I just received another slew of catalogs from the home decorating and cooking stores, you know, Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn. These to welcome Spring, as previous ones have fall and winter holidays, summer and Fourth of July celebrations.
Their purpose is not just to showcase individual items, from tables, lamps and rugs to coffeemakers and Cuisinarts. No, they are selling a lifestyle based on using these items in full-page, bleeding-edge color. It isn’t good enough that the coffeemaker can make 100 kinds of coffee, tea and hot chocolate, it sits on a sideboard surrounded by a sumptuous brunch, including the electric griddle for pancakes and sausages, the panini squisher for ham and cheese sandwiches, the waffle maker, the sherbert maker, the automatic melon baller and the citrus extractor. These require so much room they spread out from the breakfast nook to the dining table.
As for dinners, well they resemble a sort of modern, hip Downton Abbey without the servants. Wait! The servants are all the handy machines. We have crockpots for stew, a deep fryer for homemade dumplings and fritters, an electric wok for stir fry, a rotisserie oven for chicken, a convection oven for what I’m not sure, and a $1,000 outdoor grill for steaks, chops, fish, kebobs. And don’t forget the margarita blender, the soda machine, the turquoise or lime green mixer, and the red velvet cupcake mix and cute little baking pans.
How many people actually entertain like this? Not many I know. Overall, dinner parties are on the decline, according to an article in the New York Times (11/29/12). People are busier, more inclined to cozy up at home or hold spontaneous potlucks when they do have free time. The few friends I have who enjoy cooking and entertaining are a rarity and receiving an invitation to their homes is something I look forward to. According to another recent NY Times article (2/12/13), many are now ordering the ingredients of meals close to ready made, so they can appear to be cooking.
In addition to the entertaining fantasies these catalogs promote, they also promote fantasies about day-to-day life. For example, the machine that allows mothers to make their own baby food. (I say mothers here because I can’t imagine any man having the patience for this.) Why? Why? Why? When in the midst of a sleep-deprived stupor, you can easily pull out a breast or a little jar of applesauce.
Again, they are trying to sell us an image that doesn’t exist in real life, perfect baby-mother bond, perfect health.
Juicers and smoothie makers are also used to promote this idea of perfect health. If we squeeze 10 apples, six carrots and a beet into this machine with hungry blades and drink what the hungry blades create, we’ll look 10 years younger and live 10 years longer. Well, we’ll need those 10 years just to pull apart the machine, clean up all the peels and pulp, and reassemble the machine. And while I enjoy an occasional smoothie, I’d rather have something substantial for breakfast, like whole fruit, cereal or an egg that I can fix in half the time it takes to assemble and clean my Bella Cuchina Rocket Blender. (No, I didn’t buy it. It was a gift.)
When not in use, where do all these magical machines reside? Even the most sweeping marble-countered kitchens do no have anough room for them all. I suspect they are off in a secret room – with Dr. Oz, celebrity chefs, and the ghost of Julia Child, rattling her basic pots and pans.