Do Publishers Think We’re Stupid?

The people over at Slashfood turned me on to an article from the Wall Street Journal entitled Publishers Bet Big on Cookbooks. the gist of the article is that even though people maybe cutting back on luxuries like eating out, the tanking cookbook publishers are counting on all of us to buy their product – especially during the upcoming holiday shopping season. By the way, I hate to be the one to tell you this but there are only 69 shopping days left until Christmas.

My question is, Do publishers think we’re stupid?

First, there are dozens of cookbooks (some I can’t even call cookbooks) named after various culinary TV shows (some I hesitate to call culinary) designed to get us simply to watch the show or pour more money into a producers pocket (not that this is necessarily a bad thing).Β  Books like Rocco Gets Real: Cook at Home Every Day, Martha Stewart’s Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook , Biggest Loser Family Cookbook: Budget-Friendly Meals Your Whole Family Will Love, and any book related to anyone on the Food Network like Diners, Drive-ins and Dives: An All-American Road Trip . . . with Recipes! Do you really waste your money on this schlock?

Second, author Michael Ruhlman nailed it when he wrote:

(New York, New York – September 2008) This October with the release of French cookbook author Sophie Dudemaine’s newest title, Ducasse made Simple by Sophie, home cooks will be able to effortlessly recreate the world-class cuisine of renowned Chef Alain Ducasse in their own kitchens.

My first thought was, Ducasse made simple? Why on earth would you want Ducasse simple? What makes Ducasse preparations Ducasse prepartions are the details, and it’s the details that make a dish increasingly less simple.

But really it was this statement angered me most: “home cooks will be able to effortlessly recreate the world-class cuisine of renowned chef Alain Ducasse in their own kitchens.” It’s this kind of claim on which many cookbooks stake their reason for being and that I find fundamentally dishonest-that anyone can do this food quickly and easily, and, that quick and easy are what we most want in a cookbook from a Michelin-starred chef.

What I’m criticizing here is the conceit of this cookbook, and all others that claim to make refined cuisine simple for the home. It makes me crazy not because it’s fundamentally a lie, though that’s never a good thing, but rather because publishers don’t seem to recognize that it’s a lie, and they want to keep on telling it to us.

I’m with Micahel when he askes, “Do people actually believe this?”

Third, food writer and critic Robert Sietsema wrote a piece in November 2005 in the Village Voice that summed it up.

No reliable scientific study has yet demonstrated that people who get cookbooks for Christmas actually cook anything with them. But think of all the other things cookbooks do for us. They brighten up a kitchen. They also keep us slender, since most recipes are best enjoyed by gazing at the color pictures, the same way sex can be enjoyed by flipping through the pages of Playboy.

So if this is making you little depressed, the Shark Guys have have come across something to help us all out.

Need a little something to nosh on while you watch the financial markets collapse? Well prepare to lick your chops as the author takes you back to the culinary highlights of an era when everything did turn to shit – Depression Era Recipes.

Don’t look to this for recommendations on things to eat, but if you want to relive the highlights of one of the darkest periods in modern history, then this is the book for you. A new edition featuring “Sub-prime mortgage cheese melt,” and “Ben Bernake Baba Ganoush” may soon be in the offing.

You gotta love these guys!

5 Comments

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  1. Well, I actually use my cookbooks and I have a decent collection. However, only one of them came directly from a publisher and is considered current – that being the stock Betty Crocker. The rest I culled from thrift stores and bear titles of “Healthy Food Recipes.” I typically compare a recipe across several books to see how they vary and get ideas of my own as I don’t really desire to “recreate” anything anybody else does beyond a decent pie crust. Sometimes, though, simplicity rocks especially when you don’t feel well.

  2. True, simplifying Ducasse is some kind of culinary faux pas, I think the publisher likely had delusions of Julia Child bringing French food to the masses here.

    It’s hard to remember, for those who cook well, that there are all levels of cooks out there. Still, anything that gets people out of the fast food line and back into the kitchen has merit β€” even if Rachel Ray is gracing the cover. We all have to start somewhere, and hopefully end up in a place that includes local, seasonal and sustainable again.

  3. I know some people who never learned to cook anything as a child/teenager (as I did) who NEED cookbooks as an adult just to bake chicken for a simple dinner. These are the same people who eat out 5+ times a week. I think they come in handy for some people.

  4. I know the one time I gave a cookbook, the giftee looked crestfallen. I’m picky enough about what I eat to want to select my own cookbook. I really don’t think anyone wants to cut their spending on food, just about anything else. Still whatever sells… lol, πŸ™‚ Sheri

  5. Rings a bell there. I enjoy good food but would say I’m a good cook, not a chef. To me, a good cookbook is a starting point for my cooking. But so were my mum’s recipes and kitchen myths, and my granma’s, and the recipes and stories shared with friends. And in the end, I don’t want to slavishly follow the “now take three seeds of caraway” nor do I want to spend a fortune on recipe books when I can go to my Library and borrow the book for that one time I do want everything to be perfect.

    Oh – and of course, did I mention “Google?” Just about the best recipe and technique source ever, and pretty much always to hand…

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