Before the Internet and food TV, you had to be pretty dedicated to be a foodie. It didn't hurt to have deep pockets, either -- how else would you be able to sample so many vintages of wine and wheels of aged cheeses? Now, though, it's easy (and a lot cheaper) to be a next-generation foodie -- just turn on your TV anytime, day or night, and you can be transported to a restaurant in Zimbabwe, a bar in Barcelona or a test kitchen in Los Angeles. Of course, you still need to shell out if you want exceptional ingredients or the fine-dining experience at Per Se, but you only really need cable TV if you want foodie knowledge.
Strangely though, for all their popularity, TV cooking shows don't do what you'd think they would: inspire people to cook. In fact, just the opposite has happened; Americans continue to eat out more and cook less. We make best-sellers out of celebrity-chef cookbooks, but it doesn't seem like many of us are actually taking a stab at the recipes [source: Pollan].
One of the most common criticisms of so-called "dump and stir" programming is that it creates a false reality of what it's like to be a chef, and even the wrong idea of how to go about cooking a meal in your own kitchen. On a TV program, every dish always turns out perfectly, and with all the camera angles and editing, it's hard to get an idea of how long the cooking and baking really takes. If you're accustomed to watching Food Network stars Giada De Laurentiis and Ina Garten whip up beautiful meals without batting an eye, trying to duplicate that feat at home can be pretty intimidating. According to New York Times Food Writer Michael Pollan, many Americans spend a lot more time watching cooking programs than actually cooking [source: Pollan].
It might be tempting to say this new generation weaned on cooking shows and celebrity chefs is a watered-down version of the old foodie -- at the least, there's less emphasis on actual cooking. But thankfully, the snob factor is disappearing now that everyone with cable and Internet access can learn about the latest trends and newest restaurants. Food TV enthusiasts are well rounded and incredibly knowledgeable, thanks to the nonstop stream of food information at their fingertips. And that has to be, as Martha Stewart is fond of saying, "a good thing."
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