While I didn’t actually have cable TV in college, once I’m back home, when the TV is on, it’s frequently making a visit to the Food Network.
An interesting observation in its recent programming, however, is that it feels very one-note. Very similar shows, very similar food featured throughout in similar formats. It becomes very repetitive, even for those who are avid foodies.
By this, I mean that for prime-time viewers, male hosts dominate. These hosts either show off different foods and restaurants in the United States (Guy Fieri is certainly always on the road), or they include chefs battling it out in some sort of competition. They have literally thought of every possible competition out there. Random foods in a basket, bidding for sabotage, fooling judges on contestants’ culinary experience, facing off with famous TV chefs, baking any dessert imaginable, heck, now they feature all ages, from young kids to grandmas.
While the contestants on these shows are very diverse from all walks of life, the hosts are familiar but tired faces. The only chance to catch a traditional cooking show is in the mornings, where there is no man in sight as the ladies step into their domestic roles to make family meals. I’m certainly simplifying things here, but not too much. The pattern is very obvious, but I’m not just stopping there with gender and racial diversity.
For me, I see another discrepancy, too, and that is with a lack of variety of dietary preferences. The occasional gluten-free baker or vegetarian, but never once have I seen a vegan. Yes, veganism is represented by a mere one percent of the population, but that is still plenty of people.
Not only would some representation help spread awareness of veganism, rather than some foreign concept (that is basically vegetarianism, right?), vegans and nonvegans alike can become more comfortable with what it means to cook vegan. The learning process isn’t exactly easy, but it would certainly be easier if a mass media platform could help out.
I’m not saying it would be a quick change overnight. The vegan movement itself has grown in recent years at remarkable rates, but think of the possibilities of television coverage, reaching a much wider audience. Veganism is still fairly enclosed within its own community, especially in areas where meat and dairy are household staples. Even people interested in becoming vegan, unless they have some sort of knowledge from online resources like Pinterest and blogs, sustaining yourself is very difficult if you don’t know what ingredients you need, what to avoid, and how to prepare the food.
If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s ignorance, making assumptions about lifestyle choices and terms that are unfamiliar, unwillingly opening up to the details. That’s where stereotypes come into play, and it’s even harder for different people to feel welcome and secure. It’s a vicious cycle until people start choosing to learn and understand.
And from greater coverage and awareness, people can realize that vegans are not just a bunch of crazy hippies who eat salad all day. I fit the crazy hippie part, but I can only tolerate one salad at most. Vegans come in all shapes and sizes, a diverse range of people all interested in a common cause. By seemingly annihilating any mention of veganism on Food Network, one might assume veganism either isn’t important enough to mention or too weak to stand against the conventional American diet.
But veganism is still gaining popularity, with vegan specialty foods and restaurants expanding tenfold. The message veganism sends for those willing to listen makes sense. But the way that the movement rooted itself (like a plant, trying to be punny) in new media platforms like blogging and YouTube really limits its demographics to young people. Which, to an extent, if these people are the ones creating the next generation to be more tolerant and sustainable, that’s great. But for others just trying to figure out what veganism is might not feel welcome on those platforms. People not in their twenties or below can see amazing benefits with veganism, if they’re willing to change their ways for a worthy cause, not just for the animals and planet, but for their own health, too.
The day I see a vegan restaurant showcased as the next big diner, or a vegan chef facing it off against Bobby Flay, I will be a happy person. Veganism would seem much less intimidating if there was somebody right on your TV showing you how to make some great recipes, ones every person could enjoy. If people enjoy trying new international cuisine, I don’t see why they wouldn’t consider some easy, plant-based meals. Foodies of any age can then feel more comfortable with using different ingredients and techniques. If you have a recipe that calls for soaked cashews or tofu, you’ll know what to do. Plus, it’s always great to find some new ideas (dessert recipes, please?).
If Food Network’s purpose is to help people find confidence and comfort in the kitchen, it would only seem just to include every single viewer into the mix, no matter their gender, ethnicity or lifestyle. Women can host competition shows. Men can cook sit-down meals for their families. And vegans can make some darn good food.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie