At most parties and gatherings that we go to , I notice that the conversation eventually comes around to the topic of food. Our friends and we all enjoy food : cooking it ,eating it and discussing it . Many of us like reading about it and tracking down new restaurants to go to, new recipes to try . I don’t want to give the impression that we obsess about food but we definitely are very interested in it . I suppose that all of us fit the definition of a foodie. There are many of us foodies, particularly in the larger cities and along the coasts where there is greater variety and more exposure to foreign cuisines. It comes as a surprise to find that are plenty of people , grown people , who are abysmally ignorant about food and don’t know their way about the kitchen . If these were all single people who ate out all the time I could understand , ( a little), but not a few are full time home-makers who are responsible for what they and their families eat. You could call them the opposite of foodies.
I came to know of this by watching a show called ” Worst Cooks in America ” on the Food Network. The premise of the show is simple . Select 12 of the worst cooks you can find , divide them into two groups and have each group mentored by a famous chef. Test their cooking skills each week by having them prepare the same dish . The chefs taste each dish and eliminate one contestant from each group. The last remaining contestant wins the grand prize of $ 25,000.
Initially , I didn’t think I’d like this show . Accustomed to watch chefs preparing beautiful , delectable looking dishes , who would want to watch a bunch of amateurs stumble around the kitchen , botching everything they did ?
I was wrong because I was not prepared for the absolute awfulness of their ” creations “. At the initial tryout , where 24 aspirants were pared down to the final 12 , each was asked to prepare his signature dish , the one that was most representative of their cooking. Man, Oh man ! Talk about disgusting ! I felt sorry for the two chefs who had to taste test the 24 entries. One entrée was a turkey meatloaf with candied yams ( in the meatloaf , not alongside it ) ; the chef -judge said he didn’t know whether it was a main dish or a dessert. Another was a peanut butter encrusted cod dish which looked as horrible as it sounds and which managed to be ” burnt and mushy at the same time “. Yet another was Triple Chocolate Pancakes so dense yet pliable that they couldn’t be broken into two even using both hands.One contestant took the minimalist approach , heating up a can of tomato soup and ” garnishing ” it with some yellow straws ( not sure what they were). I felt sorry for him because he said he lived mostly on cereal.
The aspirants ranged in age from their twenties to their early forties . There were slightly more women than men , and their professions ran the gamut from dance teacher to grants adminstrator to waitress to journalist to real estate agent . Some were mothers / home makers and it was listening to them that I went from being incredulous to feeling pity. One woman said she couldn’t eat her own food and that her children cry when they sit down to eat. Another said that her little girl begged her ” Please, mom , please learn how to cook.”
While these may have been among the worst cooks in America , they were by no means oddities. For every person in America who is interested in food , there must be three or four that are absolutely ignorant about it. I remember the checker at the supermarket who was unfamiliar with a cauliflower and had to ask me what it was. I could have understood if it was something exotic like bok choy or celeriac or parsnips … but cauliflower ?!!
Many people eat only a few foods, heavy on meat and potatoes , light on vegetables.An acquaintance of mine travels regularly to Korea on business but absolutely refuses to try Korean food. Instead he subsists on steak and fries and fast food from Burger King and other such outlets . I am reminded of the story about the American tourist who went to Paris , home of some of the best cuisine in the world , and demanded ” Don’t y’all have any real food ? Hamburgers ? French Fries ?’ Such people have a diet loaded with fats , salt and sugar and they lack basic knowledge about nutrition . Eating large is considered an accomplishment and portion sizes are unheard of. Is it any wonder then that obesity is a major problem in our country ?
In the past , when girls were brought up with the idea that they were destined for marriage and children and running a home , their mothers used to teach them how to cook . It’s great that girls horizons have expanded and they can look forward to careers of their own but , in the process , they are no longer taught the rudiments of cooking :neither are the boys . As a result , a startling proportion of the meals consist of fast food or take-out . ” Cooking” usually means heating up semi- prepared foods , instead of making something from scratch. No wonder that the average time spent on making dinner is a mere 29 minutes.
The real shame not only is eating like this unhealthy, it is more expensive and less enjoyable than eating home -cooked meals made from scratch. I understand that with both parents working it is difficult to come home of an evening and cook a meal . Juggling the duties of work , children and home is at times almost impossible and it is all too easy to take the easy way out and order a bucket of KFC . Yet , unless one makes an effort to know the basics of food and cooking , one may very well wind up on a future episode of ” Worst Cooks in America “.