The allure of celebrity mom cookbooks

Go to the cookbook section in almost any bookstore and you will see a slew of cookbooks written by a celebrity actor, singer, or perhaps both. These women are not professionally trained chefs or, in some cases, even accomplished cooks. Yet these cookbooks fly off of store shelves – Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Kitchen was one of the top selling books of 2018, not just of cookbooks but across all genres. Why is the appetite for these books seemingly limitless? Because they sell the image of idealized womanhood, says Carina Chocano.

Chocano argues that the celebrity’s lack of experience in the kitchen is often a selling point, as few people really feel that they need an expert’s help due to the easy availability of internet recipes: “expertise, or what passes for it, has become cheap,” she says. She also says that while once we were fascinated by celebrities doing everyday tasks (see the “they’re just like us!” section of any tabloid for reference), today we see ourselves in the celebrities. We can be just like them – or so social media would tell us.

Yet the lifestyles, let alone recipes, depicted in the pages of these celebrity cookbooks, “seem impossible for anyone with a job to pull off,” Chocano notes. Is Gwyneth Paltrow really cooking all of the meals in her complex cleanse? That’s unlikely, but if she is it’s only because she has the luxury of time that most of us do not possess.

I get the point that most of these cookbooks/lifestyle guides are unrealistic, but are people really being fooled by them? I do not think that most of the people who buy a book from their favorite celebrity are using it as a primary source for their weeknight meals. Sometimes we may just want to feel a connection with someone we admire, or hear more of their background story. There’s nothing wrong with that, and all the better if they make a killer macaroni and cheese.

Lumping all of these celebrities into the same mold also misses the mark. Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest title offers a guide to six ‘doctor-approved’ cleanses, along with recipes for them. Compare that to Chrissy Teigen’s cookbooks and you come away with a distinctly different impression. Teigen likes to cook – and eat -real food, and isn’t interested in selling you a candle that smells like one of her body parts.

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  • averythingcooks  on  January 16, 2020

    The last sentence made me laugh out loud! I agree re the appeal of someone who really likes to cook – that is obvious in Chrissy Teigan’s books (I own and use both). But what always strikes me is that Magnolia Table flew out of stores as a top selling book and is on 511 shelves on EYB. However the surprise is that there are only 9 comments (& on 9 different recipes) and they are all actually pretty positive (with some reserves about amounts of butter and sugar which is pretty common to lots of recipes – I’m looking at you Ina 🙂 Somehow I would have expected such a book to have many more comments.

  • dmco6863  on  January 16, 2020

    You had me in stitches with the last sentence too!

  • heidimia  on  January 16, 2020

    The Magnolia table cookbook was the only cookbook I ever returned. I love the fixer upper show and their close family. However this was not a cookbook. It was filled with canned, prepared products thrown together to make a meal. I expected a lot more from the woman who remodels so many beautiful homes, many with one of a kind furniture built just for them. The book was beautiful but had no substance.

  • Jenny  on  January 16, 2020

    I would pay 75.00 for a candle that smelled as good as my homemade mac and cheese and had no calories.

  • averythingcooks  on  January 16, 2020

    And Jenny – that also made me laugh out loud – I’m with ya!

  • trudys_person  on  January 16, 2020

    I’m with Jenny – love the smell of a good Mac & Cheese! These books hold no appeal for me at all … there are so many more appealing-looking cookbooks on the bookshelves, I tend to pass over them. A famous face doesn’t mean you can cook or write …

  • MarciK  on  January 17, 2020

    I’m not against cookbooks put out by celebrities, and I drove quite a distance to purchase one of the last of Snoop Dogg’s first printings of his cookbook. However, generally (and this include’s Snoop Dogg’s) the recipes in celebrity cookbooks don’t impress me enough. They are often times a variation of a pretty basic recipe. I do look through them though to see if there is enough to impress me. And I’ve been meaning to come back to Teigen’s to look through it again as someone recently was talking about something really good they made from the cookbook.

  • gamulholland  on  January 17, 2020

    I’m pretty sure Francis Lam of NPR’s The Splendid Table is the person who convinced Chrissy Teigen that she should write a cookbook, which says something. Also, I had to go look up the candle— um, wasn’t expecting that! I think Chrissy Teigen would sell a candle that smells like bacon. 🙂

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