Few things inspire the outrage that is prompted by foodie television stars.
Today, it's Nigella. An innocuous enough Guardian piece on her latest cookbook, Kitchen, elicits a range of passionate reactions.
Nigella panders to the poor sods who think they want to learn something new about food but actually just want a view of N's strategically placed middle class cardi. Of couse the tv shows just like her books are all a complete con as there is nothing either new or different about the recipes at all. Unfortunately the shows are only successful because of the plethora of assholes who pander to this kind of shit, and unfortunately there are a lot of these assholes around.
said one Guardian commenter with a Che avatar.
"I find the 'sexy' Nigella a real embarrassment," said another. "her Aging, finger licking Lolita act makes Hubert Humbert of us all, and it is getting terribly thin."
Any discussion of a Food Network personality - be it Sandra's tablescapes to Guy Fieri's antics to Ina's luxurious lifestyle (and I'm not even getting into Rachael Ray) - brings forth a similar barrage of passionate mixed feelings. What is it about food personalities that gets us so riled?
It wasn't always thus - or at least, not to this extent. As the Sterns' American Gourmet explains comprehensively, the early cooking shows were dry affairs, designed to help women who actually did put three meals a day on the table. There were hints of showmanship - James Beard was famous for producing a Dutch Baby to demonstrate the leavening power of eggs - but the focus was still on food rather than Aspiration. That changed with Julia Child, of course - but while she may have changed the TV landscape, she was so genuinely odd that the issues of class and aspiration that might have intruded were perhaps less apparent.
The ambivalence towards current food celebrities, of course, is not that different from that we see leveled at any celeb: the scrutiny of appearance and private life is as cruel and irrational as that applied to all entertainers. But there's something more, and I wonder if it doesn't have to do with the fact that, well, we all eat. Those of us who have to cook are naturally placed in a position of either wistful aspiration or contemptuous superiority, and resentment can come from either of these. Someone's life is seemingly perfect, her kitchen amazing, her herb garden overflowing? Good for her: I'm on a budget. As to those yahoos throwing turkey dogs and Velveeta into a blender - well, we could do that. Food, as we all know, is elemental, and as potent a dividing force as it is a source of bonding.
The issue of sexuality in food TV is an especially fraught one. From the first, Nigella's overtly campy innuendo was the subject of as much irritation as it was admiration. While other TV cooks - Giada and Sandra Lee - are often talked about in terms of appearance - Nigella is still the emblem of TV —food sexuality. Says one "LogicLover," "She is a category of porn. She is all about the money shot, where she licks some suitably sticky sauce off of her fingers, ideally while a stray dribble of it runs down her chin and then drops tantalisingly into her cleavage." But lest you think TV food-haters aren't equal-opp, "Nothing wrong with that though, I`d rather get food advice from a randy middle class MILF than from a lisping Mockney messiah."
Nigella Lawson's Kitchen Confessions [Guardian]
[Images via Getty]