Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Why We Love to Watch Food Shows

Nowadays, people in some countries spend more time watching TV series, videos and shows about cooking than actually cooking. In 2016, in England alone, thirty million people a week watched culinary programs ; Netflix has aired nearly a dozen food TV series and is threatening to squeeze out the entire Food Network dedicated to cooking . Let’s figure out what modern culinary programs look like and why everyone watches the show about bread.          

What’s the most important memory you have in your head when you feel homesick? Not just a building where they lived at a young age, but a mythical place where childhood remained? We are willing to bet that this memory will be somehow connected with food: KisloRot chewing gum on the way from school, dumplings that my grandmother made, the Smak program on Saturday morning. Emotions, feelings and associations are inseparable from food: every year we renew the taste of the first summer watermelon, and warm milk or cocoa in bed reminds of security and carelessness. Even simple physiological sensations are filled with additional meanings; when physiology changes (or products change, or even pictures describing these products), then our emotions are also transformed. 

At the same time, in a practical sense, little has changed – after all, we do not download food from the Internet. Since the invention of canned food and freezers, the stores and refrigerators of ordinary people have replenished with a hundred products, which at the beginning of the twentieth century could only dream of – but in the twenty-first there were no comparable sharp leaps so far. The everyday menu of the average citizen of Russia has also undergone few changes – cabbage soup and porridge are still our food. Have the methods of cooking or finding new dishes improved? Not particularly! Recipes are still passed from hand to hand to friends and family, found in magazines, spied on TV or – now – on YouTube. It’s just that earlier the cherished lists were kept in chubby notebooks, where newspaper clippings were filed, but now they live in browser bookmarks and Pinterest accounts, and friends do not write cookie recipes by hand, but dump them into telegrams. 

New shows have replaced the retelling of cookbooks: for those who want to better understand
the intricacies of gastronomy,
and those who just want to relax while looking at food

Perhaps the biggest change is in the television and video industries. Cooking shows, which started out as a way to share the secrets of cooking, have evolved into an art form of their own – and making money. What culinary programs have you watched before? “Smak” with Makarevich and “Tasty Cooking with Boris Burda”, a show by Yulia Vysotskaya and excerpts from morning programs with recipes for “tasty and healthy food.” They were united by the simplicity and straightforwardness of the narrative: an introduction that prepared the program for the topic, a description of the recipe and step-by-step instructions. All this carried an understandable practical meaning: I looked at the new release of Vysotskaya on the weekend – and on Wednesday you were fighting with kilograms of onions for onion soup. This tradition, however, is dying out. 

Probably the culprit is the cult of productivity. In the age of Google, watching shows in which a whole hour is stuffed with duck is a waste of time that modern people cannot afford. Finding the right recipe, learning yakitori technology and putting it into a meal plan is much easier without turning on the TV, but after spending ten minutes at the laptop. In order not to lose a millionth audience, food programs have to come up with new formats and fill them with new meanings. Yes, we still need new information, and not necessarily useful information – the main thing is that it is fast, verified and accessible. We accumulate knowledge with the same haste that hamsters stuff their cheeks, and video creators successfully take advantage of this everyday anxiety. New shows have replaced good-natured retellings of cookbooks: conventionally intellectual for those who want to better understand the intricacies of gastronomy, and conventionally entertainment for those who just want to relax while looking at food.    

In the first section, abundance reigns – we have already talked about the conquered Internet show by David Chang ” Ugly Delicious “, which studies the phenomenon of “comfort food”, aesthetically unassuming, but culturally important food. Apart from Chang, however, there are many strong players in this arena. The main star of last year was Samine Nosrat, who released ” Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat ” based on the cookbook of the same name. Born to Iranian immigrants, Nosrat studied in Berkeley and began her career as a chef at Chez Panisse, an iconic California restaurant built by the equally iconic Alice Waters. The simplicity of Nosrat’s show is deceiving: the chef assures you that you can cook anything by understanding how the four key cooking factors work, but does not give clear instructions for any of the dishes. Her show was filmed not to convey applied knowledge, but to show the coolest salt, the perfect parmesan, the world’s best citrus market – and inspire the viewer not to settle for less.

Almost Nosrat’s twin looks like Michael Pollan, whom she taught to cook. Pollan, a professor at Harvard and Berkeley, promotes the uncomplicated and at the same time impossible mantra of consumption “eat food, not very much, mostly plant-based.” Both Pollan’s Cooked Show and his book of the same name talk about the four basic elements – water, air, fire, and earth – and how each is used in the kitchen. Pollan preaches seemingly simplicity, but stubbornly accuses GMOs of all mortal sins ( which is in vain) and advises to cook at home, forgetting that not everyone has access to fruits, vegetables and free time. 

This is the beauty of modern food programs: they make us finally start looking for answers to vital questions. For example, how is food related to emotions?

For those who just want to relax after a hard day, there is also suitable content: TV is still trying to entertain, and Internet channels are not lagging behind. Videos from Tasty , a subsidiary of BuzzFeed, seem to be addictive: the creators know how to use our dopamine receptors, showing an endless cycle of cooking, from simple to downright monstrous. The 100-Layer Crepe Giant Cake videos are pure entertainment, a source of memes and content for other channels like Kalen Reacts . In the same row is the new favorite of the public, the show ” Nailed It “, in which aspiring pastry chefs have to repeat horribly complex desserts in an unfairly short period of time. Thanks to him, you are unlikely to learn to cook, but you will laugh to cubes on the press.   

Our needs change – and new shows are created in response to them. On the one hand, in the era of excessive consumption, we swallow information more than ever greedily; You can’t eat all the food, but you can look at it. On the other hand, if it is possible to satisfy the desire for possession simply by watching videos, then this is quite a responsible consumption. As if we were watching shows without buying extra clothes and reading beauty blogs without ordering tons of cosmetics.

What the next generation of cooking shows has certainly helped us make is to live multiple lives at once. You can travel around the world without getting up from the couch, find friends without opening your mouth, and learn new hobbies without leaving your home. Food is everywhere – around and within us, and you cannot escape from it and its importance, even if you are on a Soylen diet and have never fried eggs in your life. Perhaps this is the beauty of modern food programs: they make us finally start looking for answers to vital questions. Why are we eating? What place does food occupy in our life? How is it related to emotions? How to be more respectful of nature? How to balance excess and frugality? How to defeat hunger? If we can find answers to these questions, then it doesn’t matter why – after learning about Jamie Oliver, seeing Miyazaki drawing ramen, or watching a video about cookie climbing. Winners are not judged.

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