My latest reality TV binge included food-related programs. And it dawned on me (among discussing them with my TV companions) that just how warped our relationship with food has become.
I watched Man. vs. Food for the first time, where its host Adam Richman is on a quest to “battle” the extreme food of the week. The enormous food item he had to “defeat” in the episode was a monstrous 1.5-pound deli sandwich (decked as high as a coffee mug), with a 6-pound milkshake. The milkshake jug was as big as my torso. With an hour to do the deed, he barely finished the last two bites of the deli meat (which he said was difficult because he was so full of dairy).
the Colossal challenge, which will test your manhood.
Then there was the Food Network Challenge‘s “Extreme Villain Cake” episode, where chefs had to make 4-feet cakes of extreme villains (who apparently translate as: the lunch lady, “Dr. Pathogen,” Mad Scientist) that also did “extreme” stuff (like having the character blow fire out of its mouth, having the villains turn, etc).
ON A CAKE.
But get this: these cakes were not tasted by the judges. In fact, taste was not even a criteria in judging – only “extreme-ness” was. So now, cakes are no longer food items to be eaten; they can act as sculptures and entertainment pieces.
The language of Man vs. Food and Food Network Challenge, where food is seen as an enemy to be defeated, and how food is treated as an objet d’art to be judged on its aesthetic (as opposed to its content) suddenly hit home how excessive the West’s relationship to food is.
Where so many parts of the world are suffering from malnutrition, and are struggling to even put one meal in front of their families, we here in North America can just afford to make spinning cakes we won’t even eat, and finish a sandwich that will probably feed 3 people (and a milkshake for 5) when your stomach is so full that you feel like throwing up. Because you need to conquer it. Because it’s either you, or the food, that wins. (even though technically, “you,” the human, is the one that makes food…?)
Food is no longer a necessity, or an item of sustenance. We have so much of it that we can just make it without needing to consume it, and we can just have it because we want to prove our masculinity. In this process, we’ve disregarded one sage piece of advice from our mothers: “don’t play with your food.”
[images from Chuck and Ruth's Delly site, and Queen Anne View]