When it Comes to Food Shows, Women Prepare and Men Eat

Towards the end of the school year and at the start of the summer, before all of the reruns got really boring, I started watching all these food shows on the Travel Channel like it was my job. Man vs. Food, Bizarre Foods, No Reservations. I loved the adventure, the traveling, the critiques, the snark. I loved how these hosts could go to any part of the country, or even to different countries, and tell so much about the culture just by tasting the food. The ingredients in traditional dishes in northern Italy were totally different than those in southern Italian meals, for example, and were indicative of what was available before grocery stores and globalization, as well as what people could afford, grow, or find readily available.

Good food tells a story, and the hosts of these shows put those stories into words. And I love both stories and good food.

However, it wasn't long before I noticed a pattern in these shows. Mostly, these shows were about women preparing food, and men enjoying it. How's that for a gender stereotype? So I started doing a little research into food shows, and the results were clear. Most food shows that involved the preparation of food (think Rachel Ray's 30-Minute Meals) were hosted by women, and most food shows that involved the enjoyment of food (think Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives) were hosted by men. Sure, there are a few food enjoyment shows out there hosted by women, but they mostly do not air during prime time hours. And, of course, chefs like Guy Fieri have cooking shows where they demonstrate how to prepare meals, but they are also rewarded with prime time shows that allow them to critique food made by others, whereas most women are not.

This is problematic in more ways than just upholding gendered roles about the production and consumption of food, though that is extremely problematic in and of itself. We're all familiar with the tired trope that women belong in the kitchen, and that their one and only job is to prepare a hot meal for their husband and children. What's even worse with food enjoyment shows is that, now, already powerful and famous men have even more power with the ability not only to eat food that is prepared for them, but critique it. Granted, most of the critiques are good, and not all food is prepared for them by women, but why can't we see a woman hosting a show that involves enjoying food?

Well, I'll tell you why: Women aren't supposed to enjoy food. We're supposed to be tormented by counting calories and measuring out portions. Even on food preparation shows when the women chefs taste their food right at the end, we only ever see them take the tiniest of bites.

Think of how refreshing it would be to see a woman enjoying a delicious-looking, carb-loaded, deep-fried meal during a prime time television program. It would be ultimately freeing - for me, at least - to see a woman host take a couple of big bites out of a hamburger, or participate in a food-eating challenge of Man vs. Food fame. There is not only societal pressure for women to be thin; there is also immense societal pressure for women to be dainty eaters. We order salads, we cut up our food, we take home half of our order even if we're still really hungry. We're taught not to be messy, not to lick sauce off our fingers (or not to get sauce on our fingers in the first place), and not to over-indulge. Sure, some of this is basic etiquette - no one really wants to see someone plow face-first into a plate of food - but some of it is absolutely gendered.

While I can't necessarily change what's on television, and I still enjoy watching some of these programs, I can change what food consumption looks like in my home. I promised myself that, this summer, I would create and enjoy amazing meals, and, so far, I have done just that. (Hence all of the recipes you've seen lately, with more to come!) Yes, I am doing most of the food preparation (because I like to, not because I feel pressured to), but Tim and I enjoy the food together. So far, we've started to create and share our own stories around our favorite foods. And I'm never afraid anymore to get a second helping.

Originally posted on Small Strokes.


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