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Thursday, June 17, 2010


WATCHING WHAT WE EAT; the evolution of television cooking shows
(Continuum Books, 2009, 278 pages, ISBN 978-0-8264-2930-8, $24.95 US
hard covers) is by Kathleen Collins, a professional librarian at John
Jay College in New York, with a master's degree in journalism. She's
written a lot of stuff about popular culture and television. She
begins, quite rightly, with radio's government home economists such as
Aunt Sammy in 1926. The USDA used this method to communicate with
farmers all over the country; they employed scores of women reading the
same script but with different regional accents. From these shows,
radio evolved a way for housewives to share recipes. Next was James
Beard in 1946, on TV, followed by Dione Lucas. These two TV chefs made
New York the centre of American gastronomy. Eventually, Julia Child
turned up, followed by Graham Kerr. PBS ruled the cooking shows with
top notch cookbook authors. Local cooks appeared on local TV. Then the
Food Network experience happened, and the rest is, well, history.
Collins' account is exceptionally readable (she is a journalist, of
course). There are small but clearly reproduced archival photos. There
are sources for follow-up plus a bibliography.
Audience and level of use: culinary historians, popular culturists,
television lovers who also read.
Some interesting or unusual facts: The Frugal Chef (Jeff Smith) was
ahead of his time – he discussed food as a topic beyond nutrition,
cooking methods, and restaurants. This was before the Food Network.
The downside to this book: I would have liked more coverage about
radio, even though it is outside the scope of the book.
The upside to this book: quality writing and her ability to communicate
facts and ideas.
Quality/Price Rating: 92.

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