If you are a “foodie” and haven’t been trapped under a large, heavy piece of furniture with no access to television or internet, then I am sure you heard… For those that have been trapped, Anthony Bourdian of No Reservations fame skewered Paula Deen, Rachel Ray and basically the Food Network in general, in a recent TV Guide interview. Now, before I REALLY get into this, let me state that being a sardonic, smart-ass myself, I have always liked Anthony Bourdain. Not EVERYTHING about him, but I am also not a naysayer either. And, that said, although I have ridiculed the general lack of real Chefs on the Food Network and their penchant for casting perky blond women, I do watch the network and like a few of the shows. So I feel like I am fairly neutral and recognize, in my simple opinion anyway, that both have their good and bad points.
First, I do agree with Bourdain that there is a MAJOR obesity problem in America and that a lot of what all the hosts cook on the Food Network is not only contributing to this epidemic, but also sending out the wrong message in general. For example, when Rachel Ray calls a macaroni and cheese dish with tons of cheese and butter healthy simply because she used whole wheat pasta, she is doing a huge disservice. Not everybody in America recognizes that for the most part, a dish called “healthy macaroni and cheese” is an oxymoron. And that whole wheat pasta will not save you from the effects of all that butter and cheese. This Sunday alone on the Food Network I saw hosts prepare: chili topped with nachos, a fatty beef sandwich on white bread and more barbecue than I have room to list here. And, yes, I know that Paula Deen’s dishes are full of such Southern staples as butter, cheese and more butter. That is why I watch Paula. I do not cook Paula’s recipes. I would like to hope most of the population does the same or simply reserves the butter-laden fare for special events.
But, I have the EXACT same thing to say about some of Travel Channel’s food shows, including Mr. Bourdain’s No Reservations. The last No Reservation show I watched was set in the American desert where he drank a lot, ate a barbecue plate at a bar (and seemed to enjoy it) and then ate a hangover breakfast at a swap meet the next day. The breakfast consisted of bacon, sausage and eggs. He regularly waxes poetic about the wonders of pork products, drinks excessively and derides vegetarians as he shovels massive amounts of red meat into his mouth. Seems like he is “proud of the fact that the food is f–cking bad for him”. Ever heard of the phrase, “Lead by example”, Mr. Bourdain? While I am here visiting Travel Channel, I would be remiss if I did not mention another one of their very popular shows, Man Vs. Food. Yes, I have written before about how much I enjoy watching it, but that is beside the point. I enjoy, at times, watching all of the aforementioned shows too, but that doesn’t make what they “sell” right. Okay, Man Vs. Food Nation (as it is now called) is a thirty minute show dedicated to gluttony. Before the main event Adam Richman stops off at several restaurants in the area and stuffs his face with: huge cinnamon rolls, monster burgers, fried everything, mammoth steaks and triple-cheese grilled sandwiches. Then he cheers on the “warrior” as he or she attempts to eat a huge protion of unhealthy food. What message is this sending out to an already obese America?
So, Anthony Bourdain was right in his message, but wrong in how he went about articulating it. There DOES need to be some kind of responsibility for tempting/teaching an already obese America even more unhealthy eating habits. But that would be true about not only Food network, but also Travel Channel and Mr. Bourdain himself. If you are going to vilify people for the exact same thing, in many ways, you do, be prepared. People in glass food houses shouldn’t throw butter. Also, attack the food, not the person. Paula Deen is America’s Grandmother, waiting for her grand kids to visit with fresh cookies and whole milk. Rachel Ray is everybody’s annoyingly perky sister who always makes dinner for the entire football team. American’s are stressed, over-worked and afraid. They are eating to comfort themselves. Going after their two biggest “comforters” is likely to get you killed.
Funny. I really don’t care for Rachel Ray or most of the Food Network hosts, with an exception of a few like Anne Burrell. Now she COOKS! But I feel it is wrong for somebody to use a serious problem like obesity to make personal attacks. After all, Mr. Bourdain wouldn’t want to be personally attacked about what he eats on his show. Or for that matter, his excessive drinking and at one time, smoking.
As far as who is and is not a “Chef”… Really? Well I know that neither Paula Deen nor Rachel Ray have EVER called themselves a “Chef”. Mr. Bourdain has and does, although it has been some time since I have seen him REALLY prepare a dish, if ever. If we want to call out an overtly fake television Chef, let it be Rocco Di Spirito (spelling?). Remember the disaster that was The Restaurant? His Mother did all the cooking! Now he has a new show on Bravo where he still doesn’t cook, but is pedantic and snotty to real life Chefs. Now that is a “Chef” worth going after!
I feel like I need to create some hand-holding, let’s all get along sort of conclusion to this… But we all know that wouldn’t happen. So, Americans need to start not by looking to their televisions, but to their mirrors and holding themselves responsible for how and what they eat. Nobody is force feeding them. Though, I could have sworn I saw Paula Deen canvassing my neighborhood recently with a bag of butter in one hand and a hunk of cheese in the other…