I don’t watch a lot of TV, and have gone long periods of my life without having one attached to anything other than a VHS or DVD player, but I do watch the odd cooking show when I’m chilling out.
In spite of my initial misgivings about the sanity of anyone who would market themselves as “The Naked Chef,” I’ve since become a fan of Jamie Oliver, who is very popular here in Britain. His crusade to reform school food has made him something of a national hero (as an aside, the bits of Supersize Me that deal with the behavioural impact of processed, high-fat, high-sugar school lunches on student behaviour and achievement is even scarier and more worrying than finding out what happens to a man who lives on McDonalds for a month).
Jamie’s latest series has him bumming around scenic bits of Italy trying to get close to his culinary roots. In the episode I saw, he went to a monastery with the oldest herb garden in the world, and one of the first libraries of recipes ever collected. When he arrived, he discovered the monks living on frozen and canned foods, having completely forgotten their rich culinary heritage. Even the herb garden was dead.
The fearless Jamie decided that since he couldn’t study cooking from anyone there, he would teach them how to cook again, and to re-connect to the beauty of good food. Throughout the episode, he talked about food and eating together as his religion, and of the almost spiritual importance of the quality of what you put in your body.
The monks seemed to really take to this, and Oliver’s point was exceptionally well made- bringing back real food to this old monastery did seem to bring back a sense of community and joy.
However, at the end of the episode, I had to cringe and cringe hard. The lesson on food having been taught, Jamie told the monks that, although he found their music “beautiful and all that,” he wanted them to hear his music. So he replaced their chants for a moment with music he said was all about love, a pop song that he connects to his wife. The song was by The Cure (my old band mate and top pontificator Doug Hildebrand famously said of them, that “sometimes The Cure is worse than the disease.”)
Now, I don’t want to demean the importance of another couple’s “song,” but as I listened to the mechanized, plasticized and computerized groove on this song, I couldn’t help but think I was listening to the musical equivilent of Jamie’s dreaded nemesis, the Turkey Twizlzer. Although the monks were for some reason using a Casiotone type electronic keyboard instead of the organ for their services, they’re musical traditions had stayed close to the values Jamie espouses about food- real music, made by real people that is connected to who they are and where they’re from.
All this got me thinking- there is a growing ethos about food in both Britain and the US, which, while still perhaps in the shadow of horrible chain restaurants and ready meals, is a powerful market force. This outlook is so close to the ethos of classical music (I’ve written on this subject before), that we ought to be looking at how we can help people like Jamie appreciate the honesty and freshness of real music, played live in a room on real instruments, fresh and direct without a computer processing, sampling or market testing.
The difference between The Cure and Brittany Spears is just like the difference between two corporate, pre-fabricated, frozen and pre-packaged forms of restaurants. Cure is to BS (Brittany Spears) as Fridays is to McDonalds. Surely a chef, of all people, should know that the Cure’s long-since brand-name-franchised sound (they’ve got an industrial patent on pre-fab-corpo-angst) is no more honest or fresh than a frozen fish finger. Come on Jamie, get your music fresh from the local musicians!
c. 2007 Kenneth Woods