The Food Network might be a little racist

I watch a lot of Food Network. A lot.

I’m not some kind of gourmand. I’m not Youtubing old episodes of Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” to learn the proper way to cook a porterhouse steak. More than likely I’m watching Bobby Flay try to make a better basket of moules-frites against some civilian on “Throwdown” while eating a frozen pot pie.

My love of easy-to-microwave food aside, I’m still a big fan of the channel.

I came late to the fandom of TV food. I had friends in college that were fans of the then burgeoning Food Network; but most of those guys were only watching “Everyday Italian” with Giada De Laurentiis and I’m pretty sure the food wasn’t the prime reason for the continued viewership.

But now, in the age of foody-ism and the ever increasing presence of kale, the Food Network has become a force to be reckoned with. It has vanquished all other cooking channels like … the Cooking Network. Which is owned by Scripps Networks Interactive, who also own HGTV, DIY Network and The Travel Channel.

Remember the old show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous?” Imagine watching that, then building a multi-billion dollar network telling people they too can live that lifestyle if they simply devote all of their time and money, they too can impress their friends by putting mascarpone cheese and truffle oil on everything they eat.

That’s the Scripps Networks Interactive method for making billions.

Like most channels that started out with a simple philosophy (Let’s make a channel about nothing but history!), then experiment with some slightly off-topic programming (People pawn old stuff, right? How about a show about pawning things?) and finally abandon all of their principles in the name of ratings (What’s the cheapest show we could make? “Big Shrimpin?” Get a camera crew to the bayou, stat!) the Food Network has strayed from their roots.

Not entirely, mind you. The Food Network still has a bunch of shows about food, and even a few shows that show you how to cook food.

But most of their programming has become based around competition shows.

The most popular of which is “Chopped.”

Here’s the premise: Take four cooks, give them each a basket filled with bizarre mystery ingredients (lamb shank, a bag of Cheetos, a ball of yarn and a human head), then tell them to make something edible.

So these four poor souls try desperately to make something that sounds like food (Today I’ve prepared Cheeto-crusted lamb shank, served on a human head reduction with a yarn and bacon crumble), then march it on over to the panel of judges.

This is the part that gets a little racist.

Yes, the Food Network had a big fallout with the southern fried butter lobbyist Paula Deen after we all found out she helped plan a slavery themed wedding and she found out that the rest of us are living in the 21st century.

She got fired, lost a whole bunch of endorsement deals, and now I think she has a show on the bastion of racial tolerance that is the internet.

So after the contestants bring up their food the three-judge panel tells them what they like, what they didn’t like, and what about their food represents their ethnic and racial background.


You could be a person of Chinese descent who grew up in the Deep South here in the US, studied under the great Southern barbecue masters, honed your skills for years working as a caterer, then a chef, then a restauranteur and when you put that plate down in front of the “Chopped” judges at least one of them is going to say “it was good, but I wish I could taste more of your heritage.”

What does that mean? Because your parents were from Russia that means you can’t make a great manicotti? Can a Mexican chef not a make delicious French onion soup? Does a Korean chef have to dump kimchi on a pizza before you’ll believe he/she can cook?

This phenomenon isn’t localized entirely to “Chopped,” it happens on “The Next Food Network Star,” “Kitchen Casino,” “Food Court Wars,” and many others.

I want to note that none of this subtle racism happens of “Iron Chef America;” I?assume because the Chairman would throw them out the door for disrespecting Kitchen Stadium.

All the horrible things that Paula Deen said were overtly, no context necessary racist. This kind of racism, acknowledging someone’s success insomuch as it is related to their ethnicity/race, is the modern subtle racism that makes some people think they’re being progressive when they’re really being prejudice.

Tell you what: If there are any chefs out there that make a mean dish that DOESN’T come from your particular ethnic/racial background and the Food Network won’t let you on the air, bring it on over to me. I’ll be happy to do a write up, or to just eat something that didn’t start out as a block of ice.

So … get cooking!

Allez cuisine!

Copy Editor Wes Burns is a Sunday columnist. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. Contact Wes Burns at 641-753-6611 or wburns@timesrepublican.com.


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