Big Fat Queer

August 15, 2010

Food and TV

I try to watch food shows on TV only when I am already eating. If not, they make me want to eat. Tonight during dinner (sauteed shrimp, brown rice, salad) I watched the finale of The Next Food Network Star. When the Food Network first came on the air I was hooked. The production values were low, but they had people like David Rosengarten, Sara Moulton, Ming Tsai, soon adding Bobby Flay, Mario Bitali, Anthony Bourdain, even Ruth Reichl. Flay is the only one of those still there. Initially, the focus of the network was good food, but soon enough they found that pandering was the way to success in ratings. Nothing shows this more than the arc of Emeril Lagasse’s tenure there. At first he did Essence of Emeril, where he didn’t have an audience and was relatively low key. He focused on the food. Emeril is a respectable chef and I learned some things from his show. Then came Emeril Live with a band and a studio audience cheering his excesses as he piled more and more superfluous crap on perfectly good food. He did it for the cheers of a crowd that was interested in his celebrity and slogans like “pork fat rules” and “Bam”. Most of their airtime now is filled with Guy Fieri touring the country to show who can make the greasiest, most fat laden, sugar laden, sodium laden food in the land. We have Paula Deen showing how best to use mayonnaise and marshmallow fluff, Marc Summers in his sing-song delivery telling us all about how jelly beans and Twinkies are made, and lots of Challenge shows about cakes, cakes and more cakes.

There are a few shows with real food left. Ina Garten is still there somewhere, but not in prime time. I like the creativity of Iron Chef America. Bobby Flay is a good chef, but he is there for his TV star skills (which are very good) more than for his food.

I understand that they have a need to make money, and I understand that the on air personalities need to be personable and engaging. It’s show business. And the competition for the Next Food Network Star shows the workings of this. The competitors are not Top Chef caliber, more Rachel Ray. Food is a component of the competition, but what is more important is TV charisma.

Tonight’s finale had the three finalists making a brief pilot for their potential shows. The sets on Food Network have come a long way. They are high-tech, sleek, with vivid oversaturated primary colors (which I like). Tonight they had a focus group help the selection committee decide. At least that was the impression they gave, however the final result didn’t match with the response of the focus group. But the focus group was composed of pretty people. There wasn’t a fat person there, and I venture to say that is a substantial demographic in their audience. In fact, the two guys on the front row were high-end porn star gorgeous. I completely forgot about eating… food.

Ultimately the winner wasn’t about who did the best job (it was pretty much even), but who their executives think they need in their line-up and what demographic they are going for based on what time and day they plan to air the show. Many past winners have a brief run and disappear. I think that will probably happen this time. And actually her food skills seem pretty good, though I must rely on the response of the judges. I have seen people on comment threads about food competitions getting really detailed about the relative merits of dishes, but they haven’t tasted them. If you don’t taste the food your opinion lacks some authority.

They had the choice of selecting someone whose point of view was making healthy food tasty. I would have liked that show, but I am not in the majority I guess. Not that any of this is important, but TV has such a huge impact on society I think it could be used to improve health. But as Anthony Bourdain said chefs are in the pleasure business, not your dietitians.

Anyway, I still have Top Chef. Then maybe I should stop watching food shows. When I first started this program I quickly lost 30 pounds. It has taken me six weeks to lose the next five. I think my carb intake has inched up. This week I will try to eat just proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables. We’ll see how that works.

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