Which is why it’s incumbent on Americans to know the difference between the fantasy depicted on television and the realities of cooking at home. It’s unfortunate that Aubrey cited food writer Michael Pollan in her article, because he—along with his contemporaries Alice Waters and Mark Bittman—aren’t just preaching the virtues of home cooking from on high, they’re doing the harder work of teaching us how, exactly, we can eat well and sustainably with our families.

Pollan’s Food Rules offers explicit instruction on how to eat in America in the 21st century: “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” His Pollan Family Cookbook offers up recipes that are the complete antithesis of the kind you’ll see on TV. Alice Waters wrote The Art of Simple Food and The Art of Simple Food II, while Bittman wrote The Food Matters Cookbook and The VB6 Cookbook (Vegan Before Six). All of these books offer a realistic approach to home cooking, designed specifically for Americans weaned on food television.

Unfortunately, if given a choice between what sparkles on TV and what lies flat on the page, most Americans choose the fattier, flashier stuff.

The real problem isn’t the Food Network. It’s that Americans lack a practical food culture. In Europe and other parts of world, a clear balance is struck between food that gives us pleasure (the breads, the cheeses, the pastries) and food that nourishes (vegetables, protein). US television chef Giada DiLaurentis comes from a famous Italian family and her diet—while probably not exactly what she depicts on television—is most likely informed by a European sensibility. Fresh ingredients, smaller portions. (In Aubrey’s NPR article, she’s quoted as saying: “I eat a little bit of everything and not a lot of anything.”) DiLaurentis comes from a tradition that understands balance.

A little of everything, a lot of nothing.
A little of everything, a lot of nothing.
Image: Evan Agostini/Invision for Chase Sapphire Preferred/AP Images

And balance, ultimately, is what Americans should strive for in their diets. It’s totally fine to make that macaroni and cheese that you saw on The Pioneer Woman, but you should probably serve it with a salad. And the next day, make something a little lighter, a little more nourishing.

For those of us who—like me—don’t come from a cooking family, these concepts may not be instinctual, but they can be learned. What we can’t do is blame the entertainment. When seeking instruction, we’ve got to turn to those who’ll show us, carefully and responsibly, how to feed ourselves well—not robbing us of our pleasures, but showing us how to enjoy them in a way that ensures that we’ll be around to enjoy them for a long, long time.

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