Raising the Steaks on Passive Living
here is something hypnotic about the Food Network. Legions of channel surfers with no cooking know-how or expertise find themselves mesmerized by the way that cutting knives shimmer and thick gravies simmer; they revel in the chopping and dicing of scallions, potatoes and tomatoes. These channel surfers, not unlike you and me in their neuroses and inability to seize life and control it, squirm with glee at the uncanny way that entire raw messes of produce and meat are netted and reined in and how in a half hour, everything is resolved. For our viewing pleasure, there are dazzling multiple course meals and a wide, wide smile on our dear chef’s face. And happiness being so infectious, the chef’s satisfaction is also reason enough for our own satisfaction.
Unlike channels like E! or HGTV, the Food Network provides reasonable goals and expectations: viewers aren’t driven to pursue unhealthy body shapes, prohibitively expensive designer dresses, or fancy houses. The shows on the Food Network provide a neat, color-by-numbers template that point towards a feasible objective. The follow-through is irrelevant—it’s simply the act of sitting in front of the network, watching the construction, and knowing that if one desperately wanted to, they could procure all the ingredients and do it themselves.
But, to a large extent, the ingredients are peripheral to the spellbinding maestros working with them. The arrangement of canned vegetables or a broiled brisket is nothing more than an aesthetic vehicle for forces like Rachael Ray or Giada de Laurentiis to bank on their own personalities. Much like elaborately packaged Hollywood celebrities, the chefs on the Food Network are replete with their own senses of style, quirks, and defining methods of food preparation. But unlike Hollywood A-listers, these in-house celebrities prime themselves to become intimate icons. They’re meant to be the best friends we wish we had—convincing us that their recitations of recipes are worth noting and remembering. These illustrious chefs are like cheerleaders, egging the viewers onto making the dishes for themselves. But despite the encouragement...we don’t.
With such ease, why is that we, as viewers, instead reach for the take-out menus or the nearest Lean Cuisine, when for the past half hour, the Barefoot Contessa has explained, in excruciating detail, how to create the perfect dinner to go with the perfect holiday? After having been mesmerized by the rapid-fire coalescence of raw parts into a beautiful dinner, neither laziness nor a lack of ambition is the culprit.
Ultimately, it’s our satisfaction with having garnered a degree of control via the skillets and spices of the chefs on TV that leads us to promptly bow out before we get the desire to re-create the same meal in our own kitchens. The illusion of control is powerful enough to warrant the cop-out to convenience. At the end of a long day, just thinking, “Y’know, if I really wanted to, I could make that dish. But I’m too tired right now to make it,” makes more sense than running down to the grocer and embarking on the epic process of manufacturing appetizers, entrées, desserts and any relevant garnishes. Much like the act of eating, the Food Network, after all of its “Bam!”’s and “Yummo!”’s are said and done, is nothing more than a way for viewers to exert some otherwise foregone sense of control without having to lift a single spatula.
By: Rohin Guha
Published on: 2006-03-01
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