Since the first boxy black-and-white TV sets began to appear in American living rooms in the late 1940s, we have been watching people chop, sautee, fillet, whisk, flip, pour, arrange and serve food on the small screen. More than just a how-to or an amusement, cooking shows are also a unique social barometer. Their legacy corresponds to the transition from women at home to women at work, from eight-hour to 24/7 workdays, from cooking as domestic labor to enjoyable leisure, and from clearly defined to more fluid gender roles. As the role of food changed from mere necessity to a means of self-expression and a conspicuous lifestyle accessory, the aim of cooking shows shifted from didactic to entertainment, teaching viewers not simply how to cook but how to live.
While variety shows, Westerns, and live, scripted dramas have gone the way of rabbit ear antennae, cooking shows are still being watched, often on high definition plasma screens via Tivo. Watching What We Eat: The Evolution of Television Cooking Shows illuminates how cooking shows have both reflected and shaped significant changes in American culture and will explore why it is that just about everybody still finds them irresistible.