Look Who's Cooking
The Rhetoric of American Home Cooking Traditions in the Twenty-First Century
An exploration of home cooking in the twenty-first century
Home cooking is a multibillion-dollar industry that includes cookbooks, kitchen gadgets, high-end appliances, specialty ingredients, and more. Cooking-themed programming flourishes on television, inspiring a wide array of celebrity chef–branded goods even as self-described “foodies” seek authenticity by pickling, preserving, and canning foods in their own home kitchens. Despite this, claims that “no one has time to cook anymore” are common, lamenting the slow extinction of traditional American home cooking in the twenty-first century.
In Look Who's Cooking: The Rhetoric of American Home Cooking Traditions in the Twenty-First Century, author Jennifer Rachel Dutch explores the death-of-home-cooking narrative, revealing how modern changes transformed cooking at home from an odious chore into a concept imbued with deep meanings associated with home, family, and community.
Drawing on a wide array of texts—cookbooks, advertising, YouTube videos, and more—Dutch analyzes the many manifestations of traditional cooking in America today. She argues that what is missing from the discourse around home cooking is an understanding of skills and recipes as a form of folklore. Dutch’s research reveals that home cooking is a powerful vessel that Americans fill with meaning because it represents both the continuity of the past and adaptability to the present. Home cooking is about much more than what is for dinner; it’s about forging a connection to the past, displaying the self in the present, and leaving a lasting legacy for the future.
"A welcome change from the stereotypical perceptions of folklore practices as antiquated and pre-industrial. Dutch can be applauded for bringing in folkloristic perspectives to help untangle some of the issues and complexities of the contemporary food system, a much-needed task. "- Lucy M. Long, Center for Food and Culture, Journal of American Folklore, Volume 133, Number 530, Fall 2020
"Sure, there are plenty of dazzling cookbooks and stacks of celebratory books on foods, but Jennifer Dutch's delightful and profound Look Who's Cooking stands out as the breakthrough work on American perceptions and anxieties about cooking and eating. She adroitly takes readers through the puzzle of the prevalent belief expressed in words and action that home cooking is dead, coinciding with practices and discourse that show it to be very much alive. Deftly combining rhetorical analysis with ethnography and history, she opens our eyes to what is on our minds when images and expressions of home cooking pervade culture. She gives us much about ourselves and our society to chew on and think about. "- Simon J. Bronner, author of Explaining Traditions: Folk Behavior in Modern Culture