen cooking either for necessity or for frugalness (?) We are not going out for the expensive meals but for the inexpensive-we see it in New York where the restaurants are losing their pants and changing ways especially those that cashed in on the ‘high’ of the past years. Chain restaurants will begin to grow again because they are cost efficient. Hopefully they will be buying consciously proper foods because of movies like Food Inc.

    Good cooking is something one wants to do. Cooking is something every one will be doing shortly as times get worse and when they get better for a while people will still bank their shekels until bad memories begins to fade again. Then it will all happen again.

    But one question: how do we get Artisans to continue their craft and in the process make it financially feasible and enterprise and affordable for us all to buy and crave? Shouldn’t the government be involved there and with Obama in power: will this be the time to actively push for it?

    ok back to the boxes…

  • Bob delGrosso

    I have little use for the Food Network and most cooking shows.

    I also take exception to something I have heard many times during conversations about FN and it’s value to the culture i.e. while its shows may not disport high quality instruction, it does a lot of good by inspiring people to cook.

    While it is very probably true that people have been inspired to cook by someone like Emeril I will bet a pound of salami that he has inspired many, many more to become restaurant and cooking culture hobbyists: folks who spend lots of time visiting restaurants, reading and commenting at food blogs, collecting cookbooks and kitchen tools and ingredients they will rarely use (and barley know how to use).

    In other words, the Food Network has done a lot to get people to pay attention and money to people and companies that produce food but very little to promote cooking by it’s audience. So if FN disappeared tomorrow professional cooks, bloggers, restaurants and purveyors of ingredients and cookware might see a decline in prestige and income, but it would not have much of an impact (if any) on the way we cook.

    I can’t prove it but I know it’s true.

    Not very scientific, I know.

  • barbara

    I’m a foodie and a cook. I also use foodie in my blog title – winos and foodies. I think it sounds better than winos and cooks. My boys, both in their 20′s, are good cooks and do more cooking at home than their partners. I didn’t consciously teach them to cook, they just seemed to pick it up being around me.

  • Nancy

    I haven’t read all the comments under this posting, but it’s almost a given that the people who read Michael’s blog are people who cook. The question is, as Michael frames it, how much of the general population still cooks? Not many, I say. My view is, unless you’re a chef, who’s chosen the profession, most people who say they love to cook don’t do it every day. (my apologies, Diane, if YOU do! I think you’re in the minority.) Take me, for example, who has been cooking almost every day for 50 years & probably because of that, I hate it! Still, I continue to collect cookbooks, read cookbooks & books about chefs because as Michael says, I love food.

  • Diane

    Thank you very much for such a thoughtful response to what I thought was an article that went off the rails, and was far too dismissive of American cooks in general. I think it ignores that vast majority of us who cook, love to cook, shop at farmers markets, support local sources of food production, and appreciate kitchen skills. Pollan’s dyspeptic rant in no way reflects the fact that this country is full of people who can both cook seriously and also not mind frittering away an hour’s entertainment watching a food show. The two are not mutually exclusive, any more than my subscription to a serious news journal means I cannot go an enjoy a not-very-realistic action flick.

  • jackie

    Julia was the person who told this latchkey 9-year-old that he could make a pie. I turned off the TV that afternoon, and made that pie and have been cooking since.

    Okay, so YOU got up and cooked, and some other kid became a “foodie”. That says more about you than Julia. No difference between her show and the dump and stirs of today.

    It was the cooking of food that allowed our bodies to absorb more nutrients and our brains to get big.

    Really? So you think the people who adhere to the raw movement in food are sickly and stupid?

    I try to eat healthy. Try to buy a piece of fish in Cleveland that’s not farm raised from Vietnam. Maybe – if you pay $26 a pound for it. You food people always tell us that fish shouldn’t smell when it’s fresh. Ever walk past the fish stall in the West Side Market. Come on.

    I remember watching an episode of Top Chef where a female contestant was trying to be a healthy cooking chef. Tom Coliccio criticized her dish and said “throw a stick of butter in it and be done with it.” So much for healthy (but we’re all fat and lazy right?) There’s a LOT of hypocrisy going on in food writing these days.

  • Tags

    That two people would call a such a straightforward (but long) article “meandering” is as persuasive an indictment of TV’s effect on our attention spans as you can ask for.

  • Kate in the NW

    Reading your blog for a while now, it’s interesting to me how many times we all have this same discussion. Hand-wringing, agreeing, disagreeing, corporations-suck, farmers-rule, cook-from-scratch, what-can-the-media-do, what-can-the-”new”-media-do, what-does-the-future-hold…

    Honestly, as the mother of an 11-year-old, I think the media product that has been the most helpful in terms of maybe actually changing the future of food in this country is “Ratatouille”.

    Don’t know what that says about civilization, but it was a damn good movie.

    Maybe we all need to start rallying Disney and Pixar to our causes.

    Any chance of a cooking video game? ;-)

  • Pete

    I learned to cook from watching Julia Child’s original shows, and I learned my knife skills from watching Jacques Pepin’s old shows. I have never had a cooking lesson, but these shows taught me the basics. I learned from watching these people to smell, touch taste, and know how to choose good ingredients–the most important lessons you need to know in order to cook well.

  • Libby

    Michael, thank you for blogging about this. I too, thought the article was “meandering” and didn’t really get to its point until the last quarter. The first three for me were rehash – stuff we’ve heard so many times before (e.g., home cooking has decreased, everybody’s getting fat eating takeout, Julia is God)

    With the resurgence of home gardens and the increased focus on “buying local” UNprocessed foods I thought cooking was on the upswing – which was certainly evidenced by the HUGE amount of cooks/bloggers at the Share Our Strength Twitter event the other night. Are we a specialized lot? Or is home cooking actually on the rise and Pollan’s theory is at least 5 years old? Haven’t I heard about the evils of Food TV somewhere before this??? Hmmm….

    Food and sustainability seem to be so closely linked right now it made me wonder if Pollan was way off base. Plus, in a recession people can’t really AFFORD takeout and going to restaurants, can they? Aren’t people supposedly “shopping their pantries” (like shopping their closets?)

    I resist labels like “foodie” or “cook” like so many others who’ve commented before me. No one whose passion is food can be slipped conveniently into categories. My husband and I plan our vacations around meals. We’re at breakfast, already wondering what we’ll eat for lunch, for dinner, for breakfast tomorrow. We watch and love food TV and immediately run online to print off the recipes. We proudly cheer for Michael Symon (on Iron Chef) and Jonathan Waxman (Top Chef Masters).

    I also blog – about restaurants and about our local food scene because frankly, blogging about cooking is STRESSFUL for me. The very act of cooking is stressful because my mother made Julia Child look like a rank amateur. To this day whenever I put whisk to bowl I compare myself to her. Yeah, it’s my issue and I’m working through it, but as a result cooking has become a kind of therapy. Useful, healthy therapy which calms me down and helps me grow as an adult woman – NOT THE STUFF OF BLOGS. Plus, doesn’t stopping to take photos and type out a description NEGATE the whole feeling of well being, and peace, and soulfulness that cooking is supposedly going to inspire? If you STOP every step to photograph and take notes, isn’t the flow interrupted?

    Just had a thought – all these blogs with people cooking. What is their purpose? Are they bragging? (Look what I made!!) or are they sharing? I am attempting to provide locals with food news and reviews in a small town where there is none. I know my purpose. What are these other guys doing? Are they hoping for a movie deal?

    Thanks for the ramble, and guys, some VERY thoughtful comments here, food for thought if you will, nice job…

  • Alicia

    This story made me compelled to comment. Having owned a sandwich shop for a couple of years (just closed it past February) I can attest to the rapid disappearance of home cooking in this country. The problem is complex, because it also goes to the root of the food problem as exemplified in Food, Inc., that is: When you can feed your whole family on 10.00-15.00 with 5.00 subs, or pizzas, or the dollar menu, and you have just been working 10-12 hours at an 8.00/job what are you supposed to do? If you add that to the seriously deficient education in all other areas, well, right there you have a recipe for disaster, no pun intended. I am not justifying this trend, by any means, but it’s a reality we cannot escape.
    As far as my personal experience in the kitchen, I consider myself a cook, and have been one since I was 12 years old. I didn’t have a choice. My mother went back to work full time when I was that age, and dinner was still expected to be on the table everyday, on time, so I had to jump in and help out by stopping at the neighborhood’s market (we lived in Mexico City) everyday on my way back from school. I would then follow my Mom’s instructions, and would follow up with her over the phone with questions or disasters or whatnot. I never questioned it, and no one ever thought that was some form of child abuse or anything. That’s just how things were supposed to be. The best part of it was that I loved doing it; I fell in love with food and cooking then, and this love affair remains until today, and I think the love has just gotten stronger. My point with this is that a lot has to do with parenting, which I believe is another big crisis we are facing today. But that’s a comment for another post, on another blog.

  • Bria

    I’m a home cook, a very busy one, and I blog about my recipes in hopes of helping my friends, family, and others with similarly packed lives figure out that cooking is an easy habit to maintain once you establish it. Whenever I tell people at work that I cook almost every night, they are always amazed. I don’t get it – to me, it’s easier to throw together something in the kitchen than it is to stop for takeout on the way home from the office. And yet most of the people I know eat restaurant food every day.

    It seems to me that there are two main barriers to the kitchen for many people – history and perception. I don’t have any empirical evidence to back this up, but I suspect there’s a strong correlation between people who grew up in non-cooking households and people who don’t cook for themselves as adults. If you didn’t watch your parents keep staples in the fridge and pantry, if you didn’t accumulate a basic understanding of simple protein-vegetable-starch combinations by being in the kitchen while they came together…it’s no wonder cooking will seem like a foreign language once you reach adulthood. That’s the history component.

    Worse, though, is the perception (as Judith in Umbria observes, above) that cooking at home has to be some sort of grandiose production number that requires extensive commitments of time, equipment, and expertise. I think this is the aspect of Julie & Julia (the book) that bothered me the most – so many tantrums, so much food ends up thrown on the floor. It just doesn’t have to be that way, but the would-be first time home cook is constantly assailed with the idea that they can’t get dinner on the table without blood, sweat, and tears. It’s as though people have been coaxed into believing that close proximity to an oven will cause their common sense and multitasking abilities (those that keep them otherwise gainfully employed and in the good graces of their social circle) to evaporate. I don’t understand this perception of kitchen paralysis, and I work hard to help other people overcome it.

    I hold out hope that people are turning to their kitchens more as they feel the need to trim their discretionary spending. It would be wonderful to see GenX/Y dig in and make cooking at home the norm, rather than an aberration.

  • lisaiscooking

    I’m not sure if we’re seeing an end to home cooking or a parting of lifestyles. There are many busy parents who spend all their time at work, kids’ practices, events, etc. and almost never cook. Then, there are people like me with the time and inclination to cook and learn new things about cooking every day.

  • Lorrie@ReadNEat

    BRAVO! Thank you for your voice of reason.

    My earliest memories are of standing on an oven door, cooking next to my grandmother. Now, a generation on,I am proud to say that my son is doing the same. If we cultivate the passion for food, the skills to cook, and the know-how of nutrition to our children and to those in our circle who wish to learn, all is certainly not lost, but rather rising again.

  • Tags

    What the Food Network needs is a show where the chef comes to a community and gets the whole neighborhood involved in cooking. The closest thing I’ve seen to this is when Chef Symon went to South Philly with Dinner Impossible and got the neighborhood involved in a block party, although he still pretty much did the whole thing.

    The ideal host for this would be a chef named Gedov Yerfadas. And no facocta factory foods.

  • sygyzy

    You said that researchers have found we are cooking less than ever before. You completely disagree with these researchers and state your opinion that people are cooking MORE than ever. So which is it? Should we take their word or yours?

  • Greg C

    There’s another basic quality about food, which the NYT article caused me to think about: It allows us, in these divisive times, to share common ground. One of my favorite dining companions is my political polar opposite. Indeed, we rarely (but sometimes) talk politics when we break bread — more often, we are talking about the food itself. Often, we are in a restaurant, but sometimes, my wife and I entertain this friend and his wife in our home, and that is our way of demonstrating our love and affection for them, in a way that elevates us above political divisions. Is there any wonder that the observed decrease in cooking, which we have observed correlates with a marked decrease in in-home entertaining, has paralleled the rise in political divisiveness, as well as the advent of “Bowling Alone”?

  • Randy in San Jose

    I think this is a good posting. However, one of the things that I think you did not address or glossed over is that often people get discouraged if their food doesn’t look as good as they see it in either the magazine or the cookbook. For example, the picture of Michael’s quiche is perfection. I could easily see someone who might want to try making a quiche, and the quiche being the limit of their skill, getting completely discouraged and going to Marie Calendars or some other place and buying one. ….an experience I want to share. Me, a newly divorced young man of 26…her a hot young blonde of 24 eager to show me her skill in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day. I arrive at noon. Two…three..four hours go by and still no turkey. Not wanting to ruin my chances with her, I stroll by the oven and see SHE HADN’T TURNED THE OVEN ON. I asked her what happened and she thought that the oven turned itself on when you put the food in it…entirely true story. This is sadly the extent of education today. We have too many kids who are academically smart but who cannot do a damn thing for themselves.

  • Karen Hollings

    Thank goodness for Julia, Natalie Dupree and a host of other PBS chefs for rescuing me from my mother’s cooking years ago. She tried but just never got the whole made from scratch thing. Raised in the lowcountry (Chas. SC) we have an abundance of fresh veggies and seafood which are a part of each and every meal with my family. I am happy to say my three daughters have learned to cook on their own and the microwave is rarely (if ever)used in our home!

  • Judith in Umbria

    I blog real and simple food made mostly by hand in the hopes of convincing folks that it really is easy to eat very well, save a lot of money and know exactly what you are putting in your body. I’ve been doing it for years as well as sharing a bit of my life as a chef and teacher. Imagine how excited I was to meet a reader of my very own at a party a couple of weeks ago! So I asked her, “Do you cook my recipes?”
    “No. I was too amazed and appalled to see that anyone still cooks all that elaborate stuff. I read it the way I read the Red Carpet reports.”
    It doesn’t get much easier than what I blog, believe me.

  • Bbq Dude

    Balzer is right. We, as cooks and foodies, are in the minority. We are a subculture, as much as we’d like to convince ourselves we are in the majority. Most people don’t cook, they view it as a chore (indeed, I view it as a chore some nights). Even the best grocery stores are 90% prepared foods.

    This is a great time to be a cook. But it’s also a great time to be a model train hobbyist. I don’t think we’re on the leading edge of a revolution in the way home food is prepared by the culture at large. We’re on the leading edge of a small cultural group who enjoys cooking.

  • Beanie

    @Mimi: Your comment made me sad. It says so much more about co-worker as a husband and a father than about him as a cook. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to teach them to treat themselves and their bodies well by cooking good food just for the family — or even just for one’s self. I feel sorry for that little girl.

  • Tzerris

    Excellent review of Pollan’s article which was so long I had to print it out and read over breakfast. I agree, Balzer is way too cynical. He may have been right 20 years ago but the pendulum is swinging our way.
    One problem with your post though.”Foodies watch food television with their pants around their ankles…” conjured up a visual I can’t seem to shake and left me laughing out loud so hard I started crying!

  • Rowell

    I’m no cook at all but I’m beginning to learn. I am still a foodie because I love going out to eat but soon realized that I could save so much by spending quality time with my fiance making the food. It would then mean so much more. With my photography skills I put that to use with food so I may document my adventures.

    By just starting out cooking people get used to those on Food Network because that is all we know and since any of hardly read any more books, how could we know who really good chefs are?

    We all just need to make the time to at least try to cook. There’s a hidden joy to it if you many of us don’t see it as an everyday kind of chore.

  • Laura

    Wonderful distillation of a very meandering article! I too was thinking that given all of the attention on food and the food bloggers out there that Balzer couldn’t possibly be right. But then I also have friends who never turn on their ovens, who barely use a dish even, because all they eat is takeout. I always find it difficult to gauge what the split really looks like because I inhabit my own little cooking world so completely that it seems that everyone else must be living and eating the way that I am.

  • tut

    I dunno maybe its cause i’m canadian but just don’t see it,all the people i know an grew up with cook,make there own wine an beer sausages to, they pickle an brine,shop in season,i just don’t see a crisis,or why julia should shake things up,i watched star trek an cartoons growing up not cooking,everybodys mom made something good to eat an thats where we went,if i want a good grilled cheese i call my neighbours daughter up an she delivers an has boobs to,I just don’t see a cooking crisis,maybe as we get older we see whats out there an how we can improve but thats all really.people been cooking an sharing for thousands of years it didn’t just stop,um maybe you living in a food backwater Mike.that smacks of isolation from the people around you,maybe thats what you should talk about,if you want to cook french or italy or german go visit.

  • Paul Kobulnicky

    As I look around me I’m not sure that Balzer is wrong. But the issue is a social-science, quantitative research thing … to what extent did we cook over the past decades and has the total percentage declined significantly?
    I’m not sure that it is an important question except for the fact, as Pollan gets to near the end of his piece, that there is a strong relationship between cooking and knowing a lot about the food you cook with, and end up with, in relation to general health and obesity.
    One could say the same thing, I guess, about how any significant knowledge affects one’s consumer savvy. I know a good bit about how to do electrical, plumbing and carpentry work so I am a wiser consumer of the services of those professionals and, I know how to keep my house in good shape. Likewise, I garden and cook and so I know how to buy raw and prepared food. But … I see a decline in all such practical skills in the community around me.

    Don’t be misled by the “long tail” effect. With a LOT of people in the world and a LOT on-line there will always be a LOT of people who write about their cooking … it is the decline in the percentage of all people that Balzer is referring.

  • Wilma de Soto

    WOW! Great post and fascinating article by Mr. Pollan.

    I cook mostly every day. I try to pack my lunch for work, but sometimes get a take-out. So sue me.

    The thing is that I know HOW to put together a variety of good meals and treats and how to do it well.

    What frightens me about the article when it states someday cooking will be something your grandmother did.

    There was an article in our local paper about parents who were upset there would be no free breakfast or lunch for their kids now that school was closed for summer.

    I noted the woman in the picture had long hair extensions which are not cheap and take hours to put in.

    I am not trying to diss people who wear them, but in that time she could have at least made some rice and pan fried some sort of protein for her kids.

    Our priorities are screwed up when food becomes a spectator sport and kids go hungry without institutional meals.

  • Josie

    I am so lucky to be a product of parents who love to cook. My dad, while not the daily cook, always prepared pies and grilled pizza and sweet breads. My mom, more the daily cook, never failed to encourage me in the kitchen and share her love of food and cooking with me. I can only hope I am able to pass my love of cooking (and eating!) on to future generations.

  • Non Dire Gol

    First Michael, I’m with you on the label “foodie” because it sounds plain stupid. Does that make Guy Fieri a “gulpie”? Or Rachael Ray a “mouthie” (she can accomodate a whole pineapple in that maw)?

    I’m roughly of the same age as both Michaels. I learned to cook at my mother’s apron strings in a kitchen similar to the one Pollan describes. Yes, Minute Rice did play a role.

    I took that love of cooking off to college with me where I cooked for my roomates. And post grad I learned to be self sufficient. Although the occasional “garbage burrito” and Dos Equis did figure in.

    It’s sad though that I’ve met many people in a city of many choices for whom “food is just fuel.”

    I’m not a “foodie” because I don’t keep a score card (altough I do write reviews on my blog) for which hot restuarants I’ve dined in.

    I cook, but I also have a keen interest in food history; “how did we get here from there”? And I don’t want to be confined to the Safeway with aisles full of “energy drinks” and “nutrition bars.” That’s not food. For food I go to the ethnic markets which are CHEAP and will offer me things like sweetbreads, tripe, and pig ears.

  • Danielle

    wow, that’s some scary stuff. i was a huge fan of Julia growing up (still am)- but i also had the benefit of grandparents and parents who all cook- and darn well too.
    I might be a foodie, i drool over food porn as much as the next gal- but then i think ‘i bet i can make that’, and i often try.
    i started twittering my cooking and i find it makes me cook even more. What’s more surprising to me is that people are telling me that seeing the picture of my bread dough or the mussels in wine sauce makes them want to step out of their comfort zone. maybe we can make cooking viral? approachable? unavoidable?

  • Chef Gwen

    I am a trained chef, food writer and restaurant critic by trade. I love to talk about food.

    So I’m a foodie.

    I also create recipes for my blog (and others), and I cook for pleasure, too.

    So I’m a cook.

    Does that make me a Coodie?

    That sounds just as preposterous as trying to put people in boxes and saying one is better than the other.

    I believe there is room for everyone, every taste and I’m no better than anyone else.

  • Mimi

    Cooking isn’t something mandatory anymore. Premade food is jammed in our face, by marketers every minute of the day. Cooking is also marketed to us. We buy cookbooks and fancy cookware and spend thousands of dollars upgrading our kitchens so that we can show the junior Jones’ what to keep up with.

    I had a coworker who recently married. He was addicted to food network and liked to cook… but only for his new wife or for his friends. It was an ego thing for him. I asked him one day what kind of food he cooks for his step kids. He looked at me like I was nuts and said that he didn’t cook for them. His statement made me sad. I know his new wife doesn’t cook. This same man complains and complains about how the six year old step daughter is obese.

    This same coworker likes to have watercooler discussions on monday morning about what everyone cooked and who they entertained during the weekend. He would try to get me involved. I would tell him about the delicious food and home baked bread but he would essentially compare what I was doing to what he did. He would go out to eat for lunch every day because there were no leftovers to bring for lunch because he wasn’t cooking for himself.

    For me? I cook because it relaxes me. I cook to experience the smells and flavors. I cook to please people I love. Sure, I have the option to buy my food premade for me and I often do when I feel lazy but there is nothing like a home cooked meal and the joy of the leftovers it provides

  • Tags

    Mel, Masa Takayama has eaten enough Krispy Kreme donuts to keep them in business singlehandedly.

    Enjoy your Hellman’s in peace.

  • Beanie

    My theory? The upsurge in cooking programs (Food as Entertainment) has given many would-be cooks the impression that you have to have special skills or celebrity mojo to cook. I think it’s actually scared some of them off, rather than engage them as intended.