Truth be told, I do not really hate Sandra Lee. She has never done me, or anyone I love, harm. For all I know she may be a perfectly wonderful person, someone who spends her every off camera waking hour working to make the world a better place. I do, however, despise everything about her public persona and what it represents. Her culinary perspective is reprehensible and a total affront to my own. Her tablescapes make me want to vomit, and her food certainly would. She epitomizes everything that has gone wrong with my formerly beloved Food Network.
Many times when I go on these rants people ask me why I don’t just change the channel and shut the %@#& up. On the surface that would seem to be a quite legitimate question. Why waste my breath ranting and raving about some Prozac addled Stepford wife whose claim to fame is that she can’t cook, and writes cookbooks for those who don’t want to cook? I could just change the channel, but what would I change it to?
Once upon a time I would put the Food Network on for hours on end and learn all kinds of interesting things. Marc Summers would come on and I would change the channel. Then they added the Barefoot Contessa, who is harmless but bores me to tears and rarely cooks anything that interests me. So I changed the channel again. Rachel Ray was initially fascinating, kind of like your best friend’s kid sister when you suddenly notice she has grown up to be pretty hot, then you realize that she still annoys you just as much as she always did, and a great ass doesn’t change that at all. Click, the channel is changed. Giada, the Zorak impersonator? Click! Guy Fieri? Puke and click! The Neeleys? Click! Big Daddy? Click! Adam Gertler? Click! If Alton Brown ever retires I will have no reason to ever turn that channel on again.
Sure, my raging against the machine is a pointless exercise, the Food Network will continue to look for new Rachel Rays, and real chefs like Batali and Bourdain will take their considerable skills to places like PBS and the Travel Channel. Speaking of PBS, their Saturday morning cooking line-up is even better than the Food Network’s ever was, but that is only a few hours out of an entire week. I miss being able to get a foodie fix 24/7, and I know that it is gone forever. So I bitch about it, and Sandra Lee is the most obvious and heinous symbol of everything that is wrong with, not just the Food Network, but popular culture in general.
I am a huge music lover and for most of my life I just took it for granted that I would always have the over-abundance of choices that had always been available to me. Being born in the 60’s meant that, as a small child, almost every radio in the world produced wonders. The 70’s gave birth to Metal and Punk when I was just the perfect age for it. The 80’s will always be New Wave, Prince, and an amazing underground scene spawned by the short-lived Punk movement. In the 90’s that underground bubbled up into something incredible with the stupid label of Alternative. It was probably the most diverse time in musical history where Punk, Pop, Reggae, Hip Hop and even Folk all existed side by side, even in one notable case, Sublime, all in one band. Record sales went through the roof, and there was something for just about everyone.
How could anyone think that it would ever be any different? There were Rock Stars before I was born, and for 30 years of my life there was always something new and good coming along. Sure, when I was listening to Punk, most folks were doing the Hustle. But Patti Smith, Blondie, Television, The Ramones and Mink DeVille all had recording contracts, and a disaffected kid in Toledo, Ohio could walk into any record store and buy his or her music. And the 80’s that I nostalgically remember as Devo and Prince? Hair Metal was also omnipresent. Even the Alternative scene gave us insipid crap like Dave Matthews, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Sugar Ray mixed in with groundbreaking acts like Jane’s Addiction, The Replacements, and Fugazi. There was crass commercialism in all of those eras, and it produced a lot of crap, but not to the exclusion of everything else. Like what we have today.
How did it all get taken away from us? How did we get from the days when a skinny kid from Hibbing, Minnesota or Asbury Park, New Jersey could become the voice of their generation to a time when Disney and American Idol force feed us crap so bad that it almost makes me nostalgic for Hootie? Because we let it happen.
No, we did not personally let guys like Clive Davis and Ahmet Ertigun be replaced by weenies with ponytails and MBA’s who believed that they were the real talent and the artists were just the product. We also were not responsible for laws being changed that allowed for the consolidation of almost all media outlets into the hands of 6 highly conservative corporate entities. It is not on our heads that these media conglomerates manufacture crap and then make sure that it gets played on our radios and TVs. Our choice in these matters was taken away without our knowledge, against our wishes, and sometimes even despite large public outcries.
Our cuplability lies in the fact that accept all of these things. Instead of letting the powers-that-be know that we want quality by rushing en masse to buy ridiculous quantities of CDs by the Black Keys, most Americans huddle around their TVs watching the spectacularly talent-free freakshow that is American Idol. Even worse, we pretend that the “talent” on the show matters. Try and imagine Miles Davis or Janis Joplin attempting to gain the approval of a sodden, over-the-hill, barely-was pop tart like Paula Abdul. Yeah, we’re guilty as hell.
What does any of this have to do with my personal bogeyman, or bogeywoman in this case, Sandra Lee? America, in recent years, has finally begun to develop a real food and wine culture. Ingredients that were once very difficult to find for most people are now readily available in every supermarket. Many kitchen shelves that once held Betty Crocker and church cookbooks chock full of tuna casserole and cupcake recipes might now be filled with tomes by Thomas Keller and Masaharu Morimoto.
Whenever this new food and wine culture is discussed a lot of credit is given to people like Alice Waters and Charlie Trotter, and they definitely deserve credit for creating “foodie” culture, but I would submit that the Food Network is responsible for the masses getting it. So when we accept them replacing the real chefs with Sandra Lee it is no different than when we traded Jimi Hendrix and the Talking Heads for Taylor Hicks and Clay Aikens. Just like the abundance of music choices in the 90’s evaporated into our current cultural wasteland, so our current love of fresh, well-prepared, seasonal foods could just as quickly return to canned tuna and overcooked noodles held together with a glue made of Campbell’s mushroom soup and dried onion crumbs.
So telling me to change the channel misses the point. I have already changed the channel, and you probably have too, but unless we get everyone else to do the same thing the Sandra Lees will win. Unless you enjoy green bean casserole and Wonder bread, perhaps you could find someone who actually can change the channel, and encourage them to do so. Not only will you be doing your part to keep food and wine culture alive, but you will also get me to shut up about this subject, which is what you really meant by “just change the channel, will you?”