I think we can widely agree that food is our universal love language. No matter what culture, race, gender, or class you identify with, food is a constant presence in our lives that has the power to hearten and unite people from across nations unlike anything else.
Our growing appreciation for culinary arts through the years has paved the way for its success in mainstream media and ultimately became a staple in numerous TV shows and films, especially in today’s modern food culture and society.
Year after year, we see exponential growth in Hollywood investing and putting a spotlight on food and the stories of people around it across all genres. This was actually made by design and primarily has to do with the science and psychology of how easily audiences gravitate toward stories that involve food.
We Eat with the Eyes First
The entertainment industry has celebrated food culture since the 1940s when culinary pioneers Philip Harben and James Beard started their respective shows, Cookery (UK) and I Love to Eat (US). These shows were primarily intended to educate its viewers, particularly stay-at-home parents, on easy-to-cook recipes.
In the 1960s, the famous and long-running show The French Chef hosted by the remarkable Julia Child introduced audiences to a new format of food entertainment, which gave rise to the popularity of TV chef personalities and for cooking shows to shift from merely just being instructional to an enjoyable pastime for audiences.
Through the years, food TV shows have evolved into different varieties such as amateur and professional cooking competitions, eating contests and challenges, as well as food and travel guides. Some of the early frontrunners that paved the way for this new wave include the Food Network, Masterchef, Iron Chef, Top Chef, Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsey, Martha Stewart, and Ina Garten to name a few. Today, streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu have heavily invested in some of the best international food shows on TV, such as Somebody Feed Phil, Chef’s Table, the Street Food series, and The Bear.
Touching more on the latter, FX’s original series The Bear (2022) is an accurate portrayal of a story that celebrates the importance of food but also gives us a deeper understanding of the lives and struggles that professional chefs and kitchen staff go through to achieve success in their careers (or simply make ends meet). Beyond the mouthwatering dishes, witty banter, petty fights, and action-packed sequences is an influential and eye-opening story about familial relationships, addiction, and mental health issues. This only proves that food can effectively serve as a medium to tell meaningful stories that shed light on important social issues that we need to be aware of.
“The Bear is the perfect view of what it’s like during those moments of absolute chaos. The yelling, the cutting, the meal-planning, the stress, the burns, and everything else that rolls along with being a chef. It’s intense, heavy, and you feel as if you’re thrown right into the swing of things – which makes for great television,” via Cinema Blend.
Our deep fascination with watching food and our eagerness to learn about the process and people behind it can be explained by how our brains are wired. The striking visual images and vibrant colors of food as well as the way it’s prepared stimulate and boost the feel-good and calming hormones in our brain, allowing us to imagine the taste and be part of the rich experience from a distance.
Food is something that we habitually resort to in order to find comfort and refuge. It is a universal language that allows us to communicate about our unique experiences to the world. When chefs found ways to innovate food, art, and technology in unimaginable ways, it gave birth to remarkable gastronomic experiences that have become a valuable part of our culture and lifestyle.
Furthermore, the pandemic has brought out the inner chef in us and allowed us to unleash our creativity in the kitchen. In this period, food not only became our pastime but also a main source of entertainment. There were numerous food trends and recipes that emerged on social media that created a huge community, which opened new possibilities for food-related narratives to thrive on the big and small screens.
There’s no doubt that the popularity of food will be a constant presence in the entertainment industry in the years to come. It will continue to become an influential instrument or stylistic device in effectively telling stories about culture, relationships, mental health, and social issues that would hopefully induce positive change in our society.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.