Echoing her beloved "Gilmore Girls" character, Sookie St. James, Melissa McCarthy is headed back to the kitchen in her latest movie, "Cook Off," a mockumentary-style film about a cooking contest.
In the indie comedy, McCarthy plays a culinary hopeful with a special sweet potato recipe competing alongside other wacky contestants from across the country for the grand prize of $1 million.
The film, which actually debuted 10 years ago at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, is obviously a riff on popular TV shows like "MasterChef," and is the latest addition to the onslaught of food obsessed TV and movies -- and, of course, a Food Network -- that has transformed the traditional cooking show from a niche educational program into mainstream entertainment.
But how has our fascination with foodie pop culture influenced our eating and cooking habits? Is Gordon Ramsay really helping us to eat better, or is it all about Gordon Ramsay getting better at being Gordon Ramsay?
Our Food Awareness Has Increased
One of the upsides to television food programs is that they have made people aware and informed about where their food is coming from and what to look for in terms of healthier options.
"I think food shows have raised awareness about different food around the world as well as demonstrated incredible ways about incorporating different unknown foods, ingredients and techniques, which have elevated food to an art," says Dr. Elizabeth Trattner, a Miami-based acupuncture physician and nutritionist.
"Consumers are well informed about healthy trends and more aware of flavors that will make the healthy food taste great," says chef and cookbook author Stephanie Petersen. "I love to work with clients as a private chef and have them be aware of what is trending in the health industry. Opposed to even 10 years ago when many were not even aware of what a good fat was or which carbohydrates were best for their bodies."
But We Are Still Disconnected From Our Food
With roughly 37% of American adults currently obese, it doesn't appear that our foodie obsession is helping us eat healthier. In fact, research shows we are actually cooking less at home. In 2014, approximately 60% of dinners served at home were actually cooked in the home. But, 30 years ago, when the Food Network didn't exist, roughly 75% of dinners eaten at home were home-cooked.
"Just like the rise in television consumption altogether, food television viewing has increased. Although it may be inspiring, very few watchers actually go out, seek new foods and put those techniques into action," says Trattner. "On a whole, people are watching these shows and still consuming junk food, processed foods and are disconnected to the source where these beautiful foods came from. Diabetes, heart disease and cancers are all on the rise. Being sedentary and watching these shows make it not only worse but contributes to the problem."
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And the food porn that makes unhealthy food look really, really good doesn't help either.
"Many of the shows have focused a lot on unhealthy foods and glamorized them as well," says Petersen. "Big portions, foods loaded with fat and sugar are huge on the networks. How many cupcake and baking shows do we need? I’m a baker and have been a pastry chef for many years, but most of baking shows are literally glamorizing the worst possible diet choices. I love the artistry, but I’d love to see some healthier baking choices actually go mainstream."
Instead of watching their favorite cooking program, Dr. Trattner recommends her patients to reconnect to their food sources. For example, visit a local farmers market, experiment with recipes featuring healthy food, or take a healthy cooking class.
TV Chefs Are Pushing Their Brands
And let's not forget that our favorite TV cooking shows are a way for celebrity chefs to get exposure to spread their unique brand. From Gordon Ramsay to Rachael Ray, celebrity chefs are media moguls with a portfolio filled with multiple platforms, including TV series, magazines, and, of course, restaurants.
Forbes reports that Ramsay earned $60 million in 2017 alone through his various culinary ventures, while Ray's net worth is estimated at $75 million.
"Food should nourish the body and soul and not be a source of income for television networks or advertisers," says Trattner.
Though watching food shows is undoubtedly entertaining, in the interest of our health, we might want to shut off the TV and refer to something a little more old-fashioned: the cookbook.
Meanwhile, McCarthy's "Cook Off" will have a limited theatrical release at Thanksgiving, which, of course, is the the ultimate foodie reality event.
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