Commentary

How reality cooking shows are affecting the way we eat

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What’s not to love about a good cooking show – especially, reality cooking shows that give talented home cooks the opportunity to pursue their food dreams? Besides being my favourite pastimes, I have learnt a great deal from them. While the upside of these popular cooking shows is that it has led many of us interested in cooking, I have come to realise that they have also adversely affected the way we perceive food – mainly, everyday home cooked meals.

I mean how often do you hear this on one of these shows:

It is good but not great!”

The flavours were alright, it was good to eat. But there was no wow factor.”

The wow factor! Nothing wrong with it, after all it’s a competitive cooking show. But what does that mean for us viewers? It invariably creates this food expectation in our minds that if food doesn’t give you the iconic Meg Ryan experience it’s not worth eating. The truth, however, is that in our lifetime we are most likely to eat just “good but not great” food – even mediocre more often. Like the contestants on these shows, this shouldn’t make us think that our world has come crashing down on us and we have no reason to live anymore.

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In so many ways we have assumed the role of  judge chefs in our daily lives. Why do you think that food ordering apps are doing so well? Why are millennials eating takeout more often? How is that your every second friend has turned into this food critique (read: snob) and refuses to eat at most places (because apparently the food there isn’t great)? How many times have you refused to eat the food cooked at home because it just wasn’t ‘wow’ enough? I know I am guilty on most of these accounts.

If CS Lewis had to comment on this particular lifestyle choice we are making, he would most likely say – “Ahaa, gluttony of delicacy!” I remember reading this in his Screwtape Letters, which was published way back in 1942 by the way:

My dear Wormwood,

The contemptuous way in which you spoke of gluttony as a means of catching souls, in your last letter, only shows your ignorance. One of the great achievements of the last hundred years has been to deaden the human conscience on that subject, so that by now you will hardly find a sermon preached or a conscience troubled by it in the whole length and breadth of Europe. This has largely been effected by concentrating all our efforts on gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess. Your patient’s mother, as I learn from the dossier and you might have learned from Glubose, is a good example. She would be astonished—one day, I hope, will be—to learn that her whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by the fact that the quantities involved are small.

Yup, gluttony is not so much about portions these days but about being “enslaved to sensuality.” It’s about wanting our taste buds to be singing every time we eat; expecting that is most likely to affect our relationships and savings. Being constantly nit-picky about home cooked food is in so many ways rejection of the person who cooked it, who often has to cook in a busy schedule. It also leads to ordering takeout or eating out often which may work for the Gilmore Girls but not so much for the rest of us outside the fictional Star Hollows.

So what do we do now?

Stop watching these cooking shows?

Umm.. yes and no.

If you recognise this as a problem in your life too, here are five things you could do:

1. Start with the ‘M’ word – Moderation.
Don’t watch too many cooking shows, it IS going to create unrealistic expectations in your mind.

2. Watch with a different intention.
What I most enjoy about cooking shows is the different tips and tricks I learn from them. More often, I don’t focus on the recipe itself but the way it is being cooked. Like I notice George Calomboris, judge on Masterchef Australia, will always season his dishes with a pinch of salt at every stage of the cooking process, as opposed to adding it only in the end – a skill that I mimic in my cooking too now.

3. Limit take-outs and eating out.
Keep a fixed budget for it, maybe even fixed days – say weekends only? If you tend to order more takeouts at home, then tell yourself you will only eat restaurant food in a social setting –catching up with friends, dates, family gatherings and so on.

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4. Eats what’s on the table.
Yes, adulting means not being fussy about the food being served to you. If you find that the food at home is not as per your Masterchef standards, still eat it! Denying sensuality will do you more good than indulging in it every single time. One suggestion though, stock your pantry with some sauces, chutneys, pickles or frozen food – whether homemade or store-bought. That way you can pair it with an otherwise boring home-cooked food and enjoy it. You will be surprised how brilliantly this works out.

5. Finally, cook more often!
To quote Chef Gusteau from Ratatouille : “Anyone can cook!” And don’t say you are too busy to cook; my mom had two jobs, took up community and church work, and would still feed her family of four. If she can, so can you. And yes don’t say, cooking isn’t your passion/hobby. While cooking can be those things, it is first and foremost an essential life skill. You have to learn it irrespective of
your gender, schedule or interests.

So yes try these suggestions, especially learning to cook for yourself. And remember it is perfectly okay to eat ‘just good but not great’ food!

So, what do you think? :)