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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Did Food Network Turn Us Into Gluttons?

There are some things in life we never forget. One of those moments for me is the first time I turned on my television to see something called the Food Network. I still remember the host, Ming Tsai, cooking exotic "East Meets West" Asian cuisine.  It was 1998 and I was a newly wed with a nine month old son and a brand new cable subscription.

It was laundry day. While my oldest son Junior rolled around our linoleum-tiled floors in his baby-walker, I sorted and folded our first load of co-laundry in front of our single television set, a boxy small screened color TV that sat atop a dining room chair in the corner of our living room. We were poor, but after the cable man had clicked on our service, we'd felt like we had the world at our fingertips.

I skimmed through the channels on our new remote and stopped cold when I saw a tall, handsome Asian man cooking in bright color with exotic ingredients. I stood in front of my television set, mouth agape, as Ming Tsai effortlessly threw mushrooms and ginger into a saute pan, eventually adding sliced rare beef and scallions. He even ate it at the end with a pair of chopsticks.

I don't think I mothered my son that afternoon. I'm sorry dear, if you ever read this, know mommy still loved you then as much as I do now. But the thing is, I was enthralled. I'd never seen such a show, where food looked like I could pull it from the screen and enjoy a bite myself. I could smell the food through my set. In one show, I became a Food Network addict. 

I'd grown up with the few cooking shows on PBS we all remember. Old black and whites of Julia Child and her roostery crow making food I couldn't pronounce, and the occasional Lidia Bastianich, the motherly Italian chef who spoke like Isabella Rossellini and was the closest I'd come to hardcore food watching. They weren't an every day kind of show though, or better yet, an every half hour kind of show. When Ming Tsai sat down at his table and raised his glass to the camera in cheers, the show ended and another one started! Bobby Flay, a red headed grill master who BBQ'd everything.

I remember my husband coming home from work and how I ran up to him to show him the magical channel I'd found. He didn't seem impressed, and later snuck the remote from out of my hands to watch a sports channel. He drew a clear line in the sand and I knew my fix would only be filled in the quiet hours of the afternoon when he worked and my son napped.

Flash forward fourteen years and here I am, blogging about food - sharing recipes on the web and kind of cool amongst my friends. I'm not trying to boast, but it's true - foodies like me are the new cool geeks. Suddenly, instead of being a pig or a glutton, I'm popular. Do I owe Food Network a huge thank you?

They took a stab in November of 1993 that people across America would love to watch nothing but cooking shows. They knew before we did that food was hot, and could draw the attention of millions of viewers, not unlike myself, who would salivate on their close-shot cooking scenes. Because of Food Network, people like me, people who love writing about, cooking, experimenting and tasting food are not weird. In the flick of a channel, gluttony stands next to high fashion. World-wide, foodies are the new trendsetters.

No one flinches when I pull out a camera at a restaurant to take a picture of my meal. I receive more likes on Facebook for my food posts than I do for my kid-rants. Food is all about feeling good these days. There are very few that don't get it - that find the culinary obsessed an off-crowd. They are like those people in the nineties that refused to buy a computer or a cellphone. Look at them now.

Food Network opened the door for chefs, cooks, food writers, food travelers and food novelists to come into their own. If the launch of the Cooking Channel and Travel Network (which strangely focuses as much on food as travel) in later years proves anything, it's that foodies are here to stay.

We are a country of gluttons, and the world is slowly catching up. Eating is now an art form and I have nothing but love for the masters at Food Network who showed me the way.


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