Hans, Michael and Julia

Discussing Michael Pollan's Article this Sunday in the NYTimes Magazine, John referred me to the poet and media theorist, Hans Magnus Enzensberger 1970 essay called: Constituents of a Theory of the Media. In this essay Enzensberger lays out a radical call to decentralize media and resist central broadcasting. After reading Pollan's conclusion of encouraging us to 'cook it ourselves" I would take Enzensberger's concluding paragraph and replace the word 'artist' with 'chef' and develop a new call :
'For the old-fashioned “artist”(chef)—let us call him the author—it follows from these reflections that he must see it as his goal to make himself redundant as a specialist in much the same way as a teacher of literacy only fulfills his task when he is no longer necessary. Like every learning process, this process too is reciprocal. The specialist (chef) will learn as much or more from the nonspecialists as the other way round. Only then can he contrive to make himself dispensable.'

I love this idea of literacy in that we can be media illiterate and food illiterate and yet still actively or passively consume. Pollan does a great job of pointing out this connection over and over again–between media and food consumption as well as production. Contemporary anxiety of fast pacedness encourages a false sophistication, that is to say we watch chefs cook in lieu of cooking ourselves and decide what is good without ever eating.

What Pollan's article misses is that originally Julia Child's work WAS an instruction book (without any photographs or pictures except for drawn diagrams). Child's two volume book has inspired many chefs and cooks, while food network television stars skip this step of intense instruction (proving that they do not want to make themselves redundant). The true literacy project that Julia Child bought to America (as did MFK Fischer and James Beard) was "Mastering The Art of French Cooking".

Pollan makes Julia out to be the epitome of Enzensberger's artist, with her goal to make herself redundant, as a specialist much the same way a teacher of literacy fulfills their task when they are no longer necessary. Like Enzensberger's artist, what Julia brought to life in a television show, more so than in the books, was that we were all in this together, this was a learning process and this process was reciprocal. That is to say that although we were watching television, Pollan points out the ways in which she was able to make it interactive.

Media now displays many of the attributes that Enzensberger called for, via youtube, twitter and blogs. We DO have the beginnings of constituents making their own narratives, writing their own histories separate from centralized media. However, this discussion began with a blockbuster theater release–So it is a combination of hierarchy and meshwork that develops our understanding of everything. The in between places of grand narratives and individual stories are where we can find clearer, more complex and richer pictures of how we function. And this food issue may be the most important function. Our goal now should be to understand how to use these tools to set up expansive food practice exchanges. And in this, render the so-called specialist (chef) redundant.