Monday, June 10, 2013

Well, if famous people eat it...

if you've followed my blog, you see I rarely give exact measurements in my recipes. I am definitely one of those "let's try some of this!" kind of cooks. Even in baking, which is more of an exact science, I tend to see what I can change in a recipe to make it denser/sweeter/crumblier/cheesier/healthier/different. Like so many people, foodies-or-no, I like to peruse recipes. I don't necessarily follow any recipe, but I do look to them for inspiration.

Which of course leads to endless research on websites and blogs for recipe ideas. Certainly among my secret passion, the Registered Dietitians, you will find endless recipes and recipe memes. Just check out the Nutrition Blog Network. It's basically a 3:1 ratio towards recipes, which makes sense as one imagines RDs do a lot meal planning in their various jobs. 

But perhaps it's the Librarian in me, because I still love actual printed cookbooks. I actually collect cookbooks. (And I am lucky to live in a city that has not one, but two bookstores specializing in nothing but!) Many of them are on a food topic or region that I find interesting or wish to learn more about. (For example, cookbooks from other countries are a great way to help learn the language). But I also concentrate on the older books from the late 19th/early 20th century. (Strangely enough, this is also the era of which I am most fond of in fiction.) 

And while these books come from the era where you really were COOKING and not just adding pre-packaged food together, I don't find myself running out to try these dishes. I don't collect these to necessarily make the recipes therein, but rather to see what people thought about the food. For example, this is a great book that's a blast to read:

But I'm not about to risk them in my oven. And here's one of the earlier diet books:

It's a fascinating take on calorie counting, even though the lunches consist of 6 stalks of celery and a small slice of cornbread. (Cornbread is "patriotic", although the author does mention that if you're feeling patriotic and constipated, a bran muffin will suffice.) And it also includes the most honest way to have dessert: just eat half of your husband's! Ah, those jazz age reducers! 

In all these cookbooks, I rarely have any that are "celebrity" books. There are some by famous chefs (Julia Child, Lidia Bastianich), but I tend to shy away from those. This is not to say that there isn't a huge amount of chefs out there who seem more famous for being on TV than for actually cooking anything. An interesting article on such a phemonena from a few years back shows that a lot of the books out there, particularly those by the male TV superstar chefs, don't actually show one how to cook. Hmmm...

But I'm not actually as surprised at that. TV Chefs are famous for .... being chefs. Rather, it's those cookbooks written by people otherwise famous that really seem to bother me. It appears that food is something everyone feels that they can talk about and share. Cookbooks are the latest step of celebrity publishing after children's books. 

Of course the ones that seem the most popular are the ones that also seem the least like a decent cookbook. Gwyneth Paltrow is already a pretty easy target, but her latest cook book, It's All Good, seems even more ridiculous than ever. Pseudo health science wrapped up in celebrity oddity? I hope she's taken out back and beaten up by dietitians.

The best take on why this book is medically unsound can be found here. (A tip to Sarah Emily at Tangerine & Cinnamon for leading me towards that. Her site rocks!)

But then you see names pop up that you'd never imagine would be cookbook bound. One of my idols from my punk adolescence, Lydia Lunch, has made forays into a variety of media, but she, too, has a cookbook called The Need to Feed

Now despite my appreciation of her, I still was not ready to accept that she had any right to be peddling a cookbook, any more than Paltrow. However, I did not find it as eye rolling as I thought I might. Her recipes are interesting and actually have a variety of ingredients but don't require tracking down artisinal honeybees and slaughtering them yourself or raising your own chili peppers in a hydroponic terrarium under your sink. 

In other words, it's real food. There is a few pages on smoothie detoxes (oy!), but nothing head smackingly bad. 

Do her recipes inspire me? Not as much as her other writing. I'm still not sure why yet another non-chef celebrity might need to do this. Obviously she's marketing to another fan base than Paltrow.

I guess I'm seeing it as non-offensive static. It seems it's just another venue for publicity. I don't see any of these having the historical potential of 1918 diets or 1911 bag cookery. That could be my own snobbishness.   

But rarely do I find these celebrity recipes galvanizing enough for me to run to my stove and see what I can whip up based on that. And I guess to me that's the sign of a good cookbook: It not only teaches you, it gets you to think.

I'd love it if celebrities actually took the time to write books on more complex subjects: "Wayne Gretzky views on stochastic theory in relation to Kant's Prolegomena"  or "Members of MTV's the Real World deliver a scathing review on the latest theories of limiting reagents vs. electron affinity."

Until then, there's always this:


(In full disclosure, years ago I was presented with the Alice's Brady Bunch Cookbook written by Ann B. Davis as a gift, but that certainly was never read with cookware nearby.)


“It”s All Good’? Actually, Gwyneth Paltrow’s new cookbook borders on quack science. (April 2, 2013). Retrieved June 10, 2013, from
Mitchell, C. M. (2010). The Rhetoric of Celebrity Cookbooks. The Journal of Popular Culture, 43(3), 524–539. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5931.2010.00756.x

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