Over the last twenty years or so, there has been a proliferation of food shows on television, both here in the U.S. and abroad. In America, The Food Network has been dedicated to that format sincethe 1990s, and a host of other channels also dabble in the genre.
It’s not going out on any kind of limb to say that these shows tend to be somewhat reductionist in their approach to food. Therefor, I feel perfectly justified in being a little reductionist in my approach towards these shows; turnaround’s fair play, after all. And in that vein, it seems to me that all of these many shows can be divided among three basic categories that I’ve come up with to describe them.
Exotica– You’ve never heard of many of the ingredients. If you have, you probably can’t afford most of them, and lord knows where you might even find them. Only the finest kitchen tools and implements are used to prepare dishes with skill and panache, and the result is mouth watering perfection. Viewers are invited to live vicariously through the food. Yes, you want to eat it. You also want to write poetry about it. Something inside says you must paint it. You want to make love to it.
Some people are wont to refer to this type of programming as Food Porn. I think the term’s a bad fit. Food Romance Novel might be a more accurate, albeit clumsier moniker. With an emphasis on eroticizing foreign food by casting it as an idealized version of The Other, or perfecting domestic food to a generally unattainable degree, the Exotica approach is more about romanticizing with supple caresses, whereas real pornography is about mindlessly cramming random, oversized monstrosities into various orifices. And that’s actually a pretty apt description for our next category.
Dumb Gluttony– For the person who wants it cheap and hot, and served up by the shit load, there’s the Dumb Gluttony approach to television food shows. All you need is a handheld camera and an overweight host in a battle worn shirt, then it’s off to the diner, the taco truck, the hamburger stand, or the place where they serve a steak so large that it’s free if you can eat the whole thing in one sitting and not barf.