Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Why Are Shows on Cooking and Design So Popular?

Project Runway, Top Chef, Top Chef Masters, Kitchen Nightmares, Masterchef, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern  -  the list of shows where people make exquisite food and beautiful clothes can go on forever. Why are people in this country willing to sit there for hours staring mesmerized at food they can't taste and clothes they can't wear?

The answer is simple. Existence in the United States is bereft of what one would call "the finer things in life." Many people can't afford to eat anywhere other than the horrible McDonald's or Taco Bell and buy their clothes anywhere other than Walmart. If you are lucky enough to belong to the dwindling middle class, then maybe you can afford to visit The Olive Garden every other week and wear the horrible concoctions sold at Gap. Buying exclusively fresh produce and meats is likely to bankrupt pretty much any family with a regular income.

The most paradoxical thing about life in the US is that people strongly believe that they live in the richest country in the world while eating the kind of rubbish that a European person wouldn't feed to their dog and wearing clothes only fit to wash the floor.

What's curious, though, is that this is not entirely a class thing. Throughout my Ivy League experiences, I met many very wealthy people. And still, they mostly ate junk and wore rubbish. Granted, their junk and rubbish were expensive but the fact that they paid a lot for it changed nothing.

The reason people choose (when it is a choice and not a matter of limited means) to eat and wear stuff that tastes and looks horrible is what they call "convenience." Buying pre-processed foods at the deli is more "convenient" than making something yourself from fresh ingredients. Wearing jeans, T-shirts and sneakers everywhere you go is more "convenient" than assembling outfits and accessories that will reflect your own style and your state of mind every day.

At a first glance, this explanation seems to make sense. Cooking from scratch, assembling outfits. Who's got the time for all that stuff? But if yout think about it, isn't there something really disturbing about not having time for such things? Almost since the day they are born, people in this country are told that they have to be productive at all costs all the time. Engaging in things that are not directly related to productivity is seen as frivolous and dispensable. People have neither time nor energy to savor and enjoy the finer things in life. Having time to themselves makes them feel so guilty that they hang out at work long after it's perfectly OK to go home, invent useless activities at work, sign up for endless duties that leave them exhausted at the end of the day.

As a result, they are left with jeans, hamburgers, television, and very little less. Besides work, work, work, of course.


Richard said...

Living in Belgium for a number of years has given me a different perspective on the so-called American Work Ethic. Much of what passes for work in the U. S. is actually not productive activity, but milling around acting like work is being done e.g. agenda less meetings, pointless paper shuffling, and writing reports that will never be read, much less applied. The Europeans appear to get just as much accomplished as Americans in terms of actual production, but manage to take two hour lunch breaks, and work a 36 hour week.

Clarissa said...

Oh, I agree completely. It's more performing productivity than actually doing anything useful. It's like people think they need to pretend that they are doing something all the time. And, boy, do Americans love pointless meetings.

eric said...

Where I live, there are a lot of farms around, and there is a lot of fresh food available for cheaps. Most people, I suspect, are just not willing to go through the trouble to wash & chop the vegetables, though. But my wife and I don't work to the bone to pay off expensive consumer items, and we only have a dog to take care of, so we can do the whole home cooking thing right.

As an anecdote, my grandmother always pokes fun at younger generations for complaining about chores, as she used to make her own tortillas (and everything else) from scratch, and wash everybody's clothes by hand. It's amazing how expectations have changed!

As far as clothing--I've always been a crummy dresser, but I've always chalked it up to my Asperger's.

I remember being a security guard while in college, that being the only job where standing around, smoking, and reading magazines (studying, actually) were all integral to my nightly duties. But it didn't pay enough to parlay into a career.

Joy-Mari Cloete said...

performing productivity: luvvit!

There's also a certain status to buying pre-washed produce, though it yet again ties in with giving the illusion of being so busy that they have to buy these items.