Julia, Ruhlman and Pollan. Or, why I'm a cook.

I'm a cook. It's my passion, it's why I write this blog, and it's one of the things that gets me out of bed in the morning, instead of just pulling up the covers and hoping the world goes away.*
*My first cup of coffee is usually what gets me over that feeling.

I was horrified when I read Michael Pollan's article in the New York Times magazine last Sunday, which finished with a marketing expert saying that home cooking was doomed. We're all going to be getting prepared food from the grocery store in the future, and we'll look at cooking like we look at making our own clothes. [Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch, nytimes.com]

I was going to write a post on it immediately, but I couldn't get my thoughts organized enough. That is, until I read Michael Ruhlman's blog post on the same article:

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.
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.
[Julie and Julia, Foodie and Cook, Ruhlman.com]

I'm one of the "multitude of food bloggers" Michael mentions.  I've been inspired by other cooks and food bloggers, and I'm writing this blog because I just can't keep my enthusiasm for cooking to myself - I want to share it with anyone who will listen.

Pollan's article HURT when I read it. I feel like I'm part of the wave of people trying to reverse the tide he describes. Like me, they're cooking for themselves, and evangelizing to their friends and family about the pleasures of cooking. But Pollan's article just made it sound so...hopeless.  It seems like we're fighting against the tide, and the tide has only just started coming in.*
*Especially when Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma had such an impact on my evolution as a cook!

But...from where I stand, that's not what I'm seeing! Most of my freinds and family are now the same way I am. We're cooking at home much more than my parents did, or than we did, a decade ago. From where I stand, it looks like the tide is turning back towards home cooking, and has been for a while.*
*Note: my friends and family aren't quite as passionate about it as I am. But then, "insane" might be a better word to describe me than "passionate".

So, once again, Thank you, Michael Ruhlman!

**Ruhlman's distinction between Foodie and Cook is also a great one. I've been referring to myself as a cook for quite a while now, and I think I picked it up from his "Making of a Chef" book. I'm not a chef, and have no desire to be one, but cooking is one of my great joys in life.

Inspired by:
[Julie and Julia, Foodie and Cook, Ruhlman.com]
[Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch, nytimes.com]


Geoff said...

Perhaps you need to stop drinking so much coffee. Or start reading the NPD web site, where one can find the following contradictory findings and projections:

1. "NPD Reports U.S. Restaurant Traffic Decline Steepest in 28 Years."

2. "NPD Finds Kids and Young Adults A Shrinking Restaurant Customer Base."

3. "NPD Reports "Better for You" Foods to Grow Significantly Over the Next Decade

* Restaurant meals eaten at home and appetizers eaten as in-home main meals are also expected to be among the fastest growing food trends, according to the report.

* The NPD report also identifies the foods that will be declining over the next ten years. Among the foods forcasted to decline are quick assembly lunch/dinner foods, which are dominated by sandwiches; certain breakfast foods; and side dish breads."

4. "Findings from the latest NPD Complete Kitchen Audit, which surveyed a U.S. representative sample of adults, 18 and older, in 2008, includes:

"* A sandwich maker/press is owned by 17% of households (according to NPD’s Eating Patterns in America, the sandwich remains the number one food consumed). "

There's also an NPD study that says consumers are becoming less willing to trust the food they buy in supermarkets. Hey, there's an NPD study for pretty much every need, viewpoint and purpose.

My opinion about consulting has grown even darker in the 15 years I've been doing it: Like another profession, we charge high fees. We also tell our clients anything they want to hear. Our value is also transitory. And we're pretty much out for the same thing.

The difference is that what we do is a lot less fun. And even less socially defensible.

MikeV said...

Geez, Geoff, there you go, throwing logic at a situation when I'm all worked up and emotional about it.

Did you see the pictures in the magazine, with the dusty pots, and cutting board with a knife with cobwebs on it? It was breaking my heart...

Geoff said...

Yeah, I hate to be a buzz-kill. So I guess I shouldn't point out that (a) home repair and improvement stores are doing well (except for the ones who filled up their big boxes with trendy appliances), that (b) fabric and crafting places are booming, (c) this suggests that people are looking to save money and (d) given a choice between restaurants, buying prepared food and cooking, one seems to be better positioned to thrive.

For God's sake, man, one of the stories in today's PD food section was on canning. Yesterday's AP wire included this story

When anything becomes popular, there will be a certain percentage of former enthusiasts who fall into self-loathing and nihilism. Others begin writing polemics (Sandra Lee's Neo-Molecular Gastronomy) or bizarre academic treatises (A Comparative Study of the Use of Superfine Sugar in the Dessert courses of Escoffier and Guy Fieri).

You should be concerned about how to handle the flood of newbies who think Cottage Inn in Yum-O! The pragmatist in me worries that Tony Bourdain, left to his own devices, will pack them all off to re-education camps.

Jessica said...

I found you from the Kitchn post about this and your comment. It's kind of scary that it looks like people who stand tall for being a cook are the minority here.

These above comments, well they really didn't make sense. I can't figure out if those stats and projections are *for* home cooks or against? Less people are eating out but fabric and craft stores are booming? What?

I think Geoff does make a good point though. The main issue I saw in that article was the idea that foodies are where its at- newbies who see a cooking show and want to eat whatever Rachael Ray tells them or be just like the Top Chefs. I think its a wave were having and eventually it will crest and slide back down but right now the idea of preparing and cooking food has truly taken a shelf to a lot of intellectually numbed people's love affair with the idea of being a chef or eating at/with the most recommended restaurants or ingredients.

An example I always saw of this problem in action: I worked for years as a professional cake decorator. Our lives were ruined by Ace of Cakes. Sure its nice to get attention to your field, but we were very quickly overwhelmed by housewives demanding for a 5 tiered spinning, light up rainbow colored cake or a dinosaur made of carrot cake that shoots smoke out of its nose and they want it in an hour and to pay 20 bucks for it. Over the top things like that. When we would tell them how much that would really cost to do that and that you don't just pull that kind of thing out of the air like they see on tv, they'd turn their noses up and walk out. I love cooking shows, but tv has ruined cooking in the past years. Hope I got across what I was thinking here, but I really liked what you wrote. Thanks.

MikeV said...


Thanks for the kind words. "Standing tall for being a cook" is why I write this blog (and why i think most cooking bloggers do what they do.)

Re: the comments not making sense; Geoff was saying that you can get projections for whatever you want, if you're the one paying for the survey. "Oh, you're for cooking at home? Sure, we have a survey result for that..."

Re: TV ruining cooking: I agree; being a home cook, shows like "Iron/Top/Hell's chef" don't help you get dinner on the table. My exception is Alton Brown, and PBS. I watch Good Eats religiously, because I actually Learn Something from his show.
*Regular readers of this blog know about my man crush on Alton. He's my hero.

I also watch a bunch of shows on PBS to get inspirations for new recipes to try. Those shows seem to be following in the spirit of Julia's "The French Chef" - they want to show you how to cook, not just be entertaining.

Jessica said...

Ha, I couldn't agree more about Alton Brown. Especially if you read up on his back story. Very smart guy. Never saw him cook something I didn't agree with (except gumbo, but thats to be expected being from New Orleans!)

I watch lots of PBS as well. It still comes on from time to time but the Great Chefs series I watched when I was a kid! I learned so much from those.

graciela. said...

Pollan's article said to me what I've noticed all around me. People don't cook. Really cook. It's incredibly depressing and some of us are definitely holding on for dear life to old traditions, recipes, and our humanity. Maybe it was just the surly fella he was interviewing that made it sound so hopeless but when it comes to food, the American consumer cares more about cost than quality or nutrition. It's crazy that we'd rather pay the lowest price for what fuels us but we'll splurge on electronics for "quality". Just look at what's in the supermarket and you'll see that fast and cheap is what drives consumption. It's terrible.

I also think there is a misconception about cooking or maybe it's just a messed up system of values. People say they don't have enough time to cook. That they don't have enough money. That they don't know how to cook! Yet, if we all really look at our time and how we spend it, I refuse to believe there isn't an hour somewhere in the TV watching and the fast food eating to make a real meal that is delicious, nutritious, and often times cheaper than eating out or getting a TV dinner. And the money thing? People have cable, cell phones, and a bunch of other things, so it's just a matter of priorities. America really has it all wrong when it comes to food and it shows in our habits and scales.

But you know, for as long as people like you and me and a bunch of other cooks keep on doing what we love and what is important to us, no amount of marketing dollars is going to force us to eat nonsense.

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