I am astounded by the proportion of cooking and food shows on television. There are shows dedicated to cupcakes, quick dinners, slow dinners, dueling chefs, and global culinary traditions. In one given 30-minute segment there were 7 distinct food-oriented shows on varying networks. Interestingly, exercise shows don’t seem to have the same hold on us; watching beautiful food and wacky chefs grabs us, while watching people sweat and move probably makes us feel guilty.
Food seems to have become the new fetish. I suppose we want to stare at things we can’t have; hot bodies, fast cars, or large cupcakes. And the food is not enough – we need to see the drama around it; bakery owners crying, chefs cursing, and cakes falling.
I am not surprised. Food has become our new challenge. It’s a freely available and cheap drug that is starting to do damage to us as a society. Obesity is a major contributor to early morbidity and mortality, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. I sometimes wonder if the day will come when a surgeon general’s warning will be placed on saturated fats, bags of cheese curls, and cookies. Probably not.
I actually find cooking and eating shows to be quite hypnotic. Perhaps this is from the combination of the universality of eating, my own odd history with food, the prestidigitation of the chef’s chopping, and the gorgeous end result. But if we ate the food that is typically generated on these shows, then I would put my money on cardiology reality programming becoming the next big thing.
Once again, by turning food into such a central focus of modern entertainment, it becomes hard to manage. We feel entitled to it, drawn to it, and because it is affordable and available, we can get it. This is not like a show about high-end hotels (we may want to stay at them, but since most of us can’t afford $500 per night, we watch the show with grim fascination, yet don’t whip out our phones and make a reservation.) The accessibility and ubiquity of food can make the endless litany of food-related programming a minefield for folks who are challenged by food and eating.
I remember as a child watching the “Galloping Gourmet” – it was the only show in town back then. Nowadays, the cooking genre has overtaken us and it behooves us to reflect on how this is affecting our relationships with food. Back in the days of Julia and Mr. Galloping Gourmet we didn’t have super value meals, cheap processed food, and the competing demands of around the clock schedules governed by shortcuts, email and endless flows of information. Perhaps in our time-choked world where we are lucky to microwave a sodium-laden entrée for dinner, watching people chop and cook is a reminder of a slower, more leisurely life.
Most of us are wise enough to not try what we see on TV. Whether it is robbing a bank or driving a car over a cliff, we tend to draw a line between entertainment and life. Just because celebrity chefs use an entire stick of butter to make a dinner entrée doesn’t mean we have to try that at home. In that way, the cooking shows may need to be just that – a fantasy.
So sit back and enjoy the show, but find some other sources of pleasure and entertainment in life. I can think of a few things better to moan about and watch than pasta and pie.