Food. Some of us eat too much of it, and many more do not have enough to adequately survive. The relationship between food and culture throughout history is incredibly complex, and even today is studied in many forms. In elementary school we learn of the hunter-gatherer life of early nomads, and food history follows us through education, where we hear accounts of Roman feasts, elaborate meals consumed by Kings and Queens, and wrenching stories of famine and starvation across the world. It may seem that our current obsession with all things edible is a result of the age of Food Network stars who become celebrities in their own right and countless reality shows such as Top Chef that aim to find the next great thing in cooking, but food has been an integral part of culture for centuries.
“You are what you eat” the saying goes, and it is true in many ways – food has always been a status symbol, mainly because it is so closely linked to money and class standing. In many cultures it is still thought that the bigger your girth the higher your status, and even in countries such as ours where thinness is the ideal beauty standard, upper-class citizens dine at the most expensive and high-profile restaurants they can find to solidify their standing. But how did we go from food as a status symbol to food as an obsession that is poked, prodded, frozen, foamed and emulsified? Food is one of only three or four basic human needs (the others being water, shelter, and clothing), and yet it now comes in forms that arguably do nothing to improve chances of survival. Certainly the same could be argued for avant-garde fashion and mansions with gift-wrapping rooms, but to tackle all three at once would require much more time.
I am a self-professed lover of all things food: eating it, cooking it, watching it be created, I will do it all, and still I find myself perplexed at some of the food-related craziness that goes on all around us. On November 9th, I attended the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertainment Show in Washington, DC, and was treated to over 300 exhibitors selling products from barbecue sauces to a week long cruise with Paula Deen and her family (you can’t make this up) and everything in between. Shows on the Food Network are no longer exclusively aimed towards educating Americans on cooking well-rounded and delicious meals, but instead are based on increasingly outlandish premises such as making cupcakes with salmon in them, combining one weird ingredient after another into a dish even more disgusting looking than the sum of its parts, or wading through rivers before making a meal.
Increasingly food is not about nourishment and taste, but rather the shock factor associated with actually eating it, and this should not be the case. Extravagant meals once in a while are one thing, but it is demoralizing to the millions who go without food every day to create entire shows around what is, in my opinion, essentially wasting perfectly good food. Food is a multibillion dollar industry and some waste is unavoidable, but people such as the Food Network executives and star chefs everywhere should use their celebrity for good and try to help causes such as famine in the Global South, rather than adding another “food” show that has nothing to do with realistic cooking or eating.
Top Image by Gates Foundation on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
Bottom Image by Mezzoblue on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons