The Star‘s “FYI/Living” columnists, as I see it, are charged with the semi-important task of sparking citywide conversations about, well, FYI/Living. What they are not to do, as I further understand it, is spend a few hundred words boring the reader with things he can read in any other venue. Case in point: the Monday column of hip youngster and amateur hip-hop expert Jenee Osterheldt, who opts to write about the newly vogue Julia Child. Why newly vogue? The book, the movie, etc. Oh, and the subject of just about every nationwide FYI/Living-ish columnist. As luck would have it, it’s also the subject of a sprawling Michael Pollan piece in yesterday’s NYT mag. Osterheldt seems to have just picked out choice themes for her own recycling:
Pollan: It was a kind of courage — not only to cook but to cook the world’s most glamorous and intimidating cuisine — that Julia Child gave my mother and so many other women like her, and to watch her empower viewers in episode after episode is to appreciate just how much about cooking on television — not to mention cooking itself — has changed in the years since “The French Chef” was on the air.
There are still cooking programs that will teach you how to cook. Public television offers the eminently useful “America’s Test Kitchen.” The Food Network carries a whole slate of so-called dump-and-stir shows during the day, and the network’s research suggests that at least some viewers are following along. But many of these programs — I’m thinking of Rachael Ray, Paula Deen, Sandra Lee — tend to be aimed at stay-at-home moms who are in a hurry and eager to please.
Osterheldt: Yet culinary stars such as Rachael Ray, Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis and Sunny Anderson have been on my radar lately. And they aren’t pastry chefs. They make meals. And ironically, I’m attempting their recipes…
She loved her craft and made it easier for home cooks everywhere. If Julia could discover the joys of cooking later in life, anyone can. With wit and imagination, she made millions feel they could make a great meal, too.
So finally I get the foodie fuss over the movie about her, “Julie & Julia,” out this weekend.
Pollan: And then, looking right through the camera as if taking us into her confidence, she utters the line that did so much to lift the fear of failure from my mother and her contemporaries: “If you’re alone in the kitchen, WHOOOO” — the pronoun is sung — “is going to see?” For a generation of women eager to transcend their mothers’ recipe box (and perhaps, too, their mothers’ social standing), Julia’s little kitchen catastrophe was a liberation and a lesson: “The only way you learn to flip things is just to flip them!”
Osterheldt: For me, this is a whole new world. And as I explore, I’m not afraid.
As Julia Child would say, “Remember, if you are alone in the kitchen, who is going to see you?”
Let us be clear: this is not plagiarism. So what is it? It’s uninteresting writing, which in the world of media can be just as devastating. The Pollan piece is but one of the dozens of such pieces currently circling the incestuous environs of these kinds of columns. (Do a Google News search for “Julia Child” and see for yourself.) What Osterheldt has done is to remove all the interesting stuff from Pollan’s themes — that cooking as entertainment is exploding, while cooking as American activity is declining — and churn out a dull, trite column. Hardly the stuff that saves papers.