Sunday, May 29, 2011

Michael Pollan and... Rachael Ray?

I need to test some waters before I take a leap of faith. I'm about to debut a project that focuses on a way of cooking that I find to be easy, delicious and responsible. Not going to say much more than that about the project itself, but I had to do a lot of soul-searching in the past month. I needed to figure out what the hell I could do with my love and understanding of food in order to help people, because after all, all that any of us want to do is to help people, right?

This is going to be a shocker for people that know me, if they're even reading this, but while my favorite people in the food business are Harold McGee (for his scientific curiosity), David Chang (for his ability to deliciously blur the line between Asian and American), Dan Barber (for his fresh intellect), Ina Garten (for her fabulous entertaining), David Wondrich (for his astute alcoholism), etc... one of the food personalities I admire the most is Rachael Ray.

Yes, the woman with the annoying, hoarse voice. Yes, the woman with no "real" culinary education. Yes, the woman whose success may have single-handedly turned the Food Network into a low-brow circus for stay-at-home moms, the unemployed, and procrastinating college students. Yes, her.

In July of 2009, Michael Pollan wrote a fascinating, if not scathing, criticism of the decline of contemporary food television for The New York Times Magazine, declaring that "The Food Network has helped to transform cooking from something you do into something you watch." For the most part, I don't disagree with that statement, but from what I've witnessed (I actually don't watch TV much at all), there is a lot to be learned from at least some of the network's programming, and judging by the success of Rachael Ray's empire of books, shows, magazines and products, she's got something going on.

It's called easy. I don't agree with all of her ideas. Her interpretation of a lot of Asian foods makes me want to barf, but my understanding of her work is that she's actually getting people back into the kitchen and cooking for themselves, which I think is extremely important, and speaks much more than what Michael Pollan has created in indignant "foodies" who will pay exorbitant amounts of cash for a pile of uncooked, uninspired, but completely natural, entrees in fringe neighborhoods of mildly acceptable gentrification. No, I'm not bitter. The meal was.

There's a disturbing disconnect between the Michael Pollans and the people that they hope to influence. How do we get real people to cook at home, cook fresh, and reduce the amount of processed foods in their diet? How do we get real people to think about where their food comes from (without the painful grimace)? How do we define responsible eating in regards to our consumption of meat? I don't know the answer to any of these questions, but it is my intent to explore these issues in the months to come, assuming I can make my day job(s) work. Some people actually have answered these questions, but it's just "blah blah blah" to most ears.

It is my hope that despite all the green-washing and hype in the media, that somewhere between the Michael Pollans and the Rachael Rays, truly good, real food is being enjoyed with friends and family.

Please Note: I'm not bashing Michael Pollan. I actually really do love his work and I've read most of his books. I think he's taken a strange turn, but if there's any single book of his I'd recommend, it would be Second Nature. It speaks nothing about food, but rather philosophically explores our humanity in the context of nature.


  1. Ina Garten is the middle ground. She rocks!

  2. Indeed! And I forgot about Mark Bittman. I really love his simplistic, nontraditional approach to most foods.

  3. rachel ray ought to do a diet cooking show

  4. I have this really odd image of her doing a workout video. Her voice could actually lend itself really well in that infomercial-motivational kinda way, hahaha.