Sunday, March 10, 2013

The State of Food and Food Network Television

I can hardly believe it, but today is my 6th blogiversary.

My favorite part?  All the friends I’ve made along the way. It’s also great that I have a place to praise what I like and denounce what I don’t about the Food Network specifically, and other food related goings-on generally.

I was looking back to my first post ever, which was about Giada. Aside from seeming to yell a bit (sorry, I was just being enthusiastic!), there isn’t too much I would change (although I’m not saying I didn’t move around a word or two…). It got me thinking about how the world of food has changed in the last six years and how (or if) the Food Network has reflected those changes.

Both good things AND less hopeful trends are in evidence. Michael Pollan’s 2008 book, In Defense Of Food, sparked a huge dialogue about our modern diet. My favorite takeaway from his book – eat the diet our grandparents ate and we’ll probably be okay.

I’m actually talking about MY generation’s grandparents. My kids have to go back another generation. The 60’s and 70’s were the time of Minute Rice, condensed soup and squeezable margarine. (I’m just remembering my sainted mother’s refrigerator.)

Another great thing - the First Lady’s garden. The world of organics and locally sourced food has become a huge part of our food world today. But, at the same time, search the inside aisles of any supermarket and you will find “food” as far from fresh as possible.

Just think about potatoes. Of course you can buy REAL potatoes OR you can find them powdered, freeze-dried, already or partially cooked, mashed and flavored, frozen, in a box, in a bag or in a plastic container. Doesn’t that tell us something (really awful) about how we eat and how we (don’t) cook?

Is it that people don’t think they have the time, the money or the know-how to convert real potatoes into something to put on the dinner table? Could the Food Network have a place in this conversation? Of course. They have a dinner under $10 show and a magazine packed with recipes requiring mostly basic skill levels; they sell pots and pans and they have a website with (surprisingly, only) 5384 potato recipes. (But I guess that’s enough to get started.)

Some of those recipes use processed potatoes. Ugh! Unfortunately, the Food Network is only demonstrating what’s going on in society and I suppose we should be glad that the one thing we won't find on that channel is violence…although seeing a recipe for maraschino cherries covered in chocolate is enough to make me want to throw a few punches.

Food is inspiring the same level of discussion as other hot button topics in society. Should a well-meaning mayor limit the amount of garbage that can be sold at one time in a soda cup? I don't think it's a bad idea, but sometimes I think just having the conversation marks us as being part of the group that has the time, money and, most of all, leisure to worry about it all. Many people are just trying to feed themselves and their families as cheaply and expeditiously as possible.

Maybe we should apply Sheryl Sandburg’s thesis to our relationship with food and cooking. We should stop making excuses and justifications and just lean in to buying and cooking real food. How is the Food Network doing as far as meeting that goal? Not always that well. When they show us interesting, new and just reasonably realistic ways of preparing different dishes, I’m happy. When they stray to the garbage side of the tracks, I want to scream.


Anonymous said...

Hi Sue,

Congratulations on six years! And thanks for all of your extremely readable and entertaining posts, and of course the recipes too.

I have the feeling that FN decided to stop trying to stay ahead of things fairly soon after the network's debut. It's much easier to follow the trends (given that their shows don't take too long to produce there's little lead time). And better for ratings, too. It would be great if they could be part of the conversation on the future of cooking, but that's clearly not in the cards.

Sue said...

Thanks, Tom!

You made me think back to the early days of the Food Network. It’s a little scary to be able to remember back TWENTY YEARS ago(!!!) to one of its first hosts, David Rosengarten. (Although, I guess it would be scarier NOT to remember…)

I recall that his shows Taste, and the one he did with Donna Hanover, (the former Mrs. Rudy Giuliani), Food News, were pretty much on the ball with food information and trends. Of course, they got rid of him maybe because he was TOO erudite. But also the earliest hosts on Food Network shows were chefs, who were on the front lines of restaurant innovation. Perhaps they had no television skills, but they knew what they talking about food-wise.

It IS an entirely new world. I shouldn’t be surprised that with reality television taking over other networks’ and cable’s schedules, that the Food Network has included (entirely too) many competition shows on theirs. Those teach us nothing, except when we have great friends on them…and then they’re great! ;-) (Hi Em!)

Anonymous said...

I think that because the shows are rerun again and again it's easier not to have a show that's too topical. But I'd love to see some of the old shows again for fun.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Happy anniversary! You reminded me my own anniversary is coming up.

I think the Food Network really isn't about real cooking anymore. It's about contests and restaurants with occasional shortcut cooking shows. They tell me this is how "real" people cook. If that's how real people cook then I'm proud to be fake. The Cooking Channel has promise, but I think I got a bit burned out on cooking shows.

Sue said...

Thanks Rach,

Yeah, there's so much stuff on the Food Network that I'm not interested in that it gives me time to watch House Hunters nonstop.

I thought the Cooking Channel was so dreadful when it launched that I never went back.

Abandoned By Wolves said...

To tell the truth, I can hardly stand to watch Food Network anymore - it's all competitions and reality shows now. ("Chopped" completely wastes Ted Allen and is "Iron Chef" with none of the flair or humor.) I basically stopped watching FN when "Good Eats" stopped making new episodes and was retired to the Cooking Channel (although I do enjoy an episode of "Restaurant" Impossible now and then. Save them, Robert!!!)

Congratulations on your six year run, and may you have many more!

Sue said...

Thanks James!
I hope you're well.

I hear you about The Food Network. And not just them. I don't even watch Top Chef anymore. Did they teach so many people how to cook, that we don't need them anymore? Dunno. I still love Ina mostly, I watch Paula for entertainment and Giada has some decent recipes. But the rest? It's just what you say - competitions and reality-type shows. Ugh!

Emily said...

Yay! Happy blogiversary! I'm so sorry I'm late wishing you one. I'm a bad blogger friend. For some reason I always think your blogiversary is in the summer. But I think that's when I started reading, maybe?

Would you believe I don't watch Food Network at all? I'm so sad to say I don't anymore. I don't want to watch Iron Chef or Diners, Drive ins and Dives, etc. I miss the good old days when they used to cook. Ina and Giada are still aweseome though.

Yeah, I saw your comment on Cooking Channel. Feeling the same way lately.