I Like the Food Network. What’s Wrong with Me?

By RANDY COPPERSMITH

Crazy Chef and Food Network host, Guy Fieri. Photo credit: The Food Network.

28 February 2021

MIDDLEBURG, VA - Like a lot of folks in COVID America over the last year I’ve watched too much television. My Netflix account has had more work than a 12-horsepower engine on a fishing boat. And it’s getting worse.


My usage is growing.


Disney-+, Amazon Prime and a complete selection from my Xfinity Cable Account have all lead me to watch waaayyy too much TV, iPad and my laptop, too. I’d probably watch my iPhone, also, but it hurts my eyes.


I get a little report from Apple each week as to my average daily screen time usage. The numbers are appalling.


I’m passed hooked. It’s a formal addiction now.


Throw in the size of my liquor tab, and I’m getting a more than a little worried about myself. Suffice to say the days of the one-bottle-of-wine-with-dinner are long passed. Keeping it below two bottles between my wife, daughter and I per night is a real goal.


And combining drinking and watching cable TV, at the same time, have led to an even more drastic problem. One is bad, two together, can be downright bad for you.

Then throw the third element in this evil stew --- The Food Network --- and my addiction is complete.


Now before you dismiss me as a weenie, or worse, think about this --- the evil people in TV Land have conspired to find a way to bring saps like me to watch the Food Network.


Yes, my wife has watched Food shows for years. At first, I thought she was losing it. I mean, watching ESPN for hours at a time seemed reasonable to me. But four hours of Sunday morning cooking shows? Really, why would anybody do that?


Now I’m struggling without my weekly dose of Ina Garten on Sunday mornings. There’s this terrible show called The Kitchen, with awful scripts, bad jokes and not very good cooking by its cast each week. I’ve watched it so much, I’m starting to like it.


Marshall McLuen, the media critic, declared television a “vast wasteland.” He wasn’t wrong. In fact, he was foreseeing the future, or he’d met the future programmers at The Food Network.


Two weeks ago, I actually, out of sheer boredom, bing-watched five hours of host Guy Fieri’s Food Network staple, a show called “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”


The premise for the show is pretty simple, the bleached blond and tattooed Fieri, who seems like an affable sort, visits with cooks and chefs at dive bars, drive-in restaurants, barbeque joints and diners from Maine to Hawaii. On each episode he’ll visit three different joints, and show you their best dishes and award-winning drinks or meals. I’ve watched at least 10 episodes featuring Food Trucks. Food Trucks. I don’t even like Food Trucks.


I’ve watched people make pizza in Chicago, burgers in California, chicken wings in Buffalo, steaks in Kansas City and Italian Food in St. Louis. Each time I sit there as the cooks concoct their recipes and delicacies before the watchful eyes of Fieri and his TV crew. Show after show, my mouth waters, my stomach growls, and I reach for a salty snack -- and continue to watch. I can’t get enough.

Given the Pandemic, I have no idea how many of these restaurants are still open, leastwise are still making money. I certainly hope they’re still thriving. Many of these “joints” are small, family–run businesses that are the heart of towns, neighborhoods, hamlets and villages across America. Take away the local watering hole, pizza joint or favorite Chinese restaurant and a hole in your soul may not ever fully recover.


I’ve been to a couple of these joints before the COVID Pandemic hit us. I went to two of them New Orleans. They were both pretty much as advertised, except they were busier now because The Food Network had made them famous.


There are a couple of “Triple D” (it’s what Fieri calls the show) barbecue joints in Virginia and North Carolina I’ve hit. Also, great, as advertised. Expensive? Not really. Crowded? You bet. They all put the Diner Drive-Ins and Dives poster on the wall, signed by Fieri, and the joint just fills up. One man told me when I was standing in line for breakfast in New Orleans one steamy summer morning five years ago that he didn’t even like breakfast that much, but his wife loved Guy Fieri, so here they were.


Triple-D featured a Dim Sum restaurant I used to visit when I lived in San Francisco. I’m not even sure the restaurant is still there; the show was so old. But just watching it made me think about those amazing lunches I’d had, snagging the Dim Sum off the steaming carts as they passed my table years ago, when I lived in California. Amazing.


There were a couple of segments on Jewish delicatessens in, of all places, Montreal, Canada. “These guys make killer corned beef,” Fieri explained. “It’ll blow your mind.” I went to both the joints on a trip to Canada about 10 years ago. He was right, they were great. Greasy, smelly, crowded, and not too clean, but the food was terrific.


Maybe all this is some form of fantasy, sort of like Real Estate porn.


Real Estate porn is what millions of people do to kill time these days. They’re not really shopping for a new house on Zillow or Trulia, they’re just looking into people’s houses. Snooping if you like. More fundamentally, they’re fulfilling a prurient interest in seeing how other folks live, and then fantasizing about selling their house and buying that new one in another, more exotic location.


The traffic on these web sites is enormous, some of it with actual people who want to really buy a new house. But I suspect a lot of the web hits are just folks trolling through to kill time and alleviate the boredom. Like I said, Real Estate porn.


Perhaps that’s what the Food Network is, too. Only it’s not Real Estate, it’s Food Porn.


Fieri drives around in this Red 1966 Camaro, or some other hot rod car, and tastes and drinks to his heart’s content at literally hundreds and hundreds of restaurants and food stands across North America. And viewers sit there, mouths agape, watching for hours on end, fantasizing about a delicious Apple pie, or an amazing deep-dish pizza, or some incredible barbeque ribs. His shows on beef brisket, or street tacos, will make you instantly hungry.


I’m telling you, the joy some of these shows share is damned near, well, pornographic. Embarrassing really.


Of course, it’s all in great fun. Call it entertainment, Food Porn or just plain bad TV, but millions of us can’t take our eyes off it.


There are other Food Network shows, some equally bad, others worse.


There’s a show called “Beat Bobby Flay” which is not about two people with baseball bats trying to knock noted New York Celebrity Chef Bobby Flay unconscious.


Rather, it’s a one-hour food cook-off where noted local and national chefs compete to try and beat Bobby Flay at his own game. They cook their specialty dishes, and he then tries to cook the same dish his own way. Not surprisingly, no matter who the judges are, Flay usually wins. It’s gotta be fixed. Either that, or Flay is a magician.


Nobody’s that good, right?


Back in the dark ages of food television, when Julia Child, Graham Kerr, Emeril Lagasse and Martha Stewart plied their skills before the cameras, many of us just shrugged it off as silly, mind-numbing TV.


Indeed, watching Child spatchcock a Chicken was one of the funniest things you’ve ever seen. Saturday Night Live even did a skit on it.


And Kerr, who was pretty intoxicated during most of his shows, was a hoot. The kind of guy you’d love to meet at a dinner party, or restaurant, and just hang out with for a few hours. Kerr was really a charming character.


Lagasse of course built an empire of restaurants from New Orleans to Las Vegas before eventually selling his entire company, food additives, spices, sauces and all to Martha Stewart, after she took her company public and made billions.


But like those Food stars of the past, I guess the same is true about Ina Garten, Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri today. There’s no question that it’d be fun to have a few drinks with them as they slide their way through the latest in food trends and hot new dishes and desserts. Dinner with Giatta? Drinks with some Fieri’s cronies? Let’s go!


Which tells me one of two things. Either I’ve seen so much bad TV over the last year, since the COVID Pandemic, that I’m losing it. Or, I’m wrong. That the Food Network is actually good, compelling television aimed to meet the needs of the masses as never before.


Nah. It’s still terrible.

I just can’t take my eyes off it.

Help!


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