Monday, August 3, 2009

On "Food Porn."

We woke up early to resume the waiting game this morning, but still no word from the escrow people. If we don't sign today or tomorrow, we have to put in Extension #5. I'm trying not to get stressed out like last week though; yesterday I suffered a debilitating migraine and I'd really rather not go through that again.

So today I got up after a good hard sleep, snuggled the kittens, had a nice long bubble bath while sipping iced ginger-lavender tea, and then decided to treat my man to a nice breakfast since he was so great yesterday at holding me up while the migraine tore me down. Fresh-from-scratch butter biscuits with vegetarian chicken gravy, his favorite, and a side of fresh berries from the farmer's market and tiny tomatoes from our garden. Fresh-ground Stumptown coffee with hazelnut milk for me too, of course. With a breakfast like that you get up from the table feeling that anything the day might throw at you is okay.

While I mopped up the last smears of gravy with those buttery biscuits, I read this excellent article by Michael Pollan: "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch." The author of The Omnivore's Dilemma (which I just began reading this morning) and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (which I just received today as a wonderful birthday gift), Pollan here examines the celebrity culture around the Food Network as compared to the more quaint and accessible charm of Julia Child's early 1960's broadcasts. It's an odd paradox we have here in our culture, obsessed with health and yet less healthy than we've ever been, fascinated with food and yet reluctant to let ourselves really enjoy it. Why indeed do so many Americans prefer to watch strangers cook food they'll never eat, rather than go into the kitchen and try cooking for themselves?

It got me to thinking about something Anthony Bourdain said awhile back, "Food is the new porn." He wasn't wrong. Our cultural fetishization of cooking is very similar to the way we've detached and fetishized sex. Both have become subjects of relentless fascination when it comes to watching or reading about other people doing it, but in everyday American life both have become a cheap quick fix. Spice Channel or Food Network, the message is the same: It sure looks good, but it's not for real people.

I wonder how we got that way, since those two drives are the basic forces behind every form of life on this planet. When did they go from pleasures to be freely enjoyed, relished, and even lived for, to guilty pleasures we can only freely enjoy from the spectators' stands? I've just finished reading Under the Tuscan Sun, an excellent book about the way of life in small-town Italy, and the most interesting part of it to me was the way Italians are free to live their lives for the things that make them happy. Food, family, relationships, life. I know I prefer to live that way myself, but I mourn for the wider American culture that has instead shunted those things to a short time slot in the exhausted evening, somewhere between "America's Next Top Chef" over a Stouffer's frozen dinner and a fitful sleep to prepare for another day of making another corporate CEO richer. No wonder so many marriages end in divorce and so many networks can make money selling an image of family life to those who are not living one.

Is there a way to reverse this trend and bring Americans back to life? Or is this just the extreme end of a culture we've been building towards for centuries, when the first Puritans declared European siestas to be an indulgent waste and pushed for a life "beyond" our bodily needs? Do you think things are changing for the better, or the worse?

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