June 03, 2010

Michael Pollan, The Food Network and Sandwiches

Before I get into my third cheesy creation of the week, I want to point out an interesting article by one of my favourite writers and food commentators, Michael Pollan.

We could all learn a lot about food from him, and many of us have. From the movie Food Inc. to his book "In Defense of Food," Pollan tells us that we need to know more about what we're eating and where our food comes from. You may remember his popular quote, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

I was not surprised one bit when I read his critical commentary on The Food Network and its effect on our eating and cooking habits. Full article here. (I admit, I got to the article a little late. It was published last year, but I just recently stumbled upon it.)

Pollan argues that the Food Network has made us lazier in the kitchen. He believes people only watch the channel for entertainment and not education, and that it reinforces quick and easy cooking:

"The Food Network has helped to transform cooking from something you do into something you watch — into yet another confection of spectacle and celebrity that keeps us pinned to the couch. The formula is as circular and self-reinforcing as a TV dinner: a simulacrum of home cooking that is sold on TV and designed to be eaten in front of the TV. 

True, in the case of the Swanson rendition, at least you get something that will fill you up; by comparison, the Food Network leaves you hungry, a condition its advertisers must love. But in neither case is there much risk that you will get off the couch and actually cook a meal. Both kinds of TV dinner plant us exactly where television always wants us: in front of the set, watching." 

Although some of his points are accurate, I have to disagree on a personal level. No one ever really taught me how to cook. The food I ate growing up was a mix of "quick and easy" meals and fast food in between soccer games and piano lessons. But no matter how busy we were -- or what we ate-- we all sat at the table together as a family every night. So when I discovered the Food Network while in University (we only ever had basic cable before that), I discovered a whole new world of food and cooking that I had never experienced before.

I sometimes watch the Food Network purely for entertainment (especially with shows like "Diners, Drive In's and Dives") but the rest of the time, I watch it for inspiration. From watching the Food Network, I started cooking, learning about food and most importantly, I was excited about food.

So, thank you Food Network. This blog may have never been possible without you -- and maybe foodporndaily too.

Now, onto my third sandwich. I call this one, simply, my favourite sandwich ever. It's not necessarily a Grilled Cheese by definition, but there are the elements of melted cheese and toasted bread.

Sandwich #3- Turkey, Swiss Cheese, Avocado, Spinach and Tzatziki sauce on Crusty Bread

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: Turkey, Swiss Cheese and Avocado (an awesome combination) plus Tzatziki sauce from our local market, on two pieces of crusty, toasted baguette.

Look at that crumbly deliciousness!

I also wanted to point out a wonderful Julia Child moment captured beautifully by Michael Pollan. Some of the cooking I've highlighted on this blog hasn't always worked out. But because of inspirational cooks like Julia (and some others on the Food Network) I've had the courage to move on and improve.

"When I asked my mother recently what exactly endeared Julia Child to her, she explained that “for so many of us she took the fear out of cooking” and, to illustrate the point, brought up the famous potato show..."

"“When you flip anything, you just have to have the courage of your convictions,” she declares, clearly a tad nervous at the prospect, and then gives the big pancake a flip. On the way down, half of it catches the lip of the pan and splats onto the stovetop. Undaunted, Julia scoops the thing up and roughly patches the pancake back together, explaining: “When I flipped it, I didn’t have the courage to do it the way I should have. You can always pick it up.” And then, looking right through the camera as if taking us into her confidence, she utters the line that did so much to lift the fear of failure from my mother and her contemporaries: “If you’re alone in the kitchen, WHOOOO” — the pronoun is sung — “is going to see?” For a generation of women eager to transcend their mothers’ recipe box (and perhaps, too, their mothers’ social standing), Julia’s little kitchen catastrophe was a liberation and a lesson: “The only way you learn to flip things is just to flip them!”

- Michael Pollan, NYT, 2009

Thank you, Julia.

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