There. I said it, cooking shows are ruining food. I mean it, whilst these shows serve as entertainment, they also create a range of issues that ruin food for people. MasterChef, My Kitchen Rules, Hell's Kitchen Australia and so many other cooking shows, serve to provide a whole bunch of drama and some fill-in scenes where food is shown. MasterEntertainment, My Drama Rules and Hell's Unreality (sorry to pick on you guys!), are loved by foodies around the world, but they are fooling us when it comes to food.
As the dust settles on another series of MasterChef Australia, I thought it timely to throw my thoughts out there about these shows, and what role they COULD play in our world.
It's just #foodporn.
That's right. These shows are just that, with no disrespect to porn stars, cooking shows are glorified recipes, that show a HEAVILY edited and airbrushed take on cooking food. What you see, and what REALLY happens, are two different things. To riff on the Instagram hashtag #foodporn, that is all it is, it's the presentation of something that is constructed, fake and not a true representation of real life.
The heavy editing cuts out on the effort taken to prepare the food, and also glosses over how to properly prepare the food to ensure a) maximum nutrition and b) save time for busy people! It's all well and good to show the making of beautiful fancy fruit-mimicking desserts (like the ones to the right from MasterChef Australia's 2017 finale), but at what point does the reality TV cross over to reality LIFE?
Then we see "simple" recipes being prepared on other shows, which are just a huge portion of lamb, with some peas, onions and vegetable stock (see right) - presenting the other extreme of cooking shows , where four ingredients are meant to equate a balanced, healthy meal?!
The opportunity to create beautiful, practical and nutritious food is not the driver for these shows, I get that - but with the massive viewership, they are definitely missing an incredible opportunity to transform the way our community views food - that many of us passionate food educators would do nearly anything for. Let's create #realfood, without the editing, add in a dose of real life, and show people the simplicity of nutritious recipes that take even less time and less cost.
Ditch the "reality" and get back to REALity!
Unreasonable Expectations From "Reality"
It's a common thing in households, when dinner is being served, and the first comment is "oh, nice plating up" or "I love how you've presented the meal". Now, I am 100% for feasting with the eyes, but with the focus on plating up, or ridiculous presentations of food on cooking shows - often the reality is missed. It is a form of art expression, again I get it. But the problem is that not everyone does get it, and they lured into the illusion of it all at the expense of their relationship to food.
Even I am guilty of 'presentation perfection', I want to show you all that healthy, nutritious food can be easy and beautiful - and find myself plating up for beauty rather than results or expediency. The reality for many is this: a messy kitchen, screaming kids and "just getting it done", so how can we help them do that better and better each meal-time.
The smoothie bowl to the right, I guarantee it took at least 30 minutes to "plate up" and style, let alone prepare. Doing it for the viewer ratings is the mode, when if the episode shared the "real life" version of the "poo-brown because I put greens and cacao in my smoothie" bowl, you would not get the audience response. If real life mum's were on on MasterChef they would be booted because they prepared a delicious meal for their troops without the garnish and flair, in record time and to more ridiculous judges than their picky eaters!
Just like Miranda Kerr on the cover of Cleo, THIS IS NOT REAL LIFE. Miranda, like that smoothie bowl, had a crew looking after her hair, her make up, her wardrobe plus the benefit of photoshop to remove any blemishes or bits that were "too real".
I'm calling it out now, cooking shows, #foodporn and fake food sets are the food equivalent to #thinspiration, photoshop and the magazine industry. It creates dissatisfaction and unreal expectations for home cooking, it encourages people to spend more time than needed to prepare their foods, or to look for shortcuts, and it also creates a VERY UNHEALTHY relationship with food.
Let's share the reality, the mess, the mistakes and the majestic-ness of our food. Lets honour and celebrate it for the life force and nutrition that nature has provided to each and every one of our cells. Let be excited and grateful about the privilege that we have to eat, let alone eat well. What's on your plate?
Rarely do cooking shows touch on the skills required to be efficient and time-saving in the kitchen. How do I best use my knife to cut efficiently (without adding finger tips to my meal or needless neck tension?)? What ingredients can I add to this meal to make it beneficial to my body? Explaining the HOW about preparing a meal is missed, with the closest thing to a knife lesson being a close-up shot of a knife cutting. Discussing the merits of incorporating greens into a meal is glossed over, with super ingredients becoming fads vs important nutrition boosters (remember how kale got laughed at by media?).
I know time constraints for these shows make it hard to fit this in, but helping up-skill viewers could shift how people work in the kitchen. There would certainly be less blunt knives and "fails" in the kitchen!
Nutritionally Poor & Sponsored
Cooking shows regularly present food options that are nutritionally imbalanced or otherwise poor options for a balanced diet (I'm not getting into the world of dietetics and nutrition here), with a heavy focus on processed sugars and meat. I've often wondered why this is, after all, these shows are hosted by chefs and cooks who know how to prepare beautiful, delicious and nutritious meals.
I did a little digging around and found this important (and easily lost) piece of information, many of these shows are sponsored by brands. With the decline in advertising opportunities, companies are now "infusing" their products into these shows. If I was paid by a business to share their product, a) I would tell you and b) I would be required to heavily promote it. That would explain why sugar confectionary and meat-heavy meals are common on these shows, the shows are now just an advertorial! The Netflix effect of removing advertising opportunities has marketing infused in every shot.
The beautiful Justine Schofield (from MasterChef fame), has a massive list of sponsors (see a portion below) that keep the Everyday Gourmet show rolling. No offence to Justine, but it takes away from the recipe when it is sponsored doesn't it? Would that lamb meal above be made the same if it wasn't sponsored? We will never know... Would she show her viewers how to make their own chocolate from scratch if Cadbury wasn't a sponsor?
Let's go back to the mantra, "if food needs to be advertised, then chances are it wouldn't sell otherwise". Keep in mind too if ever the argument about food costs comes up for you. You are paying for those massive advertising budgets of the squeakiest-wheel brands; you are not paying for the nutrient content. Your money goes a lot further when spent on wholefood nutrition, such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, etc. Of course, there are real whole food brands that need to market their product, in that case, just check the ingredients label, you'll know if they're worth it.
I'm all for the foodie entertainment world, it has at least got people interested in the kitchen again. What I would love to see is more REAL food and more REALity within these shows. Use the platform to introduce people to options that at least serve them in a slightly less superficial way. At the very least making REAL food from scratch without heavily processed (& sponsored) ingredients. Will we see these shows shift? Who knows. Maybe challengers to these shows will come forward to add diversity to the offerings and bring wholefoods to the front.