Megan-Jane McArdle-Galt, "The Joy of Not Cooking".
SURE, sure; Boggioni and Edroso have already picked this carcass clean. But I'm a lifelong cook, and McArdle actually offends my sensibilities in a different way, or maybe just one additional way, though the whole History of Modern Cuisine as told by a Shopaholic Aristo is certainly irritating enough.
It's hard to tell how much of this is confused, and how much just stupid, a question already raised in noting McArdle as the author. As so often--at least often in relation to how much I read her stuff--she seems to be pitching a concept, not making an argument. The Atlantic (cursed be thy name!) piece starts off asking why we spend more on kitchens but don't cook, then seems to drop the question once it dawns on Megan (about 1500 words after it must've hit her readers) that a sensible, reasonable mass extinction of the conspicuous consumer might condemn her to shopping at Sears.
What does it mean that people put $6000 Viking ovens and $15,000 worth of refrigerated cabinetry, bookmatched to the handles of their knives, into kitchens where they never cook? Well, on its face, little or nothing much beyond the mindless gadget-fetish the reasonably aware observer trudges through every day of his life, blessedly exempt from the ability to buy, and thus from the idiocy required to take it seriously. Writ against the thirty-years of sacrifice both parties now ask of the people that sort of consumer hires to keep this stuff spotless, a great deal. You already know Megan will ignore that consumer trend while puzzling the whole thing out.
And my Lord, that video! She starts off trying to link it to the article ("We're going to bake a cake the way my grandmother would have in 1950, and then see why it's so much easier today even though you wouldn't think that much has changed," though this might raise the question, in the non-apodictic economist, of why people would be spending small fortunes on crap they didn't imagine was any different from the batterie of the middle of the last century). But we seem to drop that notion within a minute. She doesn't actually bake a cake just like grandma did; instead she trots out a whisk, an egg-beater, and a hand-crank sifter for demonstration purposes. (Christ, she can't even be bothered to turn off the convection oven and bake à la June Cleaver.)
Of course this Panglossian electronic gizmo worship is bad enough (and the fact that Megan never tires of it is even worse), but then apparently it wasn't demonstrative enough, so all the sudden we've brought in the fucking 1900s, evidently so Megan can add "electricity" to "iPods" on the list of things she was wise enough to be born in time for. Maybe she really did make a cake by primitive 1950s methods, and discovered it really isn't all that different or any more time consuming than today.
With two differences, and those differences are telling. First, Megan compares the laborious, old-timey, hand-crank method of sifting flour with…dumping it into a food processor. Except that she's using a dusting sifter, which is properly used to sprinkle small volumes of powdered sugar as decoration. For larger volumes of flour a sieve is the proper tool. Whisking works just as well. Hell, so does dumping packaged flour into a new container before use. The food processor, on the other hand, well, now you've got a fucking food processor to clean. No real cook uses those gizmos casually, because they're a fucking pain in the ass to wash. Although--this is telling point #2--the real time saver between the 1950s kitchen and today's McWizard's Den is the ubiquitous dishwasher. Didn't see Megan demonstrating that. (Hell, if you watch--and I don't recommend it--you'll notice she doesn't even clean up her own spills.)
Special mention has to be made of her insistence that cooks in olden times had to measure butter by climbing in the bathtub with it and noting how much water it displaced. I have no idea where this comes from. Maybe it's a reference to the commercial practices of the Pre-iPad People, a savage era where an entrepreneur risked losing the finger he stuck on the scale. No one who cooks can imagine someone--especially someone spending twelve hours a day in a depressingly downscale kitchen--going through that sort of rigamarole rather than eyeballing a measure with practiced eye.
All this, apparently, is Megan being Megan: the whiz-bang kitchen of 2011 must be superior to grandma's, since the Free Market decrees that each bell must now have its own dedicated whistle; purveyors of over-priced, disused tchotchkes must be worth their big profit margins, because they can mouth psychobabble inanities and expound on current buying fads. No mention, of course, that granny's horribly-uneven-heating oven could, if it broke down, be fixed by any handyman on the block, while today's requires a factory-certified technician with a minor in programming, nor that any of the modern wonders smaller than a stove goes straight to the landfill the minute its trim color goes out of fashion. The deeper irritation, for me, is encapsulated by the easy adoption of "foodie", the ugliest word in the modern lexicon in that it is embraced by the very people who pretend an expertise which ought to put them at odds with that sort of adspeak juvenilia. "Foodie" perfectly conveys the modern sensibility that gushing beats expertise any day. It exempts the Megan McArdles from any obligation of knowing something beyond what could fit in a tweet, while still conferring membership in an exclusive club. "I'm a foodie" explains your superior insistence on Peccorino romano. "I'm just a foodie" explains your presence at a wine tasting when you couldn't tell Chambertin from fino sherry. It's connoisseurship without all the demanding knowledge stuff. If this were just some silly twit inadvertently demonstrating her ignorance, that would be one thing. It's not. This is the same way her economic system works, and on the pages of a once-fine magazine. It's the way Les Aristos actually trickle all that extra cash the Republican party insists we have to give 'em. I grant you, it's objectionable enough in and of itself. But at least they could have the courtesy to bother doing it right.