Barthes, despite being an "academic," seems to have cultivated, above all, a longing to be a novelist. It seems at the end of his life, he was looking to write a story that would tie together all the stories of his life, despite any discrepancies of his earlier work. I like the idea of weaving together the mythologies of an age into a final novel.
Well, along the lines of Mythologies, we might ask ourselves today: what of cooking shows? Are they popular for their edification, or because they're the latest spectator sport - and if so, how did they usurp football?
I think that cooking is appealing for its metaphorical value. "Locally grown." "Process." "Alchemy."
Are we not looking to make our life sweeter, even at the most minute level? If we don't eat the chocolate parfait, we want to at least observe it.
How fascinating, too, that in this age of post-excess, so many are discovering the beauty in "poor people food": stews made of basic ingredients, prepared with love, and with time. In our busy lives, we all secretly long for someone to prepare a home-cooked meal for us, every day.
Even if a person doesn't cook, or can't afford to eat the meals shown on television, there is a theoretical appreciation for these "finer" aspects of life, which must be a good thing, even if it remains at the level of abstraction.
The metaphorical value of the cooking show works right down through the roots, literally. We learn that local is best, the freshly picked, tastiest. Process is important: it's not only about the ingredients, but how they are treated. The same goes for life. We see on those cooking shows that something prepared with love can sometimes outshine the technically correct. We learn that complicating things just for the sake of it does not necessarily lead to the best results.
We learn there are basic activities we still cannot do without, no matter how machine-dependent we've become, poised before our computer screens. We still need to eat. And as we watch what goes into making the simplest of meals, we are reminded that patience and love and a little creativity can make magic happen. A cooking show is life in miniature: choices are made, there is a beginning, middle, and end - when the meal is cooked. Something is created, and there is something triumphant in that. Isn't the idea nourishing? Even if we are not at a family table, part of us is relieved just knowing that - at least in theory - such comforting things are still possible.
If the cooking show was a mythological theme in my novel of the modern age, it would be the echo of distant memories, calling out at the modern man, in the midst of his plight, to take a break, and consider: how much is too much? My protagonist, a woman, would shed a sentimental tear when, after taking eggs from beneath a chicken, and flour from a river mill, honey from bees, and butter from a grandma who just churned it, the chef on the tv show pulls the finished cake out of the oven - with wisps of smoke coming off it. Just that simple. Transformation from the animals, to the table. My protagonist, in this suspenseful moment of saccharine melodrama, would suddenly repeat, I never knew fresh egg yolks were golden! Her mind would wander, and she'd think of the Japanese Tanuki, the racoon dog said to gather gold leaves in autumn to try to pawn them off as real gold in exchange for sake. Golden, golden, so that's where the gold is... And she'd reconsider her life.