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A Ray of Hope: Rachel Laughs All the Way to the Food Bank

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I used to read the National Enquirer because (a) it entertained me, and (b) it always made me feel so profoundly grateful that I wasn't rich and famous. Who wants to live in that eternal purgatory of publicity?

My Macmeister husband Matt provides tech support to some pretty famous and wealthy people, so I've had the chance to observe this exotic species up close, and I can say one thing for sure: they are just as starved for approval and affection as the rest of the human race.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously noted that "the very rich are different from you and me," to which Hemingway reportedly replied, "yes, they have more money."

Ah, but -- as the Beatles so astutely, and tunefully, observed -- money can't buy me love.

And it can't buy you a thicker skin, either. Being in the public eye means being forever in the bull's eye, a human dart board perpetually peppered by snark-tipped darts.

All of which brings me to Rachel Ray, whose recent appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulos caught me off guard. There she was on the Sunday wonkfest making a pitch for the Great American Bake Sale, a fundraiser to help the hungry:

"Imagine what it's really like to go hungry. And then imagine what that must be like for a small child, how that must make them feel, completely lesser-than in every way; they're not good enough to get food?"

Ray recently founded a non-profit named (what else?) Yum-O, to which some will no doubt say, Yuck-O! Her mission? To empower "kids and their families to improve their relationship with food and cooking."

Well, I'm down with that. I saw Michael Pollan give a reading from the Omnivore's Dilemma last year and after he read a thoroughly depressing excerpt about the awful American diet, someone asked him "What can we do to change things?" His response? "People have to start cooking
again."

This is, of course, the message of Carlo Petrini's Slow Food Movement, too, but Petrini will find it slow-going indeed trying to make inroads in the back roads of America's artery-clogged heartland. Ray's 30-minute mantra, by contrast, reaches legions of people who've never heard of artisanal cheese and do not spend an inordinate amount of time weighing what brew to pair with their pork chops.

I've never been a fan of Ray's, but I'm not a Ray hater, either; the Rachel Ray Sucks Community is, to me, the saddest kind of social network, a colossal waste of time when we have so many problems we're not really tackling. Yes, she can be annoying, and I find her mannerisms grating, too, but I'm way more bothered by the fathead in the White House than the pleasantly plump, eternally sunny Ray.

I know foodies who insist Ray has set the cause of real food back decades with her reliance on short-cut convenience foods. But I've seen the proverbial Joe six-pack types at my local farmstand upstate snatch up bunches of kale saying "Hey, isn't this that stuff Rachel Ray is always cooking with?" Anyone who can boost kale sales gets whole grain/fair trade chocolate/agave-sweetened brownie points from me.

More importantly, someone who uses her fame to try to get Americans to focus on less fortunate folks deserves better than derision. And getting Americans back in the kitchen to cook is, as another much-mocked domestic diva would say, "a good thing," even if Ray's recipes rely on shortcuts that make food snobs cringe.

Is Rachel Ray someone I'd want to hang out with? I don't know, but I'm glad she's throwing her weight - -which the Rachel Ray Sucks Community loves to fixate on -- behind fighting hunger and getting Americans cooking again.

If I had to be stuck in a food desert with someone, I'd take Rachel Ray over the Rachel Ray Sucks Community any day. Because I'd rather talk about real food and real problems than ask whether so-and-so is too thin, or too fat. Why not ask yourselves, instead, why healthy foods are so expensive they're perceived as a luxury item, and why taking the time to make a home-cooked meal is another luxury so many overworked, underpaid Americans feel they can't afford?

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