You can get garden variety health advice from the daily newspaper, the "health" section of most book stores, and of course thousands of web sites. I'm hoping to present thought provoking and maybe change provoking thoughts about individual and community health. This blog is not just what to do about health, but how to think about it. I'm looking forward to an exchange of ideas with readers. July, 2010


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Slow Food in Fast Times

If we can believe the statistics, TV is America’s teacher. Virtually everyone in school watches TV, and while broadcast and cable screen time is less than classroom instructional time, it is giving it a run for the money, especially when we remember that kids watch TV on weekends, on holidays, and during school summer breaks. In addition to the school-aged group, preschoolers are frequent TV watchers and, of course, adults also watch lots of television. Adults spend more time at work than watching television, but there are not many other things that compete with the time commitment people make to watching. For this reason alone, it is not feasible to disregard the health implications of our TV diet. In addition, there are certainly content messages which have important health impacts.

Recently I’ve been thinking about the phenomena of food and cooking shows. What are they teaching and what are we learning from them? Though not the first TV cooking show, Julia Child’s earliest shows in the 1960s were no different from current programming: the only things that matter are taste, appearance, and the subliminal messages about how to live life. These shows are reality shows, in the sense that content is not produced by creative writers, but is based on unscripted activity going on in front of the camera. On the other hand, just like writer-driven shows, the cooking shows are designed to bring viewers to an imaginary world, one more glamorous and exciting than what is experienced by the typical viewer. So in the 1960s, viewers were invited to imagine that they could serve up gourmet meals, just like the ones Julia brought from the great kitchens of Paris. These shows are entertaining in complex ways. Other commentators have traced similarities between current cooking shows and pornography!

As a died-in-the-wool health promoter, and therefore open to the charge of taking the fun out of life:), I am troubled by the disregard of health considerations on the food and cooking shows. The current national concerns about diet-related health problems such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer, don’t seem to have broken through to the Food Network. Perhaps part of the appeal of these programs is to not only invite people to imagine a life of glamour and refined taste sensations, but also to step into a world, at least temporarily, in which everyone is healthy and lives forever. No worries about too much salt, sugar, fat or calories, just bon appétit.

On the other hand, the trend in the U.S. is for more and more of our food to come from fast food venues. This means that the contrast is not between cooking like Rachel Ray or Emeril Lagasse and the American Heart Cookbook. It is between the food shows and supersized drive-by food. At least on the food shows, real food is featured. The celebrity chefs do cook with fruits and vegetables, and while often the featured recipes are calorie dense, suggested serving sizes tend to be moderate. Until recently, it has been next to impossible to find anything remotely health-promoting on the menu of a typical fast food venue, whereas that is not the case with food shows.

One more point is the contrast between fast and slow. One of the things that makes cooking shows seem more like entertainment than cooking skill teaching devices is that featured recipes require substantial time for preparation and cooking. They really do highlight “slow food” as opposed to fast food. In our upside down world, people frequent fast food restaurants because they don’t have time to cook and they want more time to watch TV! Somehow the concept of slow food, investing care and devotion to one of the most basic tasks of life is something that our modern society leaves out. It remains to be seen if reality cooking shows can ever represent reality in back of the cameras.


ABPS said...

Not good for the American young Generation, it is not at all advisable to watch cooking shows while studying and eat fast foods.

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