There’s an old wise-crack that “everybody has the right to my opinion.” It’s a quip that brings to mind every bobble-headed political pundit on cable news. But more and more, oddly, it seems to apply to chefs.
With the rise of shows like “Top Chef” and “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” and Food Network recently announcing its best month ever for ratings, Americans are arguably more food-conscious than ever before.
So what to do if you’re a chef who wants to distinguish himself? Pick up your pen — or a camera crew, for that matter. Unfortunately, the result is often tasteless.
The most recent example is British “Naked Chef” Jamie Oliver, whose show “Food Revolution” started its second season. Oliver suggests that increasing rates of obesity are largely caused by our lack of cooking, and hopes that by dishing out school lunch himself, things will reform.
The irony is that the dishes Oliver himself offers up online aren’t necessarily going to flatten anyone’s abs. His beef stir fry tops out at 1,300 calories-plus. And let’s not get into the creamy pasta carbonara, which can approach a day’s worth of calories.
Now there’s nothing wrong with an occasional high-octane meal. But if you’re going to demonize school cooks for making 500-calorie meals, I expect a little practicing of what you preach.
Then there’s Mark Bittman at The New York Times. Bittman wrote colorful food columns full of interesting recipes until January. Now, he writes stomach-churning polemics about food.
One of his favorite whipping boys is so-called processed food—a category that includes TV dinners, boxed foods and apparently anything not made from a recipe in a cookbook.
Like Oliver, some recipes from Bittman’s best-selling cookbook “How to Cook Everything” are less healthy than the “processed” alternatives he demonizes. His burger has more fat and calories than a Big Mac. And many of his other entrees, like chicken parmesan, have more calories and fat than their frozen dinner counterparts.
Last but not least is the Godfather of foodie culture, Michael Pollan. He’s a bestselling author and de facto philosophical leader of the “foodie” movement in which Oliver and Bittman serve as proselytizers. He advises not eating anything with more than five ingredients, and to not eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize.
It’s easy for celebrity food pundits to tell us we should buy “local” and “organic” and “free-range” — or my favorite, “air-chilled.” But for many Americans, eating elite is out of their price range.
How appetizing is paying $8 for a dozen eggs, even in good economic times? And the “organic” crops that are a favorite of Pollan and others not only come at a price premium, but can take more land to grow the same amount of food. On a more practical matter: Pity the poor Bostonian trying to buy local in January.
We wouldn’t want the loudmouths on cable news to make public policy decisions. And neither should we want chefs — no matter how well intentioned — to dictate food policy.
They can continue teaching us how to dish up fettuccine, as long as it doesn’t come with a side of pretentiousness.