Transmission of Recipe Communication

I. Introduction

On the topic of recipe, people may have some pictures in their mind: a book of the family recipes passing from generation to generation; a favorite TV cooking celebrity; an interesting APP on the smartphone to search for recipes, etc. After combining of all these pictures, we can see a rough history of the recipe development. Technology elements, along with cultural, social, economic elements, have been interwoven into this development history. This paper will mainly use mediology and actor-network theory to explore the transmission process of the recipe communication, especially in the era of television and internet. In the second part, this paper will explore the emerging functions of recipes after the long history of the transmission, and explore the relationship between recipe communication and cooking network.

After doing the literature review, the situation seems to be: in some articles, recipe means a procedure, an introduction about how to cook with the information like what ingredients you need to cook this dish, or even in a metaphor use to refer to the procedures of doing other things, such as the recipe about how to make a presentation; in some articles, the topic about the recipe is broader, to connect it with food safety and public health issues. However, there are not very much specialized articles to study the developing history of the recipe, its importance to the food culture and the network building on its communication. By examining the prevailing theoretical and historical resources, this paper will hopefully contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the recipe communication.

II. Mediology and the Cultural Transmission of the recipe communication

People love food and enjoy cooking. The whole food and cooking industry has a very long history. Cookbook or recipe is definitely one important part among this long history. So, what is a recipe? Recipe normally consists of several basic components: the name of the dish; how much time it will take to prepare the dish; the required ingredients along with their quantities or proportions; equipment and environment needed; an ordered list of preparation steps; the number of servings the recipe will provide; the flavor and texture.

There is not much detailed historical information about the recipe history. Who is the first person came out an idea to record, to keep, and even to sell these cooking steps? What is the exact timeline of the recipe’s development history? Looking back the history, it can be found that the earliest known recipes occurred in approximately 1600 BC and came from an Akkadian tablet from southern Babylonia. Tracing back the rough history of the recipe, it is not difficult to find out that technologies have been deeply embedded into the very nature of the recipe history. These actants have become interwoven into the cooking network, working with culture and economic influences to shape the development of the cooking industry into the 21 century.

The Forme of Cury is a 600-year-old recipe book, written by Richard II’s master cook, including recipes made with costly spices.

Before the prosperity of the publishing industry, the recipe seemed as a kind of secret, flowing between family members, closed neighborhoods, masters and apprentices. Recipe communication at that time followed the interpersonal communication pattern. By the nineteenth century, the technology improved the publishing industry. Some people devoted themselves in writing cooking books. Recipes were communicated widely in public. By the mid twentieth century, there are thousands of cookery and recipe books available. Then, the next revolution came with the introduction of the TV. Through the TV broadcasting, recipes changed to a new look. Traditionally, recipes appeared to the words written on the paper. On TV, the procedure on the recipes were performed out by cookers step by step and showed through TV. Along with the popularity of Television, many cooking shows and celebrity cookers appeared, which largely pushed the recipe communication.

Case study of TV cooking shows

A TV cooking show is a television program that presents the preparation of food, in a kitchen on the studio set. The host of the show, often a celebrity chef, prepares one or more dishes over the course of the show, taking the audience through the food’s preparation showing all intermediate stages of cooking, the recipe. Television cooking shows are as old as the TV medium itself. Cooking shows have been a popular staple of the daytime TV programming since the earliest day of television. These shows are often intended to be at least partly educational, as the chef teachers the viewing audiences how to prepare different meals with each episodes of the show, but it can not be denied that some cooking shows are intended for entertainment.

The article “TV Cooking Shows: The Evolution of a Genre” states that people can periodize televised cooking shows as falling into the Early (1946-1962), Middle (1963-1992), or Modern (1993-present) eras. With the popularity of the TV cooking shows, the recipe communication began a totally new generation. However, from the perspective of mediology, the recipe “transmission” can not only be explained by the improvement of technology. “What we naively interpret as an ‘effect’ of a technology or medium is a network effect, not a material technology effect.”(Debray) “Mediology, like Actor-Network Theory, is an enemy of technological determinism and naive views of agency (the problem of what has power to produce effects): technologies can't be usefully described as having ‘effects’ on cultures or societies, because technology is culture and only empowered in culture.”(Martine Irvine, An Introduction to Mediology and Network Theory) Thus, the separation of these three parts also comes from other society and culture elements.

From the early part of the twentieth century when TV was invented and when the black and white TV was the only available choice, to the 1928, the first regularly scheduled programming was broadcasted, and to a few decades later, the color television was created and most programs were available; from the high-tech, expensive equipment, to a common household appliance with acceptable and affordable prices, the TV history television records the work of numerous engineers and inventors in several countries over many decades. The fundamental principles of television were initially explored using electromechanical method to scan, transmit, and produce an image. As electronic camera and display tubes were perfected, electromechanical television gave way to all electronic broadcast television system in nearly all applications.

This complex technology development history definitely improves the recipe communication, but what are the culture and society elements in this development process?

large_childs-file.jpgFirst is the change in whole TV landscape to an entertainment industry. In the early period of television cooking shows, the landscape was rapidly populated with locally produced homemaking shows hosted by prim home economists and righteous nutritionists. With most early period programs died out, in the modern period, producers were aware of the importance of personality and “entertainment values”. As television producers and audiences became more savvy and choosy, only the fittest (watchable) survived. Then, some chefs with high professional cooking skills and distinctive personalities became TV stars and celebrities, such as Julia Child. She was an American chef, author and television celebrity. She was ranked among in the TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time. She contributed a lot in introducing French cooking to American people by writing and performing recipes, which change the difficult French cuisine to be an easily accessible home-made cooking process. She once normalized it—“French cooking from the American supermarket,” as her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking promised in its preface. Julia Child did not invent the genre of the TV celebrity chef, but she did come to dominate it. She was aware of her strengths in front of the TV cameras and the reach of that particular medium. One of her coworker said that, “she made me realize that television was entertainment and that if you want to impart a message and teach people, you have to do it in a way that is light, amusing, and as much fun as possible.” Her personal success as a celebrity chef improved these famous recipes popularity, and some became classic ones nowadays. Julia Child, who is among a few celebrity TV chefs, is a successful chef gaining the popularity of both her recipes and her own celebrity character.

After the middle era of the TV cooking shows, there comes the Modern era (1993-present). In the modern era, accompanying with high-quality image, various channel choices, and wider broadcasting area, increasingly amount of TV cooking shows, celebrity chefs, TV recipes appeared. TV watchers gain the more recipe information from TV cooking shows, and also they gain an unprecedented more entertainment experience from the TV cooking shows. This new era deeply influences the food culture.

QQ截图20111214094521.pngWhen it comes to TV cooking shows, there comes many accusations. Firstly, people spend a lot of time watching people cook more than they do cooking. Molly O’Neill, the former New York Times food writer once stated that: “In general, entertainment, rather than news and consumer education, has been the focus of food stories for nearly a decade.” In this entertainment circumstance, the term “food porn” was originated, which was used to mention something unattainable about those pictures of the perfect dishes that generate insatiable desire. The producers of these “pornographic” TV cooking shows valued much about the high-quality artful food photography on the camera: the plates and dishes are always full, the table cloth is without spots, the view of the kitchen is never the one after the party, the chef is always vigorous. No matter how much the camera brings us to the kitchen, we always see a “fake” cooking environment and process. Due to these, the recipes are also removed from the real life, which is totally opposite with the original intention of Julia Child, the forerunner of the TV celebrity chef.

Food Network is currently a very famous TV cooking channel, which is a specialty channel that airs both one-time and episodic programs about food and cooking. This channel has various programs, such as Top Chef and Chopped, cooking competitions which seem like sport game, no longer being limited to the traditional TV cooking shows; Drives-in and out, introduction to different restaurants around America. These new TV programs have more entertainment, but have nothing to do with the recipe communication.

Looking through the history of TV cooking shows, the technological elements definietely can not be ignored. But we can also see many other elements in this recipe expanding communication process, such as the occurrence of the entertainment TV industry, the change of the mass culture. All these facts just reflect the theory of mediology, a method to explain one result in a complex actants network.

Recipe communication in Internet Era

Even today, the television is still a major source of recipe information. Then with the appearance of the Internet, and later the smartphone, and current high-technology stuffs, the communication way of recipes accordingly become more diverse and multiple. In the new era of the Internet, the recipe communication network becomes more complex and displays a new “mediasphere”. Mediasphere means “media form a system of interdependent nodes in a network, not individual technologies functioning independently.” “The occurrence of a new medium or technology does not replace or substitute a prior technology, but creates a new configuration of the entire media system with the inclusion of the new.” (Martine Irvine, An Introduction to Mediology and Network Theory) Therefore, in this new digital era, the recipe communication, based on the former communication channel of TV and books, is experiencing a more various, complex communication way.

In this new era, people get used to browsing internet through the web page, which looks like a page, but is actually an information resource. Web page is suitable for the World Wide Web and can be accessed through a web browser and provide navigation to other web pages via hypertext links, a crucial character of the Internet. What is hypertext? Hypertext means the visual and contextual presence of the text could be altered more drastically on the computer screen than in any other cultural moment. It is a new language, by which all other types of information (documents, images, video, digital objects) are made up of codes written in hypertext, known as HTML (hypertext markup language). In the Internet era, people have more choices of the information. Through clicking the mouse, like the television remote, people have a sense of control about what type of the information they want to receive; what direction they want to be by “hyperlink” service. According to Christian Vandendorpe, “dynamics of the web are transforming reading into a frenetic activity in which readers are constantly on the surface of the self, surfing overt the waves of the meanings offered, carried away by a kaleidoscope of images and fragments of text that are forgotten as soon as they are perceived” (134). According to the mediological theory, except the technological reason, this kind of frenetic activity also results from the societal pressure demanded of people to do things more quickly and efficiently. With the transformative changes in the way people processing the information, the tasks of Web designers, programmers, authors, and bloggers also changes.

This situation also reflects on the recipe communication. People have a “book”, containing countless number of recipes than ever. Just like the webpage does not actually have a page number, the word “page” is just a metaphor. The online “cooking book” does not have the format of the book, only containing the same content---recipes. There are a lot of specialized websites contribute to recipe teaching and sharing. With the technology of hypertext, the online recipe can use different ways: words, images and videos to show what steps contains in a recipe. In the meantime, with the strong searching power of some Internet search tools, such as Google and their own popularity, when people want to look for a recipe online, they can just type in what they want to search in the Google. They can have more choices and gather more information, and avoid entering into some specific recipe websites at the same time. In this situation, Google acts like the cover page of the online “cooking book”.

With the advent of Internet, people are exposed to vast quantities of information. Thus, people need more customized and personalized information. This is a trend and this trend is also being proved in the recipe communication. When searching recipes online, people are no longer the passive receivers, who bought some specific ingredients in the recipes written in the cookbooks or shown on the TV cooking shows. On the contrary, people become active actors. They can simply enter into the information about what kind of ingredients they have in their refrigerator, what type of food they want to cook, how much time they want to spend, how much calorie they want to obtain, etc. Then, a customized recipe can appear on the screen coming from the huge database of recipes. Meantime, this character of being customized and personalized is the main unique feature of some popular recipe Apps.

III. The recipe communication and cooking network

Actor-network theory (ANT), like mediology, focuses on the movement of heterogeneous objects like institutions, ideas, and forms of technology across time and space. For both theories it is about the journey of these objects, not their content. ANT is a valuable method because it allows people to take a variety of different objects and investigate how they interact and influence each other to form a network that has some power to our culture. The tools that ANT gives us are crucial in helping to understand the development of power structures because they are not always so visible.

Thus, using the method of ANT to view the network of the recipe communication, under the digital era, human actants have more interaction with non-human actants, such as technology elements and recipes. This kind of customized and personalized character perfectly illustrates John Law’s claim of how the increasing connections between human and non-human actants has broken down the line that used to fastidiously separate the two. Law explains that this “dividing line between people and machines (and for that matter animals) is subject to negotiation and changes. Thus it is easily shown that machines (and animals) gain and lose attributes such as independence, intelligence and personal responsibility”. These new technological actants have influenced the recipe communication, making this process become more user-friendly.

After the long history of the transmission of the recipe, the function of it is also totally changed. In the beginning, the recipe was just a cooking guidance communicated between a group of people, family members, neighborhoods, apprentices, but with more and more human or non-human actants participate in this whole network of the recipe communication, this network becomes more complex. Latour once said a network’s strength does not come from concentration, purity and unity, but form dissemination, heterogeneity and the carful plaiting of weak ties. With the complexity of the network, the function of recipe has become stronger and more diverse.

Howard S. Becker once published a book named Art Worlds. In the book, the writer treated the art as a collective action and explored the cooperative network of suppliers, performers, dealers, critics, and consumers who are all along with the artist, who produce the work of art. In the network of the art world, the artist stands in the center of this complex network. The cooperation is built on the work of art, which in other word, the work of art acts like the connection link, linking the central artist with other network actants.

The whole concept in this book reminds me of the cooking world. In the cooking world, the cooker is standing in the center of this network. Along with the cooker are other cooperative actants, such as consumer, recipe critic and writer, restaurant manager, ingredients produce or provider, kitchen appliance dealer, etc. Although the network will be different, according to what kind of the cooker will be, a professional chef or a normal people who do the cook, the network exist and share the same principles.

After the long history of the recipe transmission, the function of the recipe becomes more multiple and at the meantime makes the whole network become more complex. With the involvement of technological actants and the appearance of the trend to do the business on line, a new kind of interplay in this network is emerging: home-made recipe business.

A recipe business is a great option for people who are looking for ways to work at home with their own business. It is a great option because people do not actually have to cook anything. There are no supplies to purchase and no inventory to keep. There are many articles online to teach people how to make money from these homemade recipes. People can sell their recipes on A piece of recipe can sell recipes for as little as $1 and as much as $20 or more. People can also group all their recipes into an informational product and sell them as an e-book. Currently, there are some new ways to sell the online cooking recipes. For example, if somebody have a cooking recipe that required the use of special or particular appliances or the product. Thus, the selling of the recipe also means the selling of one appliance. Some appliance companies encourage recipe sellers to link their own recipe website with various appliances webpage by financially supporting these home-made recipe businesses. This is actually a win-win situation. The appliance company expands their publicity by these online sold recipes and meantime recipes can also get the business chance if people want to buy the appliance first. The new cooperation relationship between kitchen appliance company and recipe writers just reflects the increasing complexity of the cooking network due to the increasing functions of recipe.

IV. Conclusion

From the analysis according to the timeline of the recipe history, it is clear that the changes of recipes and their communication are interwoven with cultural, technological, social actants. At the meantime, with the increasing number of these actants participating into the whole cooking network that continues even today, this network becomes more complex and the function of recipes, acting as link chain in this network, also becomes multiple. During the transmission process of the recipe communication, we do not only experience the physical changes of the recipe from paper, but also experience the changing culture of food. The study of the recipe should not be limited to its basic function as an introduction to the cooking procedure, but should treat it as one node in the food network to explore more possibilities of its usage.

List of works cited:

Alexander Nutzenadel, Frank Trentmann, “Food and Globalization----consumption, markets, and politics in modern world”, 2008
Christine Jones, “Work At Home With Your Own Recipe Business”
“Cooking show”, Wikipedia
“Earn money with your homemade recipes”, Delicious Fresh Squidoo
Emily Brock, “Reading Text”
Ezine Article, “Work at home with your own recipe business
Kathleen Collins / John Jay College, CUNY, “TV Cooking Shows: The Evolution of a Genre”
Latour, Bruno. “On Actor-Network Theory: A few clarifications plus more than a few complications.”Paris: CSI: 1997.
Law, John. “Notes on the Theory of the Actor Network: Ordering, Strategy, and Heterogeneity.”Lancaster: Center for Science Studies, Lancaster University, 1992
Martine Irvine, “An Introduction to Mediology and Network Theory”
“Recipe”, Wikipedia
Ryan Coisson, “A Short History of the Television”

Photo and video credits:

The Recipe Forme of Cury,

Julia Child,
Bitchin Kichen,
Recipe APP,