Chefs have become rock stars, cooking to cheering crowds of adoring fans who hang on every swish of their whisks. All this is very cool as it has raised awareness of cooking in our country and made it hip and chic again. But there's a big problem with all this chef worship. It's making us fat.
America sees itself as a food culture as a result of phenomena like The Food Network www.foodnetwork.com. I beg to differ. America is an eating culture. Regardless of the quality, quantity or source of the food, we eat...and eat and eat. Many of our so-called celebrity chefs are leading the parade of obesity. And we follow giddily along swallowing all the fat, sugar and salt they cook.
How their consciences can allow them to prepare food as they do knowing the health crises this nation faces is a mystery to me. I guess big payouts go a long way toward silencing that voice inside us that nags away when we do the wrong thing.
Watching Paula Deen cook could give you a stroke without taking one bite of the deadly food she cooks. In the name of southern hospitality and tradition, she has fried her way into the clogged hearts of America. Why? Her buttery drawl and southern Mama shtick has given us permission to indulge in the foods we know are stealing our health. Oh, she may encourage us to sit down together as a family around the table, but what she encourages eating is at the root of the obesity problem in this country.
She talks southern tradition and having a carefree attitude in the kitchen, but then cautions viewers (rightly so) to be sure wash and disinfect (with diluted bleach...yuck...) cutting boards and utensils used for cooking chicken so as to not cross contaminate in their kitchens. Doesn't anyone question the sanity of eating a meat that has to be so carefully handled so it doesn't poison us? Worth thinking about.
Hours of The Food Network dance across the screen with overweight chefs dazzling us with little catch phrases...B.T.B. (bring to a boil...), EVOO (we all know that one...), BAM (and that one...) as they cook food loaded with fat, sugar and salt, their bellies bulging over their pants.
Butter sizzles; meat browns; cheese is grated; desserts are frosted, glazed, sprinkled with loads of sugar. Even vegetables are made fattening served smothered in butter and sauces that clog arteries as quickly as the fattiest cut of meat. The chefs taste, savoring every perfect bite on-air, (of course, it's perfect; there's a staff cooking it...) tempting us to join in their unhealthy feasts.
And Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and Lean Cuisine commercials fill in the breaks between the fat-soaked cooking segments. Oy!
Look, I do this for a living; I host my own show on national public television. And while my commitment is to healthy cooking, I don't expect everyone to follow suit (it would be nice, but I live in the real world). What I expect; demand is some responsibility on the part of chefs. Everyone knows that the future of food is in making real, whole foods delectable and sexy. So why are all these superstar chefs remaining in the dark ages of the food world?
We live in a time of staggering obesity rates and diseases that are crippling us in epidemic numbers. People look to chefs (like it or not) for guidance on cooking and how to get dinner on the table for their loved ones. And while the argument can be made that these shows are just entertainment and no one takes them seriously, just look around. We're not getting fitter, slimmer or healthier. And what we cook and eat plays a huge role in that (pun intended). What we are encouraged to eat, even in the name of entertainment makes an impact.
Look, we don't need more food police taking all the fun and sexiness out of our food. The media could make you lose your appetite with conflicting study after conflicting study so that eating has become complicated, scary and messy. And they have managed to give healthy eating all the appeal of a root canal. We have to demand better from everyone that has a food influence, so to speak...from chefs (television or not) to culinary schools and students. We need to create a new normal for food; one that promotes the choices that promote health, vitality and wellness.
In a culture that tells us that French fries count as a serving of vegetables and broccoli is painted as no fun, it's up to chefs to stand up for food...real food and make a difference in this country's health. If we like it up on the pedestal of rock star and have people fall faint in our presence, then I think we have to take the responsibility that goes with that and work to make America a healthier, stronger country.
The food that chefs cook and showcase tell the story of who we are. Wouldn't it be great if that food told the story of who we could become? The food we prepare and eat forms the foundation of our health. It would be nice if chefs stood together to make that foundation strong and solid and not let it slide down the slippery slope of cheese soup and fried chicken.