by Gino De Blasio | 4 Minute Read
Jerry Seinfeld once famously quipped, “What is this obsession people have with books? They put them in their houses like they’re trophies. What do you need it for after you read it?” Dusting off your last Dostoevsky novel before your more learned friends come over is of course, nothing new. Have cookbooks taken over the mantle of showing off?
Has the obsession with food books for many a foodie, author included, gone somewhat OTT. To people like us, they are shiny, pretty things that Gollum wouldn’t stand a chance of capturing, they’re as evocative as a Mills & Boon (1) novel and the pictures make us salivate and think, “how the fuck do I cook that?”
Food novels have just played into the new, modern day psyche of how well read or versed one can be when discussing the world. In the days of Dickens, reading about peasants and the royal elite was worthy of the gentleman clubs, cigar smoking, port swelling vestries of that time; now, the coffee shop is where the world’s rights and wrongs are put to order, starting with “did you see x on TV last night?” or “how do you make a good roast?” The latter, of course, for those looking to establish themselves as confirmed epicurean masters.
However, today’s books put a whole new twist about knowledge and play into the world dominating craze that is, food fad; something that can be as irritating as a self-aggrandising “gin expert” (2) after attending one tasting event in a tent, in the middle of a field. Well done by the way.
We have somehow gone from Julia Child in the 1960s with her gastronomic course of French food to two sisters and a lifestyle actress plugging spiralizers over pasta machines, quinoa over rice and coconut butter over, dairy butter. We went from guilt free flavour and cooking craft to self abdication in the time it took us to understand the human genome, develop the internet and shift world politics from seemingly liberal to terrifyingly extreme right wing. Whilst the other, larger stuff terrifies me, the thought of a spiralized meal is by far the most concerning.
“A recent survey revealed that one in 10 of those who own shiny new copies of popular cookbooks never opens them.” And that shouldn’t surprise anyone, after all, the UK is the only nation in Western Europe where the food literacy rate has to be so dumbed down, the basic ingredients of Dolmio Sauce (3) and Mars Bars even warn you to consume preferably once a week. Sorry, when is your Dolmio day again?
As multicoloured as a Persian place setting, as orange as a night out in Liverpool, cookbooks have become lifestyle tools; ones which easily point out to any visitor to your home, “I agree with Jamie Oliver’s quick, super healthy, comfort dining meals” or “I’m more of a traditionalist, I see Marcella Hazan as my own Harper Lee” or more disturbingly, “I love Katie Parla’s Instagram feed, I thought the book captures the essence of that.”
There are of course authors who stray from the glitzy photo shoot to sell what is the real substance of food books; great recipes. Intimidation from a picture is not their object but the immense amount of skill required to bone and butterfly a whole chicken for a “cheat’s” coq au vin is equally as daunting yet somehow, more reasonable a request.
No matter how many cookbooks you have though, unless you get into the kitchen and actually use them, they are just another trophy cabinet for those that didn’t do so great at sport’s day and were mediocre at maths or physics; author included.
What do your cookbooks say about you? Probably nothing, but more worryingly, if you bought them just to look good around your friends, probably everything.
1) Mills & Boon novels are basically, smut. They are designed for readers that genuinely think Fabio-esque passionate romances happen on a beach in a random tax haven somewhere. Laced between each page is a casual innuendo to the male appendage which is completely fine and not sexist whatsoever.
2) We covered off the “gin expert” in a recent post but in summary, Girls on tinder think they’re Gin experts because they like it. That would be like me saying, “I’m a guitar expert because I like listening to Eddie Van Halen shred my metaphorical underwear off!”
3) Dolmio Sauce is a manufactured tomato sauce that has been advertised on British TV screens with sinister Xenophobic undertones. Puppets play the part of an Italian family apparently having a “dolmio day” and incapable of speaking Italian to one another, they speak with the strongest Italian accents in English. It genuinely makes no sense…