I’m a sucker for food porn. It’s just a shame I can’t cook

I’m always missing a key ingredient at a vital moment, my curries often taste like bolognese, and my bolognese often tastes like nothing at all

Photograph: iStock/Getty

Photograph: iStock/Getty

Sat, Nov 16, 2013, 11:09

I was reading a copy of the Lady magazine recently – “for elegant women with elegant minds” – when my eyes fell upon the results of one of those ridiculous surveys that confirm everything the brands behind them want to say. But, thankfully, it also confirmed everything I wanted it to say, so here goes.

The survey claimed that the average British person owns 10 cookbooks, featuring 151 recipes per book, but that they’ve only ever attempted to cook four recipes from each. Which is clearly nonsense. There’s no way they’ve even bothered trying four from each.

Okay, so it was hardly the most scientific of results, but it did hint at a key point about the modern foodie industry, which is that its chief product isn’t delicious meals, artfully presented: it is waste.

It is the wasted paper of recipes never made. It is the wasted shopping trips for items used once, if at all, and then let run through their sell-by dates in the cupboard of overlooked spices.

The wasted money on appliances you used every day for a week and then put away forever. The wasted equipment that litters cutlery drawers, thrown in to exist as little more than household debris burying the tin opener you’re actually looking for.

It is the wasted time of taking Instagram pictures of your food, posting them on Twitter or Facebook, then checking to see the reaction. Then checking again to see why no one has reacted. Then Instagramming the next course. All the while wasting time you could spend talking to the person you’re eating with – but who is Instagramming their food anyway.

It is wasting the time of people who spend as long on your posts as it takes to realise it is just another mediocre Instagram of food.

It is the wasted sense of inadequacy for taking an hour and a half to cook a recipe that Jamie Oliver promised would take you 15 minutes. It is the wasted time of planning dishes you will never cook, of watching someone on television plan dishes you will never cook.


Sweetener
Before this appears too sour, I should sweeten it with a qualification: I love cooking. I am generally rubbish at it. I don’t do it as often as I would like. I’m always missing a key ingredient at a vital moment, my curries often taste like bolognese, and my bolognese often like nothing at all.

But I love making food, reading about it, watching it. I’m a glutton for Masterchef, and I leave the Saturday magazine ragged from torn-out recipes. I am a sucker for the foodie ideal and food porn. But they call it food porn for a reason, which is that it is about as realistic as actual porn.

Just last month Bord Bia surveyed 10,000 people in 10 “markets” (previously known as “countries”). Not all of the results were particularly enlightening.

At the Irish end of it, for example, 70 per cent of Irish people “enjoy cooking a great meal” – a statistic that leaves you only with a desire to attend a dinner party hosted by the remaining 30 per cent. Guest: “Great meal, George. You must have really enjoyed cooking it.” George: “Meh.”

Yet Bord Bia’s survey also said that while 67 per cent of people cook from scratch several times a week, only 15 per cent consider food to be a passion.

Given that we’re now said to be a nation of foodies, and that so much print and television is given over to feeding that supposed passion, you could argue that the latter figure seems quite low.

Perhaps it’s because, even as Irish food flourishes and restaurant standards rise, what is done at home doesn’t come even close to matching the foodie ideal.

That is what it is for so many people: an ideal, an aspiration framed by shelves heavy with unused cookbooks stuffed with forgotten recipes torn from magazines.

It is how the foodie industry needs it to be: a vision of unattainable bish-bash-bosh ease that encourages you to believe you can reach higher even as you sit in front of the TV with tuna and pasta thrown together for the third time that week and feeling guilty for being happy with it.

We do love food, but we love the ideal of food even more.


shegarty@irishtimes.com
@shanehegarty

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