|July 10, 2013|
Cooking Contests Build on Long History
Cooking and recipe contests are more popular than ever. Food and social trends, fueled by “foodie” TV and social media, are fostering explosive growth in cooking contest participation.
New contest twists pay homage to virtually every type of food grown or raised in the U.S., while creating opportunities for consumers to interact with farmers and agriculture.
For more than two centuries, county and state fairs, and local or town cooking and recipe contests have showcased the best local cooks and locally grown food. Whether canned goods from homegrown tomatoes; pies from fresh, locally grown fruits and berries; homemade cakes; or favorite entrees, cooking and recipe contests have almost always exposed consumers to the best that U.S. agriculture has to offer.
For many years, cooking and recipe contests were mostly in the domain of women. Beginning in the early 1900s, Cooperative Extension provided home economists to teach household management skills to women, while fostering technical ag education for boys and men. Thousands of newly formed 4-H clubs restricted girls to canning, sewing and baking. At the same time, Extension enhanced county and state fairs as agricultural forums. Field crop and animal husbandry exhibitions showcased the accomplishments of boys and men. Cooking and recipe contests showcased the work of girls and women.
Popular cooking contests took a major turn away from raw agricultural products and traditional gender roles in 1949 when Pillsbury created the precursor one of the largest and most well-known contests–the Pillsbury Bake-Off. The Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest promoted Pillsbury Best flour and helped the company celebrate its 80th birthday. A panel of home economists selected 100 finalists – 97 women and three men – from thousands of entries to compete in New York City. In 1962, a 12-year-old boy became the first male winner in the junior division and the first adult male winner was honored in 1996.
Interest in fair contests dwindled in the 1970s and 80s, perhaps due to declining farm numbers, a trend away from home cooking and a major societal shift away from traditional gender roles. Now, interest is growing again, thanks to renewed consumer interest in food, highly rated TV cooking contest shows, social media and farming groups.
Social media helps educate contestants and observers about farm-grown foods. And the Web now makes finding and entering contests much easier.
The focus of 4-H contests has also changed drastically. Early 1900s gender roles are gone.
New 4-H contests combine TV-format culinary contests and challenges with requirements for participants to give presentations on food, ingredients, nutrition, healthy eating and current food issues, such as childhood obesity, food safety and global food security. In keeping with the tradition of 4-H, new formats serve to educate youth and enroll young people as educators.
Robert Giblin is an occasional contributor to the Focus on Agriculture series. He writes, speaks and consults about agricultural and food industry issues, policies and trends.