Guest Post: Do Food Shows Have Ethical Obligations?

My supremely cool fan Josh O’Connor, who interacts often on my blog posts, got to thinking about the issues of food waste, and the treatment of reality TV contestants with dietary restrictions, after one of my recent MasterChef recaps where many dozens of eggs were thrown in the trash, as well as shattering the plates they were on.

Josh churned out a most thought-provoking blog about whether or not TV shows have an obligation to maintain any kind of ethical standard when it comes to food and the people who are on the shows.  And I wanted to share it with my audience, because you wonderful people are ALL about these kinds of subjects.

It begins:

One of my guilty pleasures in life is cooking shows… particularly highly dramatic, reality TV-style cooking competitions.  I’m talking shows like Chopped, Hell’s Kitchen, and Masterchef.  While I don’t have the luxury of cable, I must admit that Food network is a family favorite on vacations.  In watching these programs, one of the elements that seems to be remiss is the ethics of food (although I’ll let Chopped off the hook on this point for their very well-done “Lunch Lady” episode).  The question that these shows generate for me revolves around the entire concept of food morality and food ethics and the responsibility of high profile chefs to make people more food-aware.  Here are some examples that highlight my concerns.

Bri this season of Masterchef’s token vegetarian is the subject of a slew of vegetarian-related epithets throughout the individual interviews.  Moreover, the show’s “judges” question her ability to cook (and at times seem to question her ability to function as a human being) based on her dietary choices.  Perhaps most importantly, Bri is not given the opportunity to showcase her talents without having to engage the show’s many meat-based dishes.  Although Anthony Bourdain would certainly disagree, vegetarianism has become a pretty mainstream dietary concept for a variety of ethical positions (from environmentalism to animal rights).  Dealing with Bri’s choices in such a lackadaisical (and often cruel) manner sends the message that informed and conscious consumption of food is somehow inferior to eating anything that’s placed in front of you.  How would the format handle a contestant observing a Halal diet?   Would the producers feel as comfortable flagrantly mocking a contestant with food allergies or a health restricted diet?

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