When I was a kid, my dad and I had a Sunday tradition of reading the funny papers together. When we would get to Doonesbury, I would often ask him to read and explain it to me. He would try to put the political concepts and sarcasm into words a seven year old could understand, but regardless of how he tried to describe it, invariably he would finish his explanation by saying, “you just have to pay attention, son.” That was his way of telling me that it was over my head.
One group of people who have definitely been paying attention is the team at Pixar. Their new movie, Ratatouille, has captured ideas about food and put them on the big screen better than I ever imagined.
Ours is a culture of experimentation. Each decade has brought with it a number of choices to try, some have stuck, and some (thankfully) faded away. I can only go back to the 60’s, but even then I remember the talk of free love and LSD. In the 70’s we tried out bell bottoms and smaller cars because we thought the oil was going to run out. The 80’s made us do our hair in weird, awful styles and in the 90’s we went back to huge cars, forgetting what we learned in the gas crisis of the 70’s.
This decade is bringing us the celebrity chef phenomenon. This fad intrigues me because it makes me wonder where it’s coming from. We have created a fascination over people that may not actually be cooking your dinner. What does this have to say about us as a culture?
This is where Pixar has been paying attention. They know things. They know that at its core, food is not an industry, nor is it a fad. It’s not just a means to make mega millions or become famous. No, it’s something much, much more.
I don’t want to take the time to describe the movie here, but I do highly recommend it as a commentary on the beauty and essence of food. Just as we gave up bell bottoms and big hair, I would guess that we will give up the food celebrity experiment soon enough. Once we realize that we don’t need a rock star showing us how to bring family and friends together, we can get back to the simple pleasure of making meals and memories on our own.