Monday, November 2, 2009

"Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch" Summary

In “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch”, Michael Pollan demonstrates the reasons of the decline of home cooking and the rise of processed foods by taking the reader through recent culinary history from Julia Child to the Food Network. In 1963, “The French Chef” starring Julia Child first appeared on the small screen. Julia brought cooking to life for viewers everywhere, taking the fear out of cooking culinary masterpieces. Pollan reminisces over his memories of watching “The French Chef”, with his mother after school, then eating Julia’s recipes for dinner.

Pollan brings us to the Food Network where chefs such as: Emeril, Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, and Ina Garten bring cooking to nearly one-hundred million homes in America every day. Pollan wonders why people are so eager to watch someone glaze a ham on television, but not willing to do it themselves. The rise of fast food, take out, and TV dinners have greatly contributed to the steady decline of home cooked meals.

The average American spends twenty-seven minutes a day on meal preparation and cooking, and four minutes for clean up. That is less time then it takes to watch one episode of “The Next Food Network Star”. But why has there been such a decline in home cooking? The food companies persuade us to allow them to cook, so we can go do the ‘important’ things in life. The latest T.V. dinners such as Lean Cuisine© and Hungry Man© are always advertised on the Food Network. “TV dinners plant us exactly where television always wants us: in front of the set, watching.” says Pollan.

Pollan argues watching the Food Network does not mean we are learning anything as viewers did with Child, and it certainly does not mean we are going to bounce up and make a five course dinner. “The skills celebrated on the Food Network in prime time are precisely the skills necessary to succeed on the Food Network in prime time.” Pollan then states that the cooking shows only take the social anxiety out of ordering a fancy dish, when dining out at a fancy restaurant, the shows don’t give us tips on cooking it ourselves.

Pollan interviewed Harry Balzar to discuss if Americans will repair the damage done to the reputation of home cooking and our diet of processed foods. Balzar was very pessimistic and stated not only that it will never go back, it will only get worse with “drive-thru supermarkets.” If people want Americans to eat healthier have them cook it. “Eat anything you want-as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.”

With the lack of home-cooking is it any-wonder that America is one of the fattest countries on Earth? Every processed food is rationed. Whether you thought about it or not, we are eating microwavable garbage. The rations given to military men in World War II became a booming sensation in the ‘50’s. But with the mass produced ration food came a large decline in the quality of the food being consumed.

Since the Dark Ages, people have gathered together to cook and eat. Thanksgiving, Christmas, weddings; they all have one thing in common, family dinner. Cooking shaped human civilization, men cooked over fires to provide for their families. James Boswell called Homo Sapiens “the cooking animals.” Cooking has brought people together for centuries.

There are things about home cooked meals we miss when they’re gone. A student at college craves a taste of mom’s apple pie or dad’s great hamburgers. Food brings up deep emotional ties in every one of us. As children we watched our parents and grandparents cook Thanksgiving dinner and we all tried to sneak that warm cookie from the stove. Although, cooking a whole chicken over a fire pit isn’t very common now, home cooking isn’t dead. After all, 58% of American’s evening meals actually qualify as cooking. From cooking animals, to Julia, to housewives, to Emeril, to drive thru supermarkets; cooking always has and always will be a large part of American society.

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