A little over a decade ago, environmental critic Bill McKibben sat down to watch 1,700 hours of television. Then he went camping for a day to see which experience taught him more. (Hint: camping). I was reminded of that McKibben’s experiment while reading Bill Buford’s look at the Food Network in this week’s New Yorker. He commits to watching the channel for 72 hours straight and ends up with such heightened perception that he over-dresses his salad just to watch the droplets of lemon juice.

Perhaps miffed that his friend and food mentor Mario Batali’s FN show was not renewed this season, Buford sets out to locate the state of the network. He hangs out with the cameramen, retells the always-enjoyable story of Julia Child’s early television days, lays out the history of the channel, and, maybe most important, tries to get a handle on why the heck Rachael Ray is so popular.

The two essential premises of 30 Minute Meals—no one knows how to cook and everyone is in a hurry—now inform most instructional cooking shows.

Clearly, he is not impressed.

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