Whose Food Network, Though? – Why Food On Television Is Whitewashed
"You would assume that the only good food are dishes steeped in Italian culture and whitewashed Southern cuisine."
Remember that time when the Food Network had that vibrant lady from Jamaica teaching viewers the proper way to make Ackee and Saltfish? Or the time when the Nigerian man dazzled us on our screens with his version of Jollof rice?
No? Me neither.
In fact, I can’t think of many people of color on the Food Network outside of Sunny Anderson, the Neelys, Aaron McCargo, Jr, or Marcella Valladolid—two of which are no longer on the network with their own shows. What I do see, in fact, are tons of Italian chefs sharing their food culture, and southern white women schooling us on the correct process for boiling collards. Nothing wrong with that, but where is the balance?
It seems as though chefs of color being present on the Food Network are limited to hosting segments, guest judging, or competing in cooking competitions, but that isn’t the case for all. When Sunny Anderson first hit the scene on the Food Network, she was a guest on Emeril Live. It didn’t take long for her bomb personality to land her her own show, called Cooking for Real, in 2008. Her bright and bubbly personality was like a magnet for me and at-home faux-chefs everywhere. She reminded me of our cool Aunt at the BBQ who’d let us dip our finger in the carrot cake icing after our mom told us not to. Her smile was infectious and it was a nice breath of fresh air to see a woman of color, a black woman, showing her cooking chops. It was relatable, especially when so many of the black women in our lives are known for holding it down in the kitchen and putting their whole foot in a pot a greens. Her show, of course, didn’t last. It did go on for an impressive 10 seasons, but now we can only see her as one of the four hosts on The Kitchen on Food Network. Nice. But this isn’t about Sunny Anderson or even Aaron McCargo, Jr. It isn’t about their careers at all. It is about so much more than that.
If you watch the Food Network religiously, as I tend to do, you would quickly assume that the only good food are dishes steeped in Italian culture and whitewashed Southern cuisine. It isn’t realistic. The world has an estimated population of 7.4 billion people, and sorry to say, they aren’t all white. It is deeply sad to know that the only way we can see other cultures is to take a trip to their sister channel, the Travel Channel, to see a bunch of white men freely travel the world to sample authentic ethnic dishes. I find it quite odd that Scripps Networks Interactive (the media company with a majority ownership in both the Food Network and Travel Channel, among others) hasn’t peeped game, yet.
I would love to see an Asian woman/man with his/her own show to teach us traditional dishes from their own Asian country. There are 54 African countries. There is no excuse to not have somebody hailing from one of them on this channel. The Neelys was a great show, but they aren’t on anymore (are they divorced?), so where are the Southern Black cooks/chefs to teach my ass how to chef up some Hoghead cheese? I’d love to be taught some Panamanian dishes, or some Brazilian delicacies, or a few Palestinian faves. Why not?
Listen. I understand that we are beginning to get our POC celebrity cooks on air. I love the show with the Smolletts (Smollett Eats) and Ayesha Curry’s show (Ayesha's Home Kitchen). They’re great! But part of me knows that if they weren’t huge celebs with an already huge following, they wouldn’t be anywhere near the Food Network. I also recognize that the Cooking Channel exists (Tia Mowry’s show has a home there). Kelis managed to revamp her entire life by going to culinary arts school, perfecting the craft of sauce making, coming out with a whole line of bomb ass sauces, and landing herself a cooking show on the Cooking Channel called Saucy and Sweet. She is amazing and the perfect example of someone who actually followed their other dreams. She’s dope and can almost do no wrong in my eyes. But should we be satisfied with whatever we get just because it’s something? I mean what I said. We are seriously lacking in the television culinary world.
I'm sure I am not the only person who feels this way. On Aziz Ansari's show, Master of None, a line was included during season two, episode seven:
“Look, to be honest, there’s no diversity in the food world. Okay, look at our hosts. If our lineup were ingredients, we’d be flour, salt, and sugar, all white.”
— Jeff Pastore (played by Bobby Cannavale)
It is blatantly obvious.
Unfortunately, I feel as though my cries will fall on deaf ears. Money talks and based on their current line-up, apparently the only thing that seems to be making money on the Food Network is Chopped and a million and one shows about finding somebody, ANYBODY, who can beat Bobby Flay.
I’m not sure we will get much change now that the infamously right-winged conservative company, Sinclair Broadcast Group (the same company that bought WGN and subsequently knocked the critically acclaimed show, Underground, off the air), has purchased a minority ownership of the Food Network.